The Metamorphosis is a novella by Franz Kafka which was first published in 1915. It is known for the prestigious German Literary Prize, Theodor Fontane Prize. Gregor Samsa the protagonist lies awake contemplating in his body of a vermin the circumstances in which he transformed over the night. He is a traveling salesman with the immediate concern being his inability to get to work by 7, meeting the customers that he ever fails to build meaningful relations with and earning enough money to pay off his family’s debts which all now seem impossible to do in his new body and his inability to answer to door.
Over the course of The Metamorphosis the author lets us in on the personality of Gregor. He is a man overburdened by the responsibility of paying off his parents’ debts and he would have to work for the boss he detests for at least 5 years more until he can pay off these debts. Gregor shows acceptance in the face of his work life and in the face of his transformation which becomes the theme of this story. We also see that Gregor is responsible and he has shocked his workplace and his family by his inability to get to work on time given that he has previously never missed a single day in the 15 years that he has worked at that company. As the clerk suggests when he shows up at Gregor’s place to determine the reason behind his absence. When the clerk is told that Gregor is feeling ill he demands to hear the excuse from Gregor himself but he is unable to speak, or at least communicate other than in an ‘unhumanlike’ way.
After the threatening appearance form the clerk, Gregor’s father sends for a ‘doctor’ and a ‘locksmith. He the author tries to show us the means by which Gregor’s father is trying to deal with the Gregor’s situation that he has yet to be properly acquainted with. Meanwhile Gregor tries to open the door which proves to be an arduous task given that he trying to open it using his mouth. When the door finally open which Gregor harms himself in the process of achieving the clerk tries to take off after seeing Gregor in his ‘condition’, his mother is in shock and the father is devastated.
Gregor tries to speak to the clerk realizing now that the clerk shouldn’t have sees him like that. When Gregor tries to approach the clerk his father stops him by forcing him back into his room. Grete, his sister takes care of Gregor by letting him have rotten food (which now Gregor enjoys) and moving the furniture in his room to let Gregor have space to move around and get used to his new body. Over time the lifestyle of his family changes due to the fact that he was their only earning source. We don’t get to read much about it in detail but Gregor and his father have a strained relationship that can be seem from the cruel disposition that Gregor’s father has towards him.
The family itself faces several changes such as the father taking up a job in the bank, the mother stitching undergarments and Grete attending school to learn shorthand and french. The family rents its rooms to three gentleman that have been problematic lodgers but are an added source of much needed income.
Grete’s violin playing is introduced as an abandoned hobby that one day she decides to take up again. Whens he plays the violin the lodgers want to her it as well. Gregor when he hears the music leave his room to get closer to his sister so he can let her know he appreciates her playing but this results in the lodgers finding out the ‘creature’ in the house. The family are given a notice by lodgers of their decision to leave as well as refusal to pay for the time they have already spent.
Grete protests and says she wants to get rid of Gregor the ‘monster’ so that the family could live in peace. Her father agrees and Gregor wishes that he should die as well if it would make his family’s lives easier. Later that night Gregor dies and his death is a mysterious one as he is found shriveled by the charwoman. There is a really sad ending to the story with Gregor dying for the sake of his family same as he has lived for the sake of his family.
Gregor’s family is depicted as selfish people who revert to seeing him as a burden as soon as he transforms and is no longer able to support them financially. We see that every member of his family is able to earn and contribute to the family’s finances yet Gregor took it solely upon himself to support his family and work tirelessly to the extent that he sacrificed his own life for theirs. We see their despicable behavior towards him from the fact that they barely sympathize with Gregor’s situation and are unable to stand the embarrassment of his situation and how it interrupts their lifestyles. We also see that their entire response towards Gregor’s situation was confining him to his room, not looking for a cure or a solution to his problem.
The metamorphosis is very insightful regarding the exploitation that people face from their own families. Gregor Samsa’s transformation can be considered a hyperbolic depiction of his mental decline due to the hectic hours he worked for his family’s livelihood.
The story in general is sad, it shows us the brutal reality of how people treat you when you are no longer an asset but a liability. While reading it you might wonder how the entire story revolves around the consequences of a man turning into an insect over night but no one mentions how or why this happens. Gregor is the altruistic symbol in contrast to his selfish family.
“The more meekly he behaved, the harder his father stamped.” Franz Kafka , Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis is a strange book, one you might even enjoy reading. It is hard to understand what exactly the moral here is besides not being too selfless with anyone, even your family.
Let me know your thoughts on this book in the comments below.