“There is reason that all things are as they are” (Stoker). In the written works of Dracula and The Metamorphosis, the authors use two very different styles to portray horrifying fantasy. In Dracula, Bram Stoker uses realism in the form of journal entries, letters, ships’ logs, and newspaper articles to tell the story of the vampire Count Dracula. In The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka uses surrealism in the form of third person narrative, to tell the story of Gregor Samsa, who wakes one day to find he has been transformed overnight into a huge, disgusting bug. Although the authors employ different styles to tell their characters’ fascinating yet disturbing stories, each author’s purpose is successfully achieved by the use of their chosen style.
At the time Stoker wrote Dracula, in the late 19th century, the gothic novel was popular and readers had been enthralled with horror stories by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe in the United States for many years. Also popular at the time was the serial novel or multiple-part story, published one section at a time, in weekly papers that more people could afford and read. This is where Stoker came in, with his dark and adventurous tale of the vampire Count Dracula. Using realism, Stoker was careful to draw the reader into the story slowly, through the use of widely varying types of written material, such as numerous journal entries of Jonathan Harker, a brand new lawyer (solicitor) who visits Count Dracula to give him legal real estate assistance. The story proceeds as any normal story would, with Harker telling the story of his lodging, travel, and those he meets along the way. However, many clues regarding the mysterious, creeping, almost insidious nature of the tale appear very quickly, with stories of the “evil eye” signed by nearly everyone, midnight black horses at midnight, and howling wolves all across the country.
Stoker’s use of realism also allowed him to draw from the viewpoints of several characters, with some brief newspaper clippings about goings-on that none of the story’s main characters could ever ‘see’ to push the narrative along. There were also letters between Mina and Lucy, who discussed Harker’s travels in Transylvania, along with numerous other unrelated topics – much in the style of the time, with meanderings away from the main topics. However, Stoker’s attention to detail as he weaves the story among the characters, through their varying types of materials, is quite obvious to the trained eye. Although the story takes a short detour or three, the storyline always faithfully returns to the main topic: Count Dracula and Transylvania.
With the use of such realistic materials and viewpoints, it was a foregone conclusion that Dracula emerged much like a ‘real life’ story would emerge. Instead of presenting Count Dracula’s story as if it is a fantasy-horror tale, Stoker brilliantly used his carefully chosen devices and methods to systematically put the reader into a semi-bored drone from passages such as “He is such a nice fellow, an American from Texas, and he looks so young and so fresh” to something as dramatic as “the world seems full of good men – even if there are monsters in it”. By skillfully interweaving such writing, Stoker’s realism certainly hits home.
Conversely, Kafka uses surrealism to abruptly yank the reader into the story, remaining in an emotionally disconnected third person narrative throughout. Actually, one of the most memorable lines of the story appears in the first sentence: “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug” (Kafka). Instantly, with no warning whatsoever, the unwitting reader who thought she was just settling in for a nice long assigned reading finds herself smack in the middle of an obviously surreal story. Kafka’s decision to turn Gregor into a huge bug is one of the mysteries of the literary world, which neither he – nor anyone else – was ever able to explain. However, Kafka’s decision to present Gregor Samsa’s newfound ‘bugness’ in third person narrative is certainly explainable. From the moment the reader discovers the main character has (overnight) become a bug, there is a strange emotional disconnect. Obviously, the reader cannot possibly be expected to have an emotional connection to someone who is now a loathsome bug, as Kafka repeatedly emphasizes. This leaves the reader with the only remaining choice: assume the story is surreal and absurd, and emotionally disconnect from the main character. So, as Gregor makes his way through days and nights of alleged annoyance or discomfort as a new bug, the reader begins to think of him in third-person terms – the bug – and feels practically nothing, at first.
Additionally, throughout the story, Kafka frequently promotes a feeling of such far-fetched ridiculousness that it’s almost impossible to take anything in the story very seriously. “above all the various noises of eating their chewing teeth could still be heard, as if they had wanted to show Gregor that you need teeth in order to eat” and that “his numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes” (Kafka). Even the mere exercise of imagining a man-turned-bug lying on his back with numerous thin legs waving helplessly in front of his own eyes is nearly the definition of ridiculous absurdity.
As a result of Kafka’s now-legendary use of abrupt surrealism and unbelievable ridiculous absurdity – called “Kafkaesque” in the modern terminology – the average reader spends most of the story thoroughly confused. However, that is largely what Kafka was aiming for, when he chose surreal style coupled with third person narrative, emotional disconnect, and ridiculous absurdity. Many critics have spent entire careers researching Kafka’s motives and influences, but even the layman can tell that a man abruptly turning into a bug in the first sentence of a story is, well, buggy.
Therefore, although Dracula and The Metamorphosis were written in two very different styles, the authors’ respective purposes were clearly achieved. Stoker’s realism slowly and carefully drew the reader into the story and convinced him Count Dracula really might be lurking in a castle in some far off place called Transylvania. On the other hand, Kafka’s purposeful surrealism abruptly and obviously yanked the reader into a story so fantastical and far-fetched that no one should ever believe a man became a bug overnight. These are just two masterful examples of brilliant writers using the tools, methods, and devices at their disposal to do what only the best writers can truly do: tell a story and tell us whether or not to believe it.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. (1915). Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. (1897). Web. 19 Apr. 2015.