The Metamorphosis Summary and Analysis
by Franz Kafka
At twilight Gregor wakes up, believing that he heard the noise of someone entering and leaving his room. He realizes that his body is badly bruised from being shoved through the door earlier that day. Suddenly Gregor smells food, which his sister had left for him, near the door and moves toward it, discovering that it contains bread floating in milk, which used to be his favorite drink. He discovers, however, that he finds milk repulsive and cannot drink it.
Gregor notices that his father is not reading the paper out loud to the family as usual and there is complete silence in the apartment. He hears the doors to his room being opened and quickly shut, and decides to try to persuade someone to come in the next time this happens, but the doors are kept locked now and no one will enter. Realizing that he feels uncomfortable in the center of his room, Gregor climbs under the couch. He considers that he must do his best to help the family deal with the current predicament.
Gregor's sister comes in and, seeing he is under the sofa, takes away the milk. Instead, she brings various items to see which of them he will eat. She leaves and Gregor comes out, discovering that he cannot eat fresh food at all, but only the spoiled cheese and vegetables. His sister returns, throws away everything he didn't eat, and leaves, while Gregor hides under the couch despite the discomfort (his body is swollen from eating) in order to spare her the unpleasantness of having to see all of him. His sister continues feeding him after that at times when his parents were asleep and the servant girl was away.
No one talks to Gregor because they assume that he cannot understand what they say. He has to learn everything only by listening to conversations taking place outside his door. The family discusses him a lot, especially since there are always at least two people at home since no one wants to be left alone with him in the apartment. The cook, finding out about Gregor's metamorphosis, begs to be allowed to leave and is dismissed.
From listening to conversations, Gregor discovers that his family doesn't eat much. His father explained the financial situation to the family, and would occasionally use money he had saved from his old business, which had collapsed. Gregor had not known about this money. When his father's business has fallen apart, he had thrown himself into his work and advanced in his job so as to be able to provide for his family. He remembers those times happily, but also recalls that after the initial happiness, the family became used to having him provide for them. He retained a strong bond only with his sister, and wanted to use the money he made to send her to the Conservatory to study the violin.
Gregor has to watch his movements very carefully, because if he makes any noise, his family will hear through the door and will become concerned. From listening to their conversations, Gregor learns that in addition to money left over from his father's business, the family had also saved a good deal of Gregor's salary that had been put aside. Gregor knows that he could have used the money to pay off the debt to his chief and leave his job earlier, but he agrees that his father's planning was best since it now left the family with some money. It was not enough to live on for more than two years at most, and should be reserved for an emergency. Every time money is mentioned, Gregor feels extremely ashamed.
Gregor enjoys looking out the window, as he finds this reminds him of how much he used to enjoy looking out the window before his metamorphosis. But he finds that his vision is getting worse, so that he can no longer make out the houses in his street. His sister runs through his room every time she comes in so as to open the window, as if she cannot stand to be in the room with him without the window open. Her running bothers him. When he realizes how much his appearance must upset her, Gregor figures out a way to cover himself with a sheet so that she cannot see him at all while she is in the room.
Gregor's parents do not come into his room, and his sister reports on his activities to them after she cleans the room every day. Gregor's mother eventually begs to see him, but the others hold her back even though she begs to be let in. Gregor thinks that he wants to see his mother because she can understand things better than his sister. In the meantime, Gregor had discovered, as he was losing interest in eating and found lying down all night doing nothing boring, that he enjoyed climbing on the walls and ceiling. Noticing this by the tracks he left, his sister decides to remove all his furniture to give him more room. Since the servant girl is afraid and Grete does not want to ask her father for help, she instead asks her mother. They come into the room, but find moving the chest of drawers very difficult. Gregor's mother suggests that if they were to remove all his furniture, it would look to him as though they had given up on his recovery. Gregor, hearing his mother's voice, realizes that he does want to keep his furniture since, even though it constrains his motion, it keeps him linked to his past. Gregor decides that he has to save his furniture.
The movement of the furniture and the women's walking around the room distracts Gregor. When they are momentarily outside, he crawls out from under the sofa and decides that he has to protect the picture of the woman in fur hanging on his wall. He climbs up on the wall and sticks to the picture. Grete and her mother come in and, when they see Gregor, his mother faints. Grete runs out to get some medicine to revive her and Gregor, wanting to help, follows. When she turns around and sees Gregor behind her, Grete drops a bottle of the medicine and runs into his room, locking him out. Gregor's father soon comes home to discover that Gregor has left his room and caused his mother to faint. Gregor, trapped in the living room by the locked door to his own room, cannot escape his father who chases him around the room and then begins throwing apples at him. One of the apples sinks into Gregor's back, causing him such pain that he can't move. As he loses consciousness, Gregor sees his mother running to his father and begging him to spare her son's life.
Chapter 2: Analysis
Gregor awakens at twilight, the moment when darkness is just covering the last light of day. Thus, the fact that Gregor has now been cut off from humanity is emphasized by the fact that he awakens in darkness. He has been isolated from everyone, a situation also brought out by the fact that his family now locks his doors from the outside and walks around on tip-toe so as to remain undetected by him.
Gregor's sister still retains the strong bond they had before his metamorphosis, as she assumes all responsibility for cleaning his room. Grete's attachment to her brother is demonstrated by her choice of food for him: milk, which used to be his favorite drink. It is also Grete who comes up with the idea of clearing Gregor's room of furniture so as to give him more space to move around in. Grete attempts to care for Gregor in the same way he used to care for her, but she seems driven by family duty rather than a true human bond, as we see from the fact that she never addresses Gregor directly except on one occasion when she turns to threaten him. Grete seems to think that Gregor cannot understand her, though he gives clear signals (somehow invisible to her) of his intelligence and concern for her.
Gregor will do anything to avoid causing her distress, and she realizes this; knowing that he will not eat in front of her, for example, she locks the door to let him know he can come out of hiding. She is very considerate in bringing him food, trying to find out what he likes by bringing him a selection of things to choose from, but at the same time treats him like a stranger: she throws away even the food he hasn't touched, picks up his bowl with a cloth rather than bare hands, and enters his room on tip-toe, "as if she were visiting an invalid or even a stranger."
Gregor, in a fascinating manner fails to see the significance of events around him. His family tip-toes around the house and stays up late without talking. Gregor notes that his father has stopped reading the newspaper aloud to the others after dinner. He recounts these factual events in detail, never stopping to consider that they are related to directly to his metamorphosis. Gregor's isolation is evident from this inability to understand the significance of his family's behavior, taking their actions for granted without inquiring as to the reasons for these actions.
Feeling pride for having been able to provide so well for his family, Gregor manages to temporarily escape his guilt. Pride, in fact, is the positive side of guilt since one feels pride upon doing a job well and guilt upon failing. Thus Gregor's dominant emotion switches from pride to guilt once he is no longer able to care for his family.
Gregor's alienation from his environment is something that has not changed with his metamorphosis. Whereas earlier he had thought that his room was too small, now he thinks it is a "lofty, empty room," altogether too big for his needs. In this way Gregor's room, which he has lived in for years, has never felt like home to him but rather as some foreign place in which he found himself.
Gregor sets out to "meditate at his leisure on how he was to arrange his life afresh." These meditations, however, bring him nowhere, since he is unable to escape the self-effacing guilt and duty that have been ruling his life up to now. The metamorphosis, which should have aided a psychological transformation, has still left him trapped in the grip of the same emotions that had held him in check during his whole previous life. We can see this in the pains Gregor takes to help his family deal with the "inconvenience he was bound to cause them in his present condition." Gregor's need to escape his previous life is something that he could never justify to himself, and he retains his disregard for his own well being for the sake of others. He says he would rather starve to death than show his sister that he is hungry, suppressing his impulse to beg her for food in order to avoid inconveniencing her.
Gregor has to watch his movements carefully. If he drops his head, this bothers his family, and so he tries to put his head down carefully. He tries to do everything possible not to bother them. Even though he has been freed from his economic imprisonment, he has become a prisoner in a different way. Literally, he has been locked in, and he off-handedly mentions "his imprisonment." But psychologically he also remains a slave, since he must monitor every move out of concern for his family. Gregor's new prison seems even worse than his old one, though this one is unbearable only because of his own need to serve his family. Gregor is crushed by his inability to help them; hearing them mention money, he "threw himself down on the cool leather sofa, he felt so hot with shame and grief."
When Gregor climbs under the couch, he does so in order to spare his family the pain of having to see him. His hiding, however, is an escapist move. It was escapism that seems to have brought on his metamorphosis, allowing him to find freedom from work. Now, enslaved by his feelings of duty to his family, he attempts to escape these by hiding under the couch and out of the way.
The couch also plays a role in demonstrating Gregor's isolation. Gregor's link with humanity is shattered when no one thinks of attempting to communicate with him directly. The family does not speak to him, and he learns of what is happening only by voyeuristically listening in on their conversations. The couch intensifies this voyeuristic aspect when Gregor surreptitiously watches his sister from behind a sheet while hiding under it.
To understand the nature of Gregor's psychological self-imprisonment, we need to look at the perfectly justified resentment building within Gregor, which he tries to suppress at all costs. Gregor notes that his family had wanted to come in when he wanted privacy upon waking after his metamorphosis, but now that he wanted company they would not come in. There is a clear trace of bitterness in Gregor's apprehension of this fact, but he can't admit that to himself.
Noting that his parents never enter his room to bring him food, he observes: "not that they would have wanted him to starve, of course, but perhaps they could not have borne to know more about his feeding than from hearsay." They care about him, but can't stand the thought of him. Though Gregor realizes that it is natural for them to be repulsed by his form, he still wishes that they would not treat him with such neglect.
Gregor's relationship with his sister also seems tinged with resentment at times. She consistently does things to cause him discomfort: she runs through his room to open the window and she does not remove the sheet he uses to hide himself from her. Gregor assumes that, since she must realize that these things annoy him, she would not do them unless they were necessary. But Gregor cannot observe all this without feeling bitterness at no longer being treated as a member of the family. This is brought out by the differences between the ways the siblings treat each other. Gregor hides under the couch even when this is extremely uncomfortable and is willing to do four hours of work to cover himself with the blanket just so she won't have to see him. She, on the other hand, does not make such sacrifices, but rather attempts to do everything that duty demands of her in a way that would not put her to the trouble of actually having to deal with Gregor.
The relation with his parents is also somewhat strained, and has been so since before the metamorphosis. Gregor was happy to provide for them, but there was no "special uprush of warm feeling" once they got used to his providing the money. They got used, essentially, to his function as a cash dispenser. He retained a human familial relation only with his sister. Gregor clearly feels slighted by the fact that his parents began to see him as a provider and took this for granted.
This slights resentment, already present, is increased by the discoveries Gregor makes by listening to his family's conversations. He finds out that his father had some money left after the collapse of his business, something he had previously not been told. He had believed his family was desolate, and so had given up his life to work in order to make money for them. He had been placed into servitude for the family automatically, without being informed of the actual financial situation.
Gregor had given his parents all the money he earned instead of paying off his father's debts to his boss so he could quit his job, something Gregor was extremely eager to do. He discovers that not all of the money was needed at the time, and that his parents had managed to save a fair amount by putting aside some of the money he gave them. Though Gregor thinks that "doubtless it was better the way his father had arranged it," but there is clear resentment in this. If the idea of paying off the debts had not appealed to him, he would not have mentioned it. Once again, this is a case where Gregor represses his feelings of resentment out of a sense of duty to his family. The denial of this resentment of his family is part of the psychological prison Gregor now inhabits.
Gregor finds that he likes to look out the window, "obviously in some recollection of the sense of freedom that looking out of a window always used to give him." But this desire for freedom is something that Gregor experienced in the past; it seems to have left him. Freedom is a human need and Gregor has been brought to the state of being inhuman, where he cannot even recognize his loss of freedom.
Crawling around the walls and ceiling symbolizes Gregor's freedom from the responsibility of work. He says that on the wall, "one could breathe more freely. . . [in] blissful absorption." At these times, spending his days crawling around the room instead of working as before, Gregor recaptures some of that freedom he had hoped for. But this freedom is an inhuman freedom of his body, and his human mind remains imprisoned. Gregor's loss of sight is a metaphor for this loss of freedom, even more acute than the loss he had suffered before when he spent his life working. He can no longer see what is around him and thus can no longer dream of being free as he used to when staring out the window.
This loss of sight also has another meaning. In the Greek play Oedipus Rex, Oedipus puts out his own eyes after he discovers that he inadvertently killed his own father. Gregor also feels that, by not working, he is committing a crime against his father. And he feels that his resentment, although he does his best to repress it, is also an offense against his father. His loss of sight is a punishment for this crime.
Gregor notices that his sister has gained a lot of confidence as a result of having to take care of him. Like Gregor, who once worked for his family out of duty in order to feel pride and avoid guilt, Grete now attempts to do the same in fulfilling her duty to Gregor. The narrator notes that she is tempted to "exaggerate the horror of her brother's circumstances in order that she might do all the more for him." Grete is now a prisoner to duty just like Gregor used to be, and she deals with this situation by attempting to make herself feel pride in her fulfillment of that duty. When Grete invents the idea of clearing Gregor's room of furniture to give him more space to move around in, she is clearly very proud of herself.
Gregor remembers his sister's ability to "play movingly" on the violin. This memory links him to his humanity, where art seemed important. This memory is one of the few that Gregor hits on in an attempt to reestablish the bond with his humanity, lost years ago when he entered the workforce. Gregor had planned to use his earnings to send his sister to the Conservatory, though this was extremely expensive. Not even art is free from the alienation brought on by capitalism, since the development of Grete's talent requires Gregor to surrender his freedom.
Hearing his mother's voice near him for the first time since his metamorphosis, Gregor is reminded of his humanity. Her words and her presence bring back to him the feeling of relatedness to his surroundings, and he realizes that his furniture is an essential part of his humanity. Gregor desperately wants to hold on to this and, when he has to make a quick decision about what to protect in his room, instantly seizes on the framed picture hanging up on his wall.
The picture clearly symbolizes Gregor's link with his humanity, but different interpretations of this picture are possible. The picture of a pretty woman may represent women in general, along with the possibility of human relationships. In the first chapter, Gregor's relationship with a magazine cut-out, rather than a real person, demonstrated his alienation from human beings. Now, this picture seems to offer him the opposite, a way out of that alienation. The element of his lover interest being taken away and symbolically replaced by his mother and sister is founded on psychoanalytic theories, where the desire for incest is the most primitive and most animal urge found in human beings. Some critics have pointed out that the picture, showing a woman largely concealed in fur as if she is turning into an animal, symbolizes Gregor's own metamorphosis. This picture then represents the personal human identity he has lost, and he asserts himself for the first time in the novel in opposition to his family in order to preserve his identity.
The glass of the picture is mentioned twice here. First, it is comforting to his hot belly, but it acts as a reminder that he can never possess the picture. The glass separates them. His humanity is out of reach. Yet the second mention of the glass is when Gregor finds that he is stuck to it. His humanity, though it seems out of reach, is also something he cannot entirely let go of.
Gregor's desire to establish his self-identity, which he has so far been steadily effacing for the sake of his family, leads to his first self-interested act of the novel. For the first time he crawls out into plain view despite the knowledge of the disturbance this will cause to the others. Not only is Gregor willing to come out of hiding, but he is also aggressively determined to defend the picture on the wall. He says that he "would rather fly in Grete's face" than let her take the picture. Suddenly, tired of constantly ignoring his own needs and desires to avoid inconveniencing his family, Gregor is prepared to defend his link to his humanity, from which he draws his newfound assertiveness.
Gregor describes the change in his father's appearance in great detail. The old man who used to lie around lazily and feebly now stands tall, dressed in a uniform and with his hair neatly brushed. Gregor's father, so much stronger than he once was, is now the proper symbol of authority that Kafka's father figures tend to be. The father is a power that emerges from behind an old and weak-looking body to dominate and threaten the son. And so, at the moment when Gregor suddenly recognizes his humanity and puts his self-interest before his consideration for his family, his father bursts in to put him back down with the power of his authority.
In the first chapter we witnessed Mr. Samsa driving Gregor out of the paradise of his family, the living room, with the aid of a stick, symbolic of the fiery sword used to drive Adam and Eve out of Eden and into the world of guilt. This guilt, which human beings had to bear because Adam and Eve tasted the apple, now comes back against Gregor. By asserting himself against consideration for his family and in order to find his humanity, Gregor plays the role of Adam, who became human by tasting the apple of good and evil in opposition to God's command. When Adam asserted himself against God by eating the apple, he was punished. A similar scene is played out here, with all the same symbols clearly in place. Any act against the family, such as Gregor has just taken, is an act against the authority of the father, the God figure in regard to Gregor. Gregor is tortured by guilt, also the result of Adam's having eaten the apple. And Gregor's father appears to punish him for his transgression by throwing at him the same apples that Adam used against God. This scene, with Gregor's father pursuing him with the apples, is like the God of Genesis throwing the apples that were used against him back at Adam.
Finally, Gregor's mother appears and begs her husband to spare Gregor. Earlier, she had asked to see Gregor, insisting that "he is my unfortunate son I must go to him." Mrs. Samsa still feels something more than simple duty, something that has been brought out in her by the family's tragedy. She remembers that Gregor is her son and, though he has been changed into an insect, she still feels love for him. This leads into the third chapter, where the family attempts to treat Gregor with more familial kindness.
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