The Metamorphosis

1. explain in detail the symbolic importance of the bugs described in the first paragraph.

why are they so important?

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Very little can be said about the meanings Kafka actually intended. On the one hand, almost everything he writes can be taken at face value. On the other hand, myriad meanings can be read into his words. The story is written in a strict realist style, with excessive attention to detail and verisimilitude. With one obvious exception-the protagonist's metamorphosis into a giant insect and his strangely calm reaction to this change-the story is so intricately described that we can almost imagine it happening in real life. Thus, almost nothing takes on any symbolic or metaphorical quality, since every object, action, and word can be seen as contributing to the realistic quality of the style. This attention to detail serves to focus the reader's attention on the one abnormal character-Gregor Samsa-for an understanding of the story's meaning.

The first sentence is intended to shock. In Kafka's view, we are all frozen inside and literature should be the axe that smashes the ice. This first sentence-one of the most famous first sentences in modern literature-certainly breaks the ice. Reading it, we know from the start that we cannot anticipate the events of this story; all our normal expectations of literature are instantly stripped away. The most natural response is to try to understand how Gregor Samsa could have been transformed into an insect overnight, but neither an answer nor any hint at one is offered. Again, our attention is focused on Gregor's response to something that has already happened and that we cannot unravel.

This first sentence of the story achieves something else as well. Kafka's goal is not to suspend the laws of nature. He is, of course, not saying that it is possible for a man to be transformed into an insect. The point, rather, is that literature does not need to honor the laws of nature. The story takes this one completely impossible event and develops logically out of it.


The opening line of The Metamorphosis, which reports Gregor’s discovery that he has become a giant insect, sets the tone for the rest of the story. The line recounts the bizarre event of Gregor’s transformation in a sober, straightforward manner, and this contrast between an extraordinary situation and the ordinary terms used to describe it creates the sense that the narrator expects the world in the story to be absurd and chaotic, rather than rational and orderly. Gregor embodies this absurdist tone from the very beginning. When he first recognizes his transformation, he doesn’t appear significantly bothered by it, and treats it almost like any ordinary disturbance to his sleep, as if it were not entirely out of the ordinary. As the story progresses, he remains focused on largely ordinary concerns, such as losing his job, his physical comfort, and his family’s financial situation, thus maintaining the story’s absurdist overtone throughout.

In this section, we also begin to learn the details of Gregor’s human life, and we get the first glimpses into his feeling of alienation from those around him. As Gregor lies in bed, unable to get himself up, he begins thinking of his job as a traveling salesman, and we learn that he only continues at it because of his parents’ debt. In fact, he greatly dislikes the office manager, who has come to the house to check on him. Furthermore, the friendships he makes because of his work are only casual and never intimate, since he must always be traveling. The mother hints at Gregor’s lack of friends when she tries to explain to the office manager what a good employee Gregor is. She says Gregor never goes out in the evenings, but sits home reading a newspaper or checking the train timetables, suggesting that Gregor already lives predominantly in isolation. Now, Gregor is no longer even physically human. In his new form, he is unable to go to work, and his voice is so altered that he can’t even communicate with those around him. In addition, when he opens the door and the office manager and his family members see him, they are horrified, and together these details foreshadow that Gregor’s isolation from other people will only continue to grow.