DISCUSSION: First and Last Impressions

Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis opens with a chilling sentence: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” The reference to bed and dreams has led some critics to interpret the story from a psychoanalytical perspective, drawing on Freud’s theories of the unconscious. But what if we take the sentence literally? As Arnold Weinstein points out, “In today’s literary scene we are constantly asked to imagine the other—women, minorities, folks of a different race or ethnicity or sexual preference—but nothing quite matches the gauntlet Kafka throws down at us: to try out a new body, a horrendous insect body. If ever reading was an entry into something else, this is it” (103). Intrigued, we keep reading to find out how both Samsa and his family deal with this shocking transformation.

Here’s another example. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” This quote — the first sentence of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude — plunges us immediately into a drama, introduces us to a character on the brink of death, and yet makes us wonder about the meaning of his long-forgotten memory.

Hence this assignment: choose one of the short-stories in this unit whose opening words, sentences, and/or paragraphs grab your attention and make you curious about the “before” and “after.” Keep in mind that:

The opening portion of a narrative is called the exposition, in which, usually, the scene is set, the protagonist is introduced, and the author presents any background info necessary for the reader to understand the events that follow.
The narrative device of beginning a story midway in the events it depicts (usually at a significant moment, as in One Hundred Years of Solitude or in Tolstoy’s “After the Dance”), before explaining the context or preceding actions, is called in medias res (Latin for “in the middle of things”).

Once you have made your selection and read it carefully, do the following:

First, explain how the exposition prepares you for what follows. Identify at least two elements of fiction (setting, point of view, diction, irony, etc.) and discuss how they function in the passage.
Next, explicate the concluding paragraph of the selected story. What does the ending imply about the conflict (is it resolved or not?), the character’s development and/or fate, and the story’s theme? Does the ending provide closure, or is it left open for interpretation?

Compose a minimum of one substantive, well-written literary analysis. Your paragraph must be 200+ in length and incorporate textual evidence (words, phrases, etc.) that are properly cited (page numbers in parentheses at end of sentence, before the period).

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