The Metamorphosis Summary and Analysis
by Franz Kafka
Gregor's injury cripples him so that he finds it difficult to move around and can no longer climb walls. As a result, however, his father realizes that Gregor should be treated as part of the family and not as an enemy, and the family now leaves the door to his bedroom open so that he can watch them sitting around the table while he remains hidden in the dark. The interactions of the family are very quiet, however. After dinner, his father falls asleep while in his armchair while still wearing his uniform, which has become dirty. His mother sows and his sister, who has taken a job as a salesgirl, studies French and shorthand. Every night Grete and her mother struggle to get the father into bed.
Everyone is too tired to care much about Gregor. They let the servant girl go and instead hire on a charwoman to come in twice a day and do the difficult work. The family was forced to sell off their ornaments and wanted to move to a smaller apartment but couldn't because they couldn't think of a way to move Gregor. Gregor, however, believes that the family simply doesn't have the strength to move; they have reconciled themselves to suffering misfortune. Every evening Grete sits with her mother and they close the door of Gregor's room.
Gregor begins remembering people from his past life and thinking about the fact that they were now removed from him and would not help him or his family. Gregor also starts thinking less about his family and more about the way they are neglecting him. His sister doesn't bother to pick out his food any more and cleans his room very hastily and poorly. She insists, however, in being the only one to clean his room and, when his mother does this once, Grete yells at her starting a fight with the father who reprimands them both. Gregor is angry that they did not close his door to spare him the noise. The charwoman discovers Gregor but isn't repulsed by him. She talks to Gregor, calling him to her with names that annoy him. He does not respond until one time when she annoyed him too much and he ran at her, at which point she threatened him with a chair until he retreated.
Gregor's room becomes a storage area for junk. The family takes on three lodgers who bring their own furnishings, so everything that isn't needed is tossed into Gregor's room. He finds that he has little space to move and enjoys shifting the garbage around. The bearded lodgers are extremely scrupulous about cleanliness and order and attempt to arrange the apartment so that nothing unnecessary is lying around. Because the lodgers usually eat at the apartment, the door to Gregor's room is often kept closed. Even when it is opened, however, he often ignores it. He also stops eating almost entirely.
One day the charwoman leaves Gregor's door ajar while the lodgers are in the living room. His mother and sister bring in food for them and they inspect it carefully before eating. The family now eats in the kitchen. Then Gregor's father comes in and bows to the lodgers. Gregor, watching them chew, realizes that he is starving to death because, lacking teeth, he cannot eat human food. Grete begins playing the violin in the kitchen and the lodgers ask her to come into the living room to play. His parents remain standing until the lodgers offer the mother a chair. The lodgers, after listening for a short while, move over to the window and begin whispering to show they are no longer interested and are disappointed with the performance. Gregor, however, is drawn by it. Despite being covered with dirt from his room, he crawls out, fantasizing about bringing his sister back into his room, making her play for him, and then confiding that he had planned to send her to the Conservatory.
The lodgers notice Gregor and stare at him with amusement. His father attempts to drive them back into their room, but they stop on the threshold and the middle lodger, whom the others apparently look up to, announces that he is giving notice and will not pay for the days he has lived there because of the disgusting conditions in the household. The other lodgers also give notice before retreating into their room. At this point Gregor's sister steps forward and forcefully tells her parents that they have looked after the creature long enough and must now get rid of it. She bursts out crying. The father asks how they could get rid of it, and Grete has no answer. She ridicules the idea that Gregor can understand them and insists that, if this were really Gregor, he would have gone away on his own and left them alone. She claims that the creature is persecuting them and wants to drive them out of the apartment into the gutter.
When Gregor attempts to turn around, Grete panics. Finally, he manages to crawl back painfully to his room and his sister slams the door shut behind him and locks it. Gregor, remembering his tenderness and love for his family, realizes that he has to disappear. He agrees fully with his sister. He dies as the dawn is rising.
The charwoman arrives the next day and realizes that Gregor is dead. She announces this fact to the family. They thank God and then retreat to the parents' bedroom to grieve. When the lodgers come out and find there is no breakfast for them, they begin to complain but the charwoman shows them the corpse. At this point Mr. Samsa emerges and tells the lodgers to leave. They attempt a resistance, but his forcefulness intimidates them and they quickly depart.
The family decides to take a walk together and they write notes to their employers. The charwoman, annoying them by standing around, finally informs them that the corpse has been disposed of. As she leaves, slamming the door, Mr. Samsa announces that he will dismiss her in the evening. The mother and Grete then stand by the window, but Mr. Samsa summons them and they depart. They take the tram out of town to go to the country and, on the way, decide that the future does not look bad as their jobs are all likely to lead to better ones and they will soon be able to find a new apartment that is smaller and easy to manage, unlike the one Gregor had picked for them. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa suddenly realize that their daughter has become very pretty and that it is time to look for a husband for her. As their tram arrives, she is the first to jump to her feet and stretch.
Chapter 3: Analysis
The third chapter deals primarily with the conflict between Gregor and his family as it climbs toward a climax. The family attempts to accept him, but this acceptance is bound up with the alienation that the family feels as a result of their work. Gregor becomes a symbol of the dehumanizing nature of work and, as the family attempts to accept him, they find themselves becoming more and more dehumanized until they can't take it any more. Their attempt at accepting Gregor, then, turns to bitter rejection of him.
First off, we find Gregor's emergence from voyeurism to simulated family life. Having seriously injured Gregor, his father at last takes pity on him. Gregor's sister, who has been caring for him all along, and his mother, who clearly loves her son, had already taken the step towards accepting him which his father now undertakes. It is significant that the father is willing to accept the son only by crippling him in a display of his power. Now that his son has been subdued and thus seems to no longer pose a threat, he can be accepted as part of the family. They keep his door open, allowing him to observe them.
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.
As the entire family takes over Gregor's duty of working thankless jobs and worrying about the future, he resents society. Remembering the people from his past, Gregor mourns that none of them will now help his family, who have been abandoned with no one to aid them. The family has been isolated in the same way that Gregor had been abandoned while he was the sole breadwinner. In these memories from Gregor's past, we finally see mention of romance, the girls "wooed earnestly but too slowly." Gregor's recalling and regret for his past failures color his final move out of the human domain.
Gregor's accepting and self-sacrificing attitude is gradually replaced by anger. His family neglects him and, when they fight, he is upset that they are causing noise rather than being interested in the actual event and the fact that his family is arguing about him. The significance of the event is now lost to him; only its direct effect on him is noted. Gregor is no longer bothered by guilt or by duty. His prison now is only physical: his injury will not allow him to move and the family still keeps him in his room and neglects him more and more as they are too busy working to pay any attention to him. Now, finally abandoning his guilt, Gregor is able to see the way that the family treats him. He invents plans to steal food from the larder and loses concern for the family's well-being.
The family is clearly falling apart, Gregor included. They don't talk to each other except to fight, and they seem to care for each other only insofar as they all need to be healthy and to get enough sleep in order to work the next day. They are becoming alienated from each other in the same way that Gregor was alienated at the beginning when only he was working. This is echoed on the other side by the fact that his sister doesn't bother to choose food for him or to properly clean his room. And the disintegration of family life is accompanied by the disintegration of Gregor's body, starving to death amid dirt, the apple still rotting in his back.
As part of the change, Gregor has moved from under the sofa to lying on top of it. But this no longer bothers anyone as they are all too tired even to be repulsed by Gregor. And while the repulsion he received after his metamorphosis was painful to him, he is now treated with something even worse: apathy. His sister, he notices, can see the dirt in his room perfectly, but she no longer bothers to clean it. Once Gregor's mother attempts to show her love for her son by cleaning the room, but when a fight breaks out and Mr. Samsa insists that she should leave it to Grete, and that Grete should not clean the room any more, complete apathy is restored.
Gregor now gladly accepts his isolation. When the door to his room is left closed, this doesn't bother him at all. He has lost interest in his family. Even when the door is left open, he often simply ignores it. Gregor ignores his body as well, letting himself starve to death and spending his days lying on the floor. The apathy of the family has also infected him, and he can no longer be bothered to care about others or himself. When the charwoman attempts to be friendly to Gregor, this only annoys him and he attempts to rush at her to scare her off. His previous desire for human contact has been completely eliminated, though he occasionally takes a vague interest in events outside his door.
The family's relation to the lodgers is another strange episode of the novel. The lodgers, though the family views them as gentlemen, are clearly only caricatures of proper human beings. They are rude and domineering, and care far more about order and cleanliness than about human beings. Their obsession with putting everything in its place and not tolerating dirt invites a contrast with Gregor who, an insect lying in a room full of junk and dirt, is still more human than they are.
The family, seeing the lodgers as another source of money, is subservient to them at all times, bowing to them, not sitting in their presence, waiting until they inspect their food, and so on. Mr. Samsa, when he fears that Grete's violin playing is bothering the lodgers, is instantly willing to stop it immediately for their pleasure. In this way, the family is imprisoned in their own home. While, in the past, they could return home from the dehumanizing experience of work and relax together, now they can never relax and are always servants, whether at work or home.
There is an interesting passage where Gregor observes the lodgers eating. "I'm hungry enough but not for that kind of food. How these lodgers are stuffing themselves, and here am I dying of starvation." In the text, this thought is explained by the comment that Gregor cannot chew with toothless jaws. But there is an underlying message here. Gregor does not name the food he is hungry for. We can also notice that he stops eating at about the time when Grete begins to neglect him. Gregor is looking for a nourishment other than food; he wants attention and love, something that he has now been cut off from.
When Grete begins to play the violin in the living room, something stirs in Gregor. As he crawls out of his room drawn by the sound, "he felt hardly any surprise at his growing lack of consideration for the others; there had been a time when he prided himself on being considerate." Gregor's lack of consideration, however, is only a somewhat belated response to his family's lack of consideration for him. Having been treated with neglect, he now neglects them in return, crawling out of the room in plain view of everyone. Gregor is now free: not only does he not have to work, but he is also no longer bothered by guilt. As an insect, he doesn't seem to need much more freedom than that. He has finally escaped all the traps that had been set for him. And yet something is clearly missing from his life, consumed as it is by apathy.
Gregor poses a question: "was he an animal, that music had such an effect on him?" Ironically, the answer to this seems to be no. The lodgers rudely move away from Grete and whisper among themselves by the window. The parents are too busy watching the lodgers with anxiety to pay attention to Grete's playing. Gregor, however, is drawn to the music. The sound he hears returns him to his humanity, reminding him of his love for his sister and his desire to send her to the Conservatory. Realizing that the others don't appreciate her playing, he wants to bring her into his room and make her play for him, rekindling the bond they once had. Though Gregor is literally an animal, he is the only one who understands and feels the redeeming power of art. When he hears the violin, his past and his love for his sister come back to him. Art saves him from his apathy, reminding him of what he has been missing despite his freedom: family. Unlike the insect Gregor, in whom music brings out the best, it is the others, in failing to appreciate art, that are something less than human.
It is clear that the music has touched Gregor in a completely new way. While he was the human salesman Gregor Samsa, he had never experienced Grete's playing in this profound way. Gregor has reclaimed his humanity only by becoming an insect. His metamorphosis, which removes him from the alienation of modern society by making his alienation literal, seems to also have finally led him to his humanity. The message seems to be that one can only become truly human through an impossible act of rebellion against socially acceptable human behavior.
The element of time reappears when Gregor recalls his plan to tell Grete that he had wanted to announce at Christmas that he would send her to the Conservatory. "Surely Christmas was long past?" he thinks. Gregor is no longer aware of the speed with which time passes, a direct contrast with his obsession with time in the first chapter. While there, he had been absorbed by the passing of every minute. Now he didn't even know the season.
Gregor's family, as usual, does not stop to consider the meaning of his emergence from his room, never imagining that Gregor has been truly touched by the music. Grete, for whom he had such tender feelings, overreacts far more than any of the others. This is the first time in the novel that she refers to Gregor as "it," refusing now to accept that idea that he is her brother. Grete insists that the "creature" certainly can't understand them, though they've never tried to find out. And she argues that if it were really Gregor, it would have left of his own accord out of consideration for the rest of them. She overlooks, of course, the fact that Gregor has had no way of leaving. She is certain that Gregor is persecuting them and wants to drive them out of the apartment so he can have it to himself, when in fact it is they who have kept him shut up in his room with furniture, garbage, and dirt.
Grete's impassioned speech is the climax of the novel. The conflict, at this point, comes to a close. The family at least realizes that Gregor, who has become the symbol of their alienation, is the problem and has to be gotten rid of. A reversal has taken place. Gregor, in undergoing is metamorphosis, cast aside his duty to his family in order to find his freedom. Now the family wants to cast aside their duty to him in order to find their own freedom.
Struck by the music of the violin and the recollection of his humanity that it brings on, Gregor suddenly remembers his duty once more. At the moment when his family has abandoned their duty to him, he realizes that he must once again sacrifice himself for their happiness. Gregor once again feels love and tenderness for his family. As a result, Gregor regains the element that has been missing from his freedom. His duty flares up, reminding him that his family's happiness is more important to him than his freedom or even his life. Gregor dies by his own choice, realizing that his death is essential to his family's happiness. His concern with their happiness and his willingness to sacrifice himself is what makes him human despite his current physical form.
Ironically, Gregor's death is the result of his discovery of his identity. At the moment when love, freedom, and art are combined within him, he recognizes the need to finally leave his family to pursue their future. Gregor has here found his human identity, which he has been unable to find previously. The problem was that Gregor had no identity to start with. He was driven only by his sense of duty and then guilt, but since his guilt had no real cause, he also could not cling to it for his identity. Gregor manages to find his humanity only be rebelling against everything he was in the past.
Gregor dies at the precise moment when the sun comes up. He sees the first light of dawn and dies, echoing the beginning of the second chapter. There, Gregor entered a new phase of his existence when he awoke in twilight. A new phase had already started, of course, when he woke up to find himself transformed. In the second chapter, however, he had already made contact with his family, and was aware that their reaction was one of revulsion and that they had left him isolated. When Gregor awakens with the knowledge that his life has been completely changed, he finds himself in twilight; the moment when darkness is descending coincides with the moment when Gregor finds himself completely isolated. The moment of his death, on the other hand, coincides with the rising of the sun, the moment when darkness is driven back by light. That light is Gregor's love for his family and his discovery of his humanity. Having seen the first rays of this light through his window, Gregor dies without regrets.
The family is extremely thankful for Gregor's death. Yet they also mourn his passing. At their discovery of his death, the family discovers also the conflict in their feelings concerning the insect. They felt that he needed to disappear for the good of their family, yet at the same time they loved him as their son. The need for his death, based in economic motives, conflicts with their love, an essentially human feeling. This humanity emerges at last when the family sits together and emerges at last looking as if they had been crying.
When Mr. Samsa insists that the lodgers leave, they quickly give up and depart. Once two of the lodgers saw that the third had already left, they "went scuttling after him as if afraid that Mr. Samsa might get into the hall before them and cut them off from their leader." They scuttle, like Gregor, and move quickly to avoid being cut off, like Gregor, because they have been humiliated and overpowered with authority. All humiliated human beings are seen as insects.
The family is now free of the specter of Gregor. His presence was a perpetual reminder of alienation. Without him, they are free to once again to continue living, believing that life is good and the future is bright. The family suddenly feels whole again. Gregor's father is able to reach inside himself for the courage to kick the lodgers out, and all three take the day off from work, something that would have been unthinkable for them at an earlier time. The wholeness of the family is symbolized by the Samsas' realization that their daughter has grown up. This recognition and the sudden thought that it is time for her to marry show that family life has been restored in its wholeness.
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