The Cockroach, A Protest, …and Apollo’s Parts..

1. What is the relationship between Gregor and his family? What clues in the story suggest that his relationship with his family, particularly his father, is unsatisfactory?

"Die Verwandlung" or "the Transformation".

“Die Verwandlung” or “the Transformation”.

Even though Gregor is a grown man, served in the army as an officer, and has carried the load for the family for several years, he is evidently not highly regarded.   He is inconsequential except for his labor.     His mother of course feels love for him, his sister, appreciative initially, but his father seems to take him entirely for granted.   The biggest clue is the discourse his family has after they are resolved to see what savings they have accumulated from their failed business, but also from the money they had been skimming off his pay.   He learns that not only did they possess some money when he thought they had been completely destitute, he also realizes that they had enough from his money to invest and earn a small increase.   He sees the wisdom in handling money like this, but doesn’t see as quickly, that they have not been honest with him, considering he was earning the family livelihood.

2. Discuss the central events in each of the three sections of The Metamorphoses. In what ways do these events suggest that the weakening of Gregor results in the strengthening of the family as a whole?

There is an interesting transition as Gregor gets weaker and weaker from a lack of food.     In the beginning the family is entirely reliant on Gregor to provide   for their well being.   After his change, his sister is attentive and concerned for him, his mother mourns his situation and his father wants to crush him.   Once backed into his room, he really never leaves it again in a significant way.   In the second part, as time goes by, his life is transformed as he is treated like the caged creature he has become, but his heart is wounded, for he is still Gregor.   No one understands this but him.   By the third part, Gregor is not eating and his family has begun a dramatic change.   His sister is confident and enjoying her position in the family with Gregor no longer her guide, imprisoned in his sell.   His mother, once pleading for his life, is unable to defend him any longer, and secretly wishes the agony over.   She is ready for a change.   His father, reeemerges, aggressive, fond of his old uniform, pushing his weight around and more than ready for Gregor to be gone.   He is not a son, he has become a cockroach and he must go.   Gregor’s passing is barely a moment in the story.   His family, by this time has become independent from his labor and he is simply in the way.

3. How effective do you find Akhmatova’s Requiem as a political protest? Requiem was not published until well after the purges were over and Stalin was dead; is it, then, totally lacking in influence?

“When Joe the Georgian” gets here, we will dance, dance, dance…”   — Al Stewart

Joe the Georgian.  Not always on top, Joseph Stalin as a anti-czarist revolutionary.  Mugshot from 1911.  He was known as a killer even then.  Photo public domain.

Joe the Georgian. Not always on top, Joseph Stalin as a anti-czarist revolutionary. Mugshot from 1911. He was known as a killer even then. Photo public domain.

“Requiem” is a stunning piece.   As I have mentioned before, I struggle with poetry.   For example, I do not think much of Rilke’s works as entertainment.   But Akhmatova’s, “Requiem” is altogether different.   A tragic life makes for good poetry, but a tragic Russian life always seem to be an epic.   Akhmatovka’s work is no different, especially for one like myself who enjoys world history.   The saga of Russia’s past is never really happy and dwells in bleak places, descending into tragedy and suffering on a frequent basis.   Stalin’s era was most likely the very worst.   My personal opinion is that he was as evil as Adolf Hitler and every bit as murderous.

The haunting image of Maria Tchebotareva who was sent to the Gulag in 1933. Her crime was trying to feed her children from a field she had formerly owned.  She was accused of taking 3 pounds of rye.  For this, she was imprisoned until after Stalin's death and she never found her children...Photo by

The haunting image of Maria Tchebotareva who was sent to the Gulag in 1933. Her crime was trying to feed her children from a field she had formerly owned. She was accused of taking 3 pounds of rye. For this, she was imprisoned until after Stalin’s death. She never found her children…Photo by

“Requiem”, may have been a very effective protest at the time, for even though Stalin was gone, his legacy lasted for a long, long time.   Leadership takes time to grow new roots.   Leadership is taught, from the leader, to the follower.   A follower must be courageous and individualistic in their mindset in order to change course and alter the lessons learned.   These are not things that were acceptable then.   “Requiem”, even in the 1960’s would have been a poignant reminder of what “the people” had been through; what it had cost them.   So, no, I think it carried greater influence in the decades after Stalin’s death.   But that is hard to assess.   Akhmatovka’s narrative painfully recreates the suffering of so many people who waited for some word, for reprieve, for relief from loss.   I think even as politics change, those memorial words continue to be effective.   For are we so far from this ourselves?   Are we “free” to speak?   Do you ever really hear tales of the Communist atrocities against their own people?     No, you don’t.   You see the evil Nazi’s in movie after movie.   Why not the horror of the Soviets?   Stalin murdered far more people than Hitler.   I think “Requiem” may still have a place in protest.


4. How should we interpret the famous command at the end of Archaic Torso of Apollo?

Rainer M. Rilke.  Photo shamelessly pinched from the web.

Rainer M. Rilke. Photo shamelessly pinched from the web.

Ah, ….hmmm..Yes, well I think what is going on here is that Rilke’s poem is describing the “Torso” statue assumed to be all that’s left of the Greek god Apollo.   Poor Rilke seems to have taken it into his head that the god is somehow fascinating in its decapitated and armless, legless state and his focus ends up on the, “zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.”, which of course is slang for the statue’s private parts.   In all seriousness, I’m not sure what Rilke is getting at, however, he is apparently very moved at the end, and having had his awareness or soul, deeply affected by the headless Apollo, feels that this is a life changing event.   Some days are like that…He will not be the same afterwords.   Can’t say that I agree.   Seems a little odd.


5 thoughts on “The Cockroach, A Protest, …and Apollo’s Parts..

  1. smaldonadodiaz

    I agree with you in that after the family became independent of Gregor, he was in their way, like a cockroach, so they needed to get rid of him. In my opinion, the family were more insects than Gregor. I think of the poem, however is an invitation to have a strong will or strong character.

    1. bdfleagle Post author

      Strong character is a blessing for some, earned the hard way for others. I have to admit, the subtle humor at times cracked me up, as in ‘Now’, said Gregor, in the knowledge that he was the only one present to have maintained his equanimity, ‘I’m just going to get dressed, pack up my samples, and the I’ll set off…” That’s how I feel getting out of bed some mornings, knowing full well that its going to take herculean effort.

  2. megkwag

    I liked your analysis of the three central events in The Metamorphosis! Seriously, you are so good at these discussions! Your answers go into such detail!

    1. sehoyos

      I agree! You did a great job concisely scrutinizing the metamorphosis of not just Gregor but his family. As you said, he doesn’t see clearly that his father was dishonest and hoarding money, but acknowledges that it was wise of him. I feel that there are other instances where Gregor interprets his family’s actions as something other than they are. For instance, when his sister scurries from the room and locks the door after giving him a selection of food, he considers it thoughtful, knowing he wouldn’t want to eat in front of her. He doesn’t consider the fact that she can’t stand to be in the room with him longer and locks the door to keep him from escaping into the house.

      1. bdfleagle Post author

        @Sehoyos..Yes, that moment struck me as well. I’ve known people like that,since they are lacking human interaction anyway, they often misinterpret actions that are not intended kindly as actually being intended for their benefit. Also I noted that he was in a picture on the wall as a young army officer, yet now he is pushing sales and on the bottom. That says more than one might think in the Germanic culture. At the time, soldiers were the most prestiges members of society. A man who could not maintain such status, wasn’t much of a man in their eyes.

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