The story starts as Gregor Samsa, a travelling merchant who dislikes his job but has kept it because of his father’s debt to his boss, wakes up in an ordinary morning- what is unordinary is that he has turned into a giant bug. However, Gregor’s transformation is only outward, and he is not much alarmed and is more worried about oversleeping than his becoming an insect. He plans to catch a later train to get to work. Meanwhile, Gregor’s family has noticed his unusual presence at home so late in the morning and try talking to him through the door of Gregor’s room.
Initially, Gregor succeeds in telling them that he will come right out; later, his speech becomes irreprehensible. Just as he finally has found a way to get out of the bed, his annoying, fastidious chief clerk has arrived to investigate his absence from work that day (in 15 years of service, G. has never missed a single day at work).
G. tries to explain his situation, but his words can no longer be made out; his sister and maid are sent to get doctor and locksmith; finally, he manages to unlock the door, hurting his jaws. As the chief clerk sees him, he begins to panic; Gregor’s family is shocked, especially his sensitive mother, while his father violently drives Gregor back into his room, not giving him time to enter properly. Gregor severely hurts himself at the door.
In the section 2 of the story, Gregor’s family tries to adjust to the change of their son.
Grete, Gregor’s younger sister who has once loved him very much, is now the one to take practical care of Gregor- clean his room and bring him food. While Grete is in his room, Gregor hides to prevent her from seeing his disgusting insect outside. Initially, Grete is very punctual and diligent in these activities. Soon she, and the rest of the family as well, understand that they are obliged to start working, as their sole supporter can support them no more.
Being the only one to have courage and proficiency to take care of Gregor, Grete begins to feel both influential and necessary to the family. She feels urged to exaggerate her authority and become a self-appointed spokesperson for Gregor, persuading her mother to start removing furniture from Gregor’s room, assuming this to be in his interest. However, Gregor approaches furniture as a link with his human past; removing the furniture means a faster descent into animal existence (Gregor has already changed much of his habits and preferences to more bug- like ones). That is the reason why, when his mother and sister are going to remove his beloved desk that has served Gregor since his childhood (mother has been insisting to preserve the room as it is, for Gregor would need it once he is changed back, but Grete forces her to agree), Gregor starts to panic. He climbs onto his perhaps favourite object in the whole room, a picture of a lady hanging on the wall.
His mother enters the room and faints after seeing Gregor unprepared. Gregor desperately wants to help revive his mother and rushes out of his room. Grete slams the door shut, and Gregor is confronted with his father who has returned home. An odd chase begins, until Gregor’s father begins to bombard his son with apples. One of them hits Gregor in the back, sticking in there and causing him intense pain. Gregor’s mother, who has regained consciousness, pleads Gregor’s father to not to kill their son.
In section 3, the situation has changed. Gregor’s family have all started up jobs, while Gregor’s wound is rapidly getting worse (nobody has the courage to remove the apple from his back). Grete has no time to clean his room or worry about his appetite, and Gregor starts to feel lonely, abandoned and forsaken. However, the attitude towards him has changed. The door to Gregor’s room is left open in the evenings so he can take part in his now exhausted, working family’s evening routines. This ends when the family takes in three tenants, being overcautious for obeying their wishes, also taking care to hide Gregor from them.
One evening Grete begins to practise violin in the kitchen where Samsas now have their supper. The lodgers invite them to the living room. Gregor, who has always enjoyed Grete’s violin playing, sneaks out through the half-open door to his room. As he watches his sister and listens to the music, Gregor partly transfers himself to an imaginary world where he and Grete would have complete understanding and affection for each other and he would reveal Grete his dream to send her to conservatory. Gregor’s daydreaming ends rapidly when one of the lodgers notices him. All three announce immediate leave.
Grete is the one to express the secret wish of the whole family- Gregor has to be get rid of; this insect cannot have anything in common with their lost son and brother. All wanly agree, including Gregor, who creeps back into his room, hearing door slam shut behind him. He dies some hours later, his last emotions being love for his family.
As the family learns about Gregor’s death, they almost start a new life. The annoying chairwoman is fired, tenants are banished, three letters of excusal are written, and the family takes a trip to the countryside together for the first time in several months. It is spring and sunny, they are all in high spirits, and the parents simultaneously begin to consider Grete’s marriage perspectives.
This is a dominant theme in all Kafka’s works- the individual cannot find a group of society to belong to. Gregor actually had few things of his own- only fret sawing, pride of supporting his family and a secret dream to send his sister Grete to conservatory. He has no relationship outside his family, and the relationship he has with them is too much based on his sole-supporter status. He feels detached from his own life, as it is far from being his own.
This theme is partially hidden in the work. It is more connected with Kafka’s own life, the apple thrown at Gregor being an allegory of the harmful influence that Kafka’s own ruthless father had over him.
This is another very characteristic theme in Kafka’s writings. Gregor does not choose his transformation; some higher force, for which any individual is merely a plaything, has chosen to turn him into a bug for unknown purposes. Not only is there nothing that Gregor could do about it; his acceptance of the situation is odd, hopeless and obedient, as well as the calmness he preserves.
These concepts seem incompatible with the powerful force that has control over events in Kafka’s literary world. However, the fate is only time-by-time playing with Kafka’s personages; they have their own will and ability to try and change their lives. However, Gregor has been bound to his family for his whole adult life; now, once he has been turned into an insect, his family has no use of or power over him. Ironically, Gregor has more freedom than before; even though he is trapped into an insect body and he has therefore limited freedom of action, he is no longer a slave of his family. His time is more his own.
To take care of their families seems to be the duty of grown up children. However, the story shows how it may actually deter one from having his own life.
This motive has originally been used in the Bible and in numerous works of art ever since. In “Metamorphosis”, Gregor also leaves his family (is made to leave), but this is not a quest for freedom. He experiences an outward change that releases him from performing the activities necessary and inseparable from his life before. His escape is incidental, and he longs to rejoin his family, to feel like he belongs to them again. Gregor does not notice it even until his death, but he has been too occasionally exploited by them and therefore never actually belonged to his family.
Gregor Samsa has chosen to work as a travelling salesman to repay his father’s debt to his boss. He is an ordinary man with no special passions in his life- the only are paying for his sister’s conservatory education, fret- sawing and supporting his family for which he feels proud of. However, Gregor has no friends or stable relationships with the opposite sex; as far the novella reveals, the only serious relationships in his life he has with his family members. As the family member’s love towards Gregor is based on material benefits received from him, it is easy to see the narrow nature of these relationships. Therefore, Gregor’s loneliness seems unavoidable, it is the state in which he has spent his whole life and which has become an inseparable part of his character.
Another typical feature of Gregor is that he stays calm throughout the entire story, in all situations. Gregor tries to stick to his everyday routine even when he notices that he has been transformed into an insect. This points at another significant characteristic possessed by Gregor- alienation from his own life, because his tranquil reaction and disinterest are too genuine to be a means of escaping from the unpleasant reality.
Gregor’s sister, Grete, has once loved him very much. She is the family’s youngest child and, before Gregor’s transformation, has been the least respected of all the family members. However, Gregor’s place in the family becomes vacant, and Grete gains new importance, as she is now indispensable, taking care about Gregor. She also has to start up a job in a store. Gregor’s transformation helps Grete become more mature and independent, to grow up.
The same can be said about Gregor’s parents- his voluntary support of his family materially has actually led them to leading a lazy, luxurious, irresponsible lifestyle. The transformation forces them to become adults once more.
Gregor’s father is obviously in numerous ways similar to Kafka’s own father. His oppressive, authoritarian nature actually oppresses his son more than anybody else in the family; Gregor’s work that does not let him fulfil his dreams, is also an allegoric “repayment of his father’s sins”.
Gregor’s mother is a weak woman that does not defend her opinions and has always been ready to agree with somebody else. Similarly as for the rest of the family, her love to Gregor is much smaller than her disgust of the insect that Gregor has now become.
The whole story, except the very end, is set in the Samsa family apartment. It is situated near the centre of the city; yet, the location is quiet. The weather is gloomy, moist and cold. These surroundings are in contrast with the end of the story when the family take trip to countryside, where weather is sunny and warm for the first time in the novella and the spring has finally come
Charwoman, fretsaw, enunciate, austere, superfluous, bedpost, concede, lodgers, protrude, aggrieved, quaking, denude, immaculate, thread, laboriously.
Also, the differences in meaning between transformation (which Kafka prefers to use in the story) and metamorphosis (which is used in the title and is far more symbolic) caught my attention.
The depth of Kafka’s works is terrifying yet binding. However, he has never been one of my favourite authors, because his apparent objectives in writing differ strongly from ones I think a writer should have.
Alienation, despair and presence of all-powerful fate are some of the most significant characteristics of Kafka’s works. Instead of giving the reader some strength or motivation to live, Kafka describes a world in which individual is weak and all his attempts to confront The Fate are doomed to fail. Most specialists agree that pessimism in Kafka’s works is rooted in his life. Yet, the situations in his writings in a very important way differ from what he experienced himself.
Gregor could not turn back into a human at his own will (come up against The Fate and belong). Nor could he stick the rotten apple out of his back (cure the injury that his father had caused him).
However, I do not see a reason why Kafka could not overcome his inner disharmony and either adapt to some group of people or put up with loneliness to quell his own feeling of alienation. Nor why he could not leave his past behind him and rise above his father’s insults.
Generally, I agree that a writer can and even should be affected by what he has experienced. Yet, to me it looks like Kafka’s failures have influenced his writings too much, not only reflecting in some events of the plot, but determining the whole intonation and enforcing a pessimistic atmosphere on all Kafka’s texts. Moreover, the atmosphere does not seem efficiently pessimistic, with a purpose. To me it looks like Kafka was actually used to his problems and had even grown to love them in a way. He rather preferred to describe them, even feast his eyes on them (a specific type of exhibitionism) than try and solve them.
And that is apprehensible- if Kafka would feel like he belonged he might also feel ordinary; not unique but a member of a group. If he really left behind the injustice that his father had done to him, he would possibly also lose the propelling force behind his literary career.
Yet his attitude towards his own problems is not a characteristic I would value. I admire Kafka’s writing skills and other qualities that appear in his works, but I do not agree that the reader should be like author’s psychotherapist in a one- sided conversation.
Of course, this does not mean that “Metamorphosis”, taken separately, loses any of its many qualities, especially, if the reader remains unaware of its biographic background.
What fascinates me most in this work is the many possible interpretations of Gregor’s transformation and other events. The reader is encouraged to doubt and think, which I find extremely laudable, worthy and NICE.