The Metamorphosis

How does the family change by the end of the story?


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Gregor notes that the family is not as lively as they used to be, when he would dream about them in hotel rooms. He misses the irony in this, which is that his family could live happily and cheerfully only so long as Gregor remained isolated in hotel rooms, that is, only so long as he continued working and they were all free to do nothing. Though the family's pervasive depression is obviously a result of Gregor's metamorphosis, the same thing would have happened if Gregor had simply stopped working without such a good excuse. The family could retain its close bonds and human relations only at the cost of alienating their son.

Mr. Samsa, always in uniform, looks "as if he were ready for service at any moment and even here only at the beck and call of his superior." He has been reincorporated into the work force, and has lost his own volition; he is, instead, always a slave to his job even when he is at home. The brass buttons on his uniform, always polished, represent his absorption into the dehumanizing capitalist system. They contrast with his dirty uniform, which symbolizes the degradation of the individual human core behind that socially useful and servile façade. Just as humanity decays behind the privations of a thankless and exhausting job, so the uniform becomes covered with greasy stains behind the shining brass buttons.

In the uniform, Mr. Samsa sleeps "in extreme discomfort and yet quite peacefully." The uniform, symbol of the economic order, causes discomfort and loss of individuality. The individual, by ignoring his own humanity and sacrificing himself entirely to the economic order, can feel "at peace" at the cost of no longer being human.

As a result of Gregor's escape from the economic order, his family has been drafted into it. All of them now have dehumanizing jobs. His father serves low clerks, his mother "devoted her energy to making underwear for strangers," and his sister has to obey customers and run around behind a counter. This is the justification for Gregor's self-sacrifice before his metamorphosis. He alone was able to provide for his family so that, though he lost his humanity, the three of them could retain theirs. The well-being of the greater number was dependent on Gregor's lonely suffering.

Grete and her mother attempt, despite their alienation resulting from their jobs. This is the last attempt of human beings to maintain a true family in the face of the dehumanization they face. The father with his brass buttons, and Gregor, who symbolizes this alienation threatening them, are not allowed into their relationship and are expelled as the father is put to bed and the door to Gregor's room is shut.