Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The author sets much of this story in the New York City of the 1950s,
the era of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and the McCarthy
hearings, as well as the era of Kerouac, Ginsberg and the Beat Generation
Why do you think he chose that setting for Kockroachs metamorphosis?
The author uses different tense and person combinations in telling the
story: the Kockroach chapters are told in third person present and broken up
into short prose sections; the Celia chapters are told in third person past;
the Mite chapters are told in the first person. Why do you think he made
these choices and are they appropriate for each character?
Kafka never stated that Gregor Samsa, the protagonist in The
Metamorphosis, transformed into a cockroach. The word he uses is akin to
vermin, and a cleaning woman late into the story refers to Gregor as a dung
beetle. Why then, in this twist on Kafka, did the author make Kockroach a
cockroach? How would Kockroach fare in the human world if he metamorphosized
from a cat? A dog? A spider? A hyena?
At one point, Mite has the realization that by bringing Kockroach to
Abagados and the world of organized crime, he is responsible for Kockroach
becoming a murderous criminal. Is Mite correct, did he mold Kockroach, or is
Kockroachs entry into crime and violence an inevitable result of his
Kockroach comes to a realization about the limits of violence in the
human world. Is he right? If so, why havent humans learned the same lesson?
Kockroach finds his basic arthropodal nature suffering a number of
corruptions as he travels through the human world: his taste for meat, his
use of language, the buzzing nuisance of thought, his desire to continue a
relationship even after the sex. Are these corruptions evidence of Kockroach
becoming more human, and even more humane, or are these simply adaptations
that allow Kockroach to impose his will upon a corrupted world?
Kockroach has no prejudice he reviles all humans equally holds no
grudges, is generous and loyal to his friends while ravaging his enemies,
harnesses his talents to his great ambitions, and achieves almost everything
he sets out to achieve. Is it far off the mark to call him a classic role
The humans have different names for Kockroach -- Jerry and Jerzy and
Blatta and Boss but in the chapters told from Kockroachs point of view,
he is always referred to as Kockroach. Why do you think the author makes
Mite says the bright line in his life demarking before and after is the
moment of his mothers first epileptic fit. Is he right? What effect did Old
Dudley have on his character? Or Celia, or Champ or Kockroach himself?
Mite suffers from chronic existential angst, Kockroach knows no angst,
yet together they make a formidable team. Why do they work so well together?
How do they compare to classic American comedy duos like Laurel and Hardy,
Lewis and Martin, or Haldeman and Erlichman?
Mite and Kockroach are two entirely different beings, and yet both are
drawn to Celia. What is it about Celia that attracts each of them?
Mites view of Celia is very different than Celias view of herself. Who
is ultimately right? What are some of the moments in the story where Celias
inner nature is revealed to Mite if only he would pay attention?
Celias choices all through the book seem to be driven by her feelings
for Kockroach. She eventually abandons a life that fulfilled all her
mothers hopes for her, and instead creates a life for herself within
Kockroachs world. Is she being true to herself, or is she just another
human whose will is bent by Kockroach for his own purposes? Did she make a
Kockroach has a strange paternalistic relationship to the women in his
life, even as he mercilessly puts them to work for him. How would you
describe these relationships and why do they work so well for him? As he
moves from Sylvie to Celia to Cassandra to Glenda, how do these
Kockroach says of the human world that it makes perfect sense to him.
You see what you want and you take it. Others try to take it for
themselves. Whoever is stronger wins. What does not make sense? How would
he have described the rules of the world if he was transformed into someone
like Kafka when he wrote his story, an alienated Jewish intellectual living
in Prague in 1915?
What makes this an American story?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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