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The Metamorphosis

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English Literature

The most famous metamorphosis in the natural world occurs when a caterpillar blossoms into a butterfly. However, in the literary world, the most famous metamorphosis is more horrifying – the tale of a man who turns into an insect and his subsequent decline. Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1915) is a transformative piece of literary fiction that leaves readers grappling with their existence.

Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis

Originally published in 1915, The Metamorphosis is a novella by the author Franz Kafka. The short novel was originally written and published in German and has been translated into numerous languages. The story follows the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, as he awakens to discover that he has been transformed into a "monstrous vermin" and must adapt to these new, bizarre circumstances.

Franz Kafka: Background

The Metamorphosis was written by German-language author Franz Kafka. Kafka began working on the story in 1912 and published it in 1915. Kafka is known for his absurdist, existential short stories and novels that would influence many authors to come. Kafka grew up in Prague in what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now the modern-day Czech Republic.

The Metamorphosis, a modern, metal sculpture of Franz Kafka in Prague, StudySmarterSculpture of Franz Kafka in Prague, pixabay.

The Metamorphosis: Summary

The story begins as the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, wakes up in his bed. At first, everything seems normal, yet Gregor soon realizes that something has changed drastically: he has metamorphosed into a giant insect overnight. Gregor's first worry is that he will be late for work; indeed, even though Gregor has never once been late for work, the chief clerk soon appears at Gregor's apartment as Gregor isn't at the office on time. His parents greet the chief clerk and assure him that Gregor must be very ill as he has not left his room. The clerk insinuates that Gregor has not been performing to their standards lately and that his job could be at risk if he does not come out of his room.

Meanwhile, Gregor is trying desperately to open the door and eventually succeeds by turning the key in the knob using his mouth. However, upon seeing Gregor's new form, the clerk flees the apartment, and his family is horrified, chasing him back into his room. As Gregor's father, Mr. Samsa, forces Gregor back into his bedroom, Gregor becomes wedged into the doorway, injuring his back.

From this point on, Gregor remains confined to his room. Only his sister, Grete, interacts with Gregor in any meaningful capacity. She brings him food, which he prefers to eat rotten. Because Gregor enjoys scuttling up and along the walls and ceiling of his room, Grete decides to remove all of the furniture from his room so that he may have more space to move. As Greta and Mrs. Samsa remove his furniture, Gregor hides below his sofa, the only remaining piece of furniture. However, he then leaves his hiding spot to desperately try to save his magazine cut-out of a handsomely-dressed woman's portrait. In his attempts to protect the portrait, Gregor frightens Mrs. Samsa and she faints; as Grete runs to get medicine for her mother, Gregor leaves his room to try and help. In the ensuing scuffle, Grete injures Gregor by dropping a bottle on his back. Mr. Samsa returns to the chaos and tries to stomp on Gregor. Having failed at that, he begins throwing apples at Gregor to get him back into his room, and one of the apples becomes lodged in Gregor's back.

Gregor begins to deteriorate. Initially, the family allows Gregor's door to be open in the evenings so he can listen to their conversations. However, given the family's new financial instability in the absence of a breadwinner, they rent a room to three men and keep Gregor's condition a secret. As a result, Gregor can no longer open his door in the evenings. Compounded by his family members taking on new jobs, Gregor becomes increasingly neglected.

One day, the Samsa's charwoman (also known as a maid) accidentally leaves Gregor's door ajar. Gregor decides to leave his room to listen to Grete playing the violin in the living room. Upon poking his head out of his room, Gregor is spotted by the three tenants, who then complain and refuse to pay any of their rent.

Grete has had enough and asks her parents if they can get rid of 'it' — referring to Gregor. Gregor returns to his room and dies during the night. In the morning, the maid finds his body and screams, informing the family. The Samsas are relieved and overjoyed; they leave the apartment and board a tram toward the countryside. As a family, they plan to move into a smaller, more affordable apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa also realize that Grete is now a beautiful young lady, ready for marriage.

The Metamorphosis, Beetle illustration, StudySmarterKafka never indicated what type of beetle Gregor becomes, but common depictions are of cockroaches or beetles, pixabay.

The Metamorphosis: Setting

The Metamorphosis takes place almost entirely within the various rooms of one singular apartment. When the narrative takes place is left ambiguous; however, as Kafka wrote the story around 1912 and published it in 1915, it is not unreasonable to imagine that the story's action occurs around this period of time.

From the beginning of the story, in which Gregor wakes up in his room as a giant insect, he barely leaves his bedroom. While he remembers taking the train to work and sitting in his office building, Gregor is confined for the entirety of the novel to his bedroom as his family finds him revolting to look at. Gregor is isolated, and his only socialization comes from those willing to enter his room, which, for most of the story, is only Grete. Gregor is socially isolated and physically trapped within his new body; he is perpetually the outsider, straining to listen to conversations in the other room to feel some semblance of normality or acceptance by his family.

Physically and psychologically estranged from his family, Gregor experiences a battle between his insect instincts and human psyche. When he finally leaves his room for the first and final time in the narrative, his father treats him like the pest he appears to be, reaffirming the path of Gregor's gradual dehumanization.

The story continues in the same apartment, and the only time that any of the main characters leave the apartment is at the very end of the novel; after Gregor's death, the Samsa family leaves and ventures out into the world. As a symbol of the family's newfound freedom from the burden of Gregor that had been hanging over them, Grete stands up and stretches in the tramcar.

The Metamorphosis: Themes

In The Metamorphosis, Kafka explores various themes. The main themes explored within the story are alienation, the complexities of familial relationships, absurdism, and transformation.

Alienation

Alienation is one of the major themes of The Metamorphosis. This is most easily seen through the effects on Gregor of his transformation. Even after his transformation into a large insect, Gregor eagerly awaits human contact and yearns for one member of the household to come into his room or even just speak to him through the door. As the days go by, and Gregor's family become increasingly weary of taking care of Gregor, Gregor begins to take measures that isolate him even further. So that his sister won't be disgusted by or frightened of him, Gregor hides beneath the sofa whenever she enters the room.

This physical alienation takes place after Gregor's transformation, but it serves to highlight the alienation that Gregor felt before his transformation as well. At work, Gregor felt alienated in his job as a traveling salesman. When his manager visits the apartment, he implies that Gregor hadn't been doing his job as well as usual. Gregor implores his manager to remember that his absence from the office has led to baseless rumors and lies about his performance. Furthermore, Gregor only works in this job to pay off his family's debt, for which he is not shown any gratitude. Gregor's metamorphosis into the giant insect only serves to bring a physical reality to his alienation, as his family neglects and ignores him whenever they are given the chance.

Familial Relationships

At the heart of The Metamorphosis is the Samsa family, and the complexities and strains of familial relationships are displayed as Gregor undergoes his unexpected transformation. At one point, following the attack in which Gregor's father lodges an apple into Gregor's back, Gregor reflects that family duty means to "suppress one's aversion and to endure—nothing else, just endure."

Gregor's father is shown to be harsh and unyielding towards his son; even pre-transformation, Mr. Samsa does not regard Gregor as anything more than the wall standing between the family and financial ruin. After Gregor's metamorphosis, Mr. Samsa treats Gregor with outright disgust and hostility. Like the other members of the family, Mr. Samsa gets a job, and Gregor notes that he seems to have a new vitality to him. However, this vitality is expressed in Mr. Samsa's disdain for Gregor. He throws the apple which rots in Gregor's back and leads to his eventual death.

Mrs. Samsa is portrayed as a submissive wife prone to hysterics given Gregor's condition. She tries and fails to interact with Gregor in his new form due to her revulsion of him. Grete, Gregor's sister, has the most interesting relationship with Gregor. The two siblings are close at the beginning of the story, but as Grete takes on the responsibility of caring for Gregor in his transformed state, she begins to resent and revile Gregor. While it is clear to the reader that the Samsa clan treats Gregor poorly, Gregor's perspective is one of unwavering love and loyalty toward his family, whose actions do not merit his loyalty.

Absurdism

From a philosophical and literary perspective, absurdism is the attempt to seek meaning in a world that is inherently meaningless. The Metamorphosis could be considered a piece of absurdist literature given the transformation that catalyzes the story. What is more absurd than suddenly waking up one day as a massive insect? Maybe it's suddenly waking up one day as a massive insect and immediately worrying about being late to work! None of the characters in The Metamorphosis seem to question why or how Gregor has become a giant insect; they accept it as just one of the meaningless absurdities of life that must be endured and overcome.

Transformation

As reflected in the title, transformation — both physical and psychological is at the core of The Metamorphosis.

In terms of physical transformations, Gregor transforms from man into vermin, Grete transforms from girl into woman, and Mr. Samsa transforms from a disheveled old man into a well-put-together member of the workforce.

Simultaneously, each member of the Samsa family undergoes transformations in their identity. Gregor goes from being the primary breadwinner of the family to the shameful secret, figuratively and literally kept in darkness from the family as he is isolated from familial relationships, affairs, and the core of the family home. Meanwhile, the rest of the Samsas all begin to rely upon themselves once they are left without the support of Gregor's income.

By the end of the story, the Samsas have all found employment and areable to survive without Gregor. The very last paragraph of the story sees Mr. and Mrs. Samsa admiring the changes in Grete, who has grown from a young girl to a mature young woman over the course of the story.

The Metamorphosis: Literary devices

Throughout the story, Kafka makes use of various literary devices to illuminate the plight of Gregor and the Samsas. From a stylistic standpoint, Kafka employs very long sentence structure. This is related to how the German language allows for extended sentences that are uncommon in written English, and the translators retain this sentence structure to remain true to Kafka's original stylistic choice.

Additionally, Kafka uses biblical allegory in the novel to mirror Gregor's story to the fall of Adam and Eve. In the Bible, an apple brings about the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, and it is an apple hurled in anger that leads to Gregor's demise.

Kafka also utilizes irony throughout the story. Dramatic irony takes place at the very beginning when the reader and Gregor are the only two participants aware that Gregor has turned into a giant insect. His family implores Gregor to open the door, not knowing about the transformation he has undergone. Gregor's manager arrives and regales the family with a long speech about his high expectations for Gregor and his disappointment in Gregor being late, not knowing that Gregor is no longer in a human body. Kafka also uses similes and metaphors throughout the story to set the tone and paint a picture of the absurd chaos inside the Samsa residence.

The Metamorphosis - Key takeaways

  • The Metamorphosis (1915) is a short novel by German-language author Franz Kafka.

  • The story details the events that transpire after Gregor Samsa awakens to discover that he has been transformed into a giant insect overnight.

  • The Metamorphosis touches on themes of alienation, familial relationships, absurdism, and transformation.

  • Throughout the story, Gregor is continuously pushed away and physically isolated while simultaneously losing his identity.

  • Gregor's family transforms into a self-sufficient unit now that they can no longer rely upon Gregor as a breadwinner, and they feel relief when Gregor dies.

  • The story is an absurdist work of literature as the catalyst for the action is Gregor's preposterous transformation and the subsequent unquestioning nature of any characters.

The Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis in 1912 and published the novel, originally written in German, in 1915.

There are various interpretations of The Metamorphosis but the main themes revolve around alienation and transformation amongst familial relationships set within an absurd world. Gregor becomes increasingly physically isolated as a giant insect which only serves to underscore and reflect the social isolation he faced as a human.

The Metamorphosis concerns a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning having been turned into a giant insect. His immediate concern is being late for work; the action that follows shows how his family neglect and reject Gregor in his insect form and begin to transform in a way that allows them to survive without Gregor, who was previously the sole breadwinner. As the family gradually forgets about Gregor, Gregor’s condition worsens until an altercation with his father leaves him ill. Gregor dies one morning, and the family feels relief that they can make new plans without regard for Gregor.

Kafka utilizes literary devices such as long sentence structure, allegory, and irony throughout his short story. The long sentence structure is inherent to the German language and is replicated by translators staying true to Kafka's original version. The allegory likens Gregor's death by apple core to the apple that brought about the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Finally, Kafka uses irony to point out the absurdity of Gregor's plight and the ultimate absurdity of life in general.

The moral of The Metamorphosis by Kafka concern's life's absurdity. While Gregor finds himself utterly transformed, his situation provides the background Kafka uses to posit his ultimate meaning- that life is inherently absurd and lacks any meaning.

Final The Metamorphosis Quiz

Question

When was The Metamorphosis written?

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Answer

The Metamorphosis was published in 1915 by Franz Kafka, a German-language author, who began writing it in 1912.

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Question

Who wrote The Metamorphosis?

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Answer

Franz Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis in 1912 and it was published in 1915

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Question

What is The Metamorphosis about?

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Answer

The Metamorphosis follows Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, as he wakes up one day to find that he has transformed into a giant insect. What follows is a story that examines familial relationships, alienation, and transformation, all within the bounds of this absurdist setup.

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Question

What are the themes in The Metamorphosis?

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Answer

The Metamorphosis touches upon themes of alienation, familial relationships, transformation, and absurdism.

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Question

Which of Gregor's family members was initially the most attentive to Gregor after he transforms?

  1. Mr. Samsa
  2. Mrs. Samsa
  3. Grete

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Answer

3. Grete

Grete brings Gregor food and removes the furniture from his room so that he can enjoy crawling along the walls and ceiling. As the story progresses, Grete too becomes resentful of Gregor, culminating in her calling him 'it,' finalizing Gregor's dehumanization.

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Where does The Metamorphosis take place?

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Answer

The entirety ofThe Metamorphosis takes place within the Samsa family apartment. Gregor is confined to his room for the story after his transformation. In the final paragraph, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa and Grete leave the apartment and ride a tram to the countryside. This is the only time the characters are described as having left the apartment.

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What is absurdism in literature?

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Absurdism in literature is the conflict between humans trying to find meaning in existence and existence’s inherent lack of meaning.

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What is Gregor's profession?

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Gregor works as a traveling salesman. He does not enjoy the job. He is the family's sole breadwinner and must work to pay of his family's debt.

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What is Gregor's relationship with his father?

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Answer

Prior to Gregor's transformation, Mr. Samsa treated him as nothing more than the barrier stopping the family from total financial ruin. After Gregor's transformation, Mr. Samsa treats Gregor with outright disdain. Mr. Samsa's new job infects him with new energy which becomes hostility when directed towards Gregor. He throws the apple that gets lodged in Gregor's back leading to his eventual death.

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Who are the characters in The Metamorphosis?

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Answer

The protagonist is Gregor Samsa, and the main characters are his family members: Mr. Samsa, his father, Mrs. Samsa, his mother, and Grete, his sister.

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