The Metamorphosis Summary

Overview

The Metamorphosis

Summary of the Novel
Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, awakes one morning to find out that he has been transformed into a gigantic insect. From his bed, he looks around his room, adjusting physically and mentally to his new body and wondering if he hasn’t been dreaming. But when he tries to turn over onto his right side and can’t, he realizes that it is no dream, that indeed he is an insect, complete with a hard shell for a back, wriggling legs, and feelers.

He wants to go back to sleep, but he remembers that he has to get up for work and is already late. His thoughts turn to his job and to the work he does. He hates his job, and he dislikes the Chief of the company. Five years before, Gregor’s father’s business failed, and Gregor has been supporting his parents and his sister ever since. He has also been paying off his parents’ personal debts to the Chief, and he hopes one day to quit his job, settle his parents’ accounts, and send his sister to the Conservatory to study music.

While his parents are trying to find out why Gregor hasn’t come out of his room, the chief clerk arrives to inquire about Gregor’s lateness. When Gregor still doesn’t emerge from his room, his parents become worried and send Grete and Anna to get the doctor and locksmith, respectively. The chief clerk threatens Gregor with the loss of his job if he doesn’t come out and report for work. Gregor responds by saying that he hasn’t been feeling well, but promises to report for work anyway.

When Gregor finally unlocks the door to his room and shows his face, the chief clerk, who is the first to see him, reacts with shock and horror and retreats to the staircase. Mrs. Samsa collapses to the floor at the sight of her son, and Mr. Samsa breaks down and cries. The chief clerk meanwhile is on the landing and wants to flee. Gregor tries to speak to him in order to give him some explanation for what has happened to him, but the clerk flies out of the house. Gregor’s father picks up the chief clerk’s walking stick, which he left behind, and a rolled newspaper and drives Gregor back into his room. In his panic to escape his father, Gregor gets caught in the door of his room and sustains multiple injuries to himself. Shaken and bleeding, he lies dazed on the floor of his room.

When Part 2 opens, it is twilight of the same day, but we learn later that more time has really elapsed between the morning’s events and the time Gregor wakes up again in his room. Grete has taken on the responsibility of feeding Gregor and cleaning out his room, since her parents seem unwilling or unable to cope with the new crisis. The cook implores Mrs. Samsa to let her go. Mrs. Samsa has no choice but to dismiss her, and now Grete must help her mother with the cooking chores as well.

Gregor is able to listen in on his parents’ conversation, and he learns that the family has some money left over from his father’s investments to live on for about a year. Grete decides that it would be best if much of the furniture is removed from Gregor’s room to give him greater freedom of movement. To this end, she enlists her mother’s help and the two women start to take out the chest and the writing desk from Gregor’s room. When they come back for the picture on the wall, Gregor is clinging tenaciously to it, daring them to take it from him. When Mrs. Samsa sees Gregor spread out on the wallpaper, she shrieks with horror and faints. Grete rushes into another room for something to revive her with. Gregor worriedly follows Grete out, and when the two confront each other, Grete drops a bottle in alarm. The bottle shatters and a sliver of glass cuts Gregor’s face. At this point, Mr. Samsa returns to the apartment wearing a blue bank messenger’s uniform and cap. When he sees his stricken wife and learns from Grete what has happened, he begins to bombard Gregor with apples. One apple lodges in Gregor’s back. Hurt, exhausted, and mortally wounded, Gregor loses consciousness.

Refusing to eat, Gregor is growing weaker and thinner as Part 3 begins. His eyesight is failing him and, because of his injuries—one leg is badly mangled—his movements are severely restricted. The family is now working: Mr. Samsa as a bank messenger, Mrs. Samsa as a seamstress for an underwear company, and Grete as a salesgirl. As Gregor’s condition continues to deteriorate, Grete takes less interest in her brother’s health and welfare.

Three men come to rent a room in the Samsa apartment. One night after dinner, when Grete is serenading them with her violin, Gregor, who is drawn to the music, sticks his head out his door and is spotted by one of the lodgers. The three men express their outrage and threaten to sue Mr. Samsa for damages. Soon after the men depart to their room, Grete sits down with her parents and urges them to get rid of Gregor.

That night, plagued by guilt, Gregor agrees with his sister that the only solution is for him to disappear. At three o’clock in the morning, he dies.

The new cleaning woman discovers his body. She alerts the Samsas, and then she quickly sweeps up Gregor’s corpse. The Samsa family decides to take a ride in the country. They now pin all their hopes for the future on Grete who, despite her ordeal, has grown into a beautiful, prospective bride.

The Life and Work of Franz Kafka
The oldest of six children, Franz Kafka was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia on July 3, 1883, the son of prosperous, middle-class parents, Hermann and Julie Löwy. Kafka’s childhood and adolescence were dominated by his father, a successful merchant who owned a dry goods business. Kafka’s father’s powerful influence and often tyrannical presence marked Kafka’s life both as an artist and as a man. The struggle to free himself from his overbearing father found expression in his fiction as the shy, passive, sensitive victim who suffers and struggles against authoritarian forces and figures. In his Letter to His Father (1919), Kafka wrote: “My writing was all about you.”

After completing his elementary and secondary education, Kafka graduated from the German University of Prague with a degree in law. Always an avid reader, Kafka was drawn to philosophy and literature, and he soon started to write his own sketches and stories. Among his favorite writers were Dickens, Göethe, Flaubert, Kleist, Thomas Mann, and the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, the founder of modern existentialism, a philosophy that emphasizes the individual as an agent responsible for his own choices in life.

In 1902, Kafka met the writer Max Brod, who became his close friend, admirer, and biographer. The two young men shared a passion for literature, and they often traveled together in the early years of their friendship. In 1908, Kafka began working for the Workman’s Accident Insurance Company in Prague, a government job that would later provide him with material for two of his unfinished novels, The Trial (1915) and The Castle (1921).

In 1912, an important year in Kafka’s life, Kafka met Felice Bauer. Kafka was engaged to her twice during a five-year period, but never married her. During this year, he also finished two important works, The Judgment and The Metamorphosis. Both stories focus on the tortured, father–son relationship; in the latter story, the theme of the individual’s estrangement from society is given compelling, dramatic expression. This theme occupied Kafka throughout his life, and recurs throughout his mature fiction.

The year 1919 saw three more important works: A Country Doctor, In the Penal Colony, and the autobiographical document Letter to His Father.

In 1924, while receiving treatment for tuberculosis in Merano, Italy, Kafka met the married writer, Milena Jesenka, with whom he had an affair. In 1923, losing his battle with tuberculosis, Kafka met the 19-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman, Dora Dymant. Dora devoted herself completely to Kafka’s care and welfare, and they lived together in Berlin until Kafka’s death. He died on June 3, 1924 in Kierling, outside Vienna. He was buried alongside his parents in the Jewish cemetery of Prague-Straschnitz. His three sisters all perished in Hitler’s concentration camps.

Kafka’s influence on twentieth-century literature is both profound and incalculable. The word Kafkaesque has passed into the literature to describe an unsettling, disorienting, nightmarish world that is at once both fearful and menacing in its ambiguity and complexity. His haunting, disturbing, and sometimes grotesque images, combined with his struggling but ultimately defeated heroes, defined an age wherein alienated man—the anti-hero—grappling with meaning and justice in an inscrutable world, is denied answers to both.

Estimated Reading Time

The Metamorphosis is a comparatively short work, which is divided into three parts of approximately equal length. An average reader, reading 25 pages an hour, should be able to read the entire work in under three hours. You may want to read each part carefully and slowly at first, and then at a later reading, read the complete work for its continuity and sweep of the action.

The Metamorphosis Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Franz Kafka, who wrote relatively little in his short life and who published less, has been enormously influential on later writers, including writers in North America. He is considered an exponent of German expressionism—his work deals with a world that seems normal and recognizable but is also surreal, seemingly influenced by emotional and subconscious states, especially guilt.

Kafka has inspired a lengthy list of American writers. By creating a parallel between anguish and hope, employing a tightly controlled perspective, and adding a liberal sprinkling of black comedy, Kafka’s work may be said to have influenced the works of writers as diverse as Edward Albee, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, J. D. Salinger, and Walker Percy.

Kafka’s frequently anthologized short story “The Metamorphosis” is the tale of a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who awakens one morning to find he has become an enormous beetle. This transformation and estrangement reflects Kafka’s view of the desperation connected with the human struggle for redemption. Gregor is killed as a result of his father’s throwing an apple at him; the psychological and biblical symbolism of this act is clear but unstated. Kafka’s emphasis on guilt and his technique of presenting the grotesque in bland, everyday language are perhaps most evident in the works of the Southern American writers in general and of Flannery O’Connor in particular. O’Connor recorded her observations about the story in her journal.

Kafka and O’Connor employ grotesque characters—physically or spiritually malformed—to demonstrate the human condition. Both writers are intrigued by a transcendent moment of grace, wherein a person can seek and be granted redemption. The two writers also share a biblical preoccupation with guilt and with parable. As does Kafka, O’Connor uses the world of the human spirit, the external world and the world within to demonstrate a collision of values. Gregor Samsa is destroyed by an apple, depicting the Fall; O’Connor’s protagonists are often destroyed by the acknowledgement of their humanity. In the works of both writers there is often a veiled dialogue between the real and the symbolic. Many North American writers have incorporated Kafka’s themes and techniques into their work, including his father-son confrontation, his disproportion between guilt and punishment, his emphasis on spiritual ambiguity, and his refined literary style.

The Metamorphosis Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Metamorphosis is Kafka’s longest story and one of his most frequently analyzed works. Tripartite in form, it traces the months from Gregor Samsa’s unique metamorphosis to his death from dehydration, injury, and general neglect. Gregor’s health declines as the health of his father, mother, and sister improves. His metamorphosis from the sole breadwinner to an utterly dependent and undesirable creature prompts the metamorphosis of his sluggish family into hardworking, happier people.

The point is often made that, although it is Gregor who takes on a grotesque form, the real ugliness in the story lies in his family’s attitude toward and treatment of him, in their assumption that he is responsible for the debt incurred by his father. As the parents and sister selfishly exploit the best years of Gregor’s youth, any possibility he might have of marrying and establishing a family of his own is reduced to his making a fretwork frame for a magazine picture of a woman. They have used him up.

Likewise, his employer shows no appreciation for Gregor’s humanity and seems bent only on getting the maximum return from his employee. After five years without missing a day, Gregor needs only to miss one train to have the chief clerk threaten him with dismissal. They also use him up.

The integrity of Gregor’s self is under attack from all sides. Not even his bedroom is a safe retreat. It has doors in all three inside walls, enabling his mother, his father, and his sister to question him simultaneously. No wonder, then, that Gregor revolts. He takes on a form that makes his further exploitation impossible.

Kafka explicitly forbade any artistic illustration of the bug for the book cover. That would have given too mundane a form to a transformation that signifies a revolt of the subconscious, a breakthrough after a long period of self-denial. Gregor entertains the idea that the same may happen to the chief clerk himself some day.

Significantly, the title of the story is not The Bug but The Metamorphosis. The emphasis is on the change itself, on exploring who one really is and what one really likes to do, on being guided by one’s own urges, with no worry concerning where they will lead. Gregor discovers that he feels most comfortable squeezed under the sofa or hanging upside down from the ceiling. His voice changes, so that his speech is unintelligible to humans. He is ravenously hungry, but not for human food. He is moved as never before by his sister’s violin playing. “Was he an animal, that music had such an effect upon him? He felt as if the way were opening before him to the unknown nourishment he craved.” Gregor’s new sensitivity to music and the new sound of his words are clear indications that the story may be read as the self-discovery of the artist.

Kafka does not downplay the risk inherent in eccentric self-expression. Part 1 of the story ends with Gregor’s sustaining an injury along his side as his mulish father forces him back into his room. Part 2 ends with Gregor sustaining a more serious, perhaps fatal wound, as his father pelts him with apples. Part 3 ends with Gregor dead, covered with refuse and dust, and disposed of by the cleaning lady. The danger, clearly, of voluntary or involuntary nonconformity is that one may be misunderstood, mistreated, or entirely rejected. Before his metamorphosis, though, Gregor was no better off than after it. While the manifestation of his uniqueness was considered by some to be grotesque, it was an advance over his former routine.

The Metamorphosis Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The first sentence of “The Metamorphosis” has become one of the most famous in modern fiction: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Franz Kafka thus subverts narrative tradition by stating his climax in his initial declarative sentence. He then organizes three subclimaxes in three frustrated attempts by Gregor to escape from the imprisonment of his bedroom. The novella’s three sections divide it into three clearly identifiable parts, showing Gregor in relation to his occupation, his family, and his divided psyche.

In the first section, Gregor accepts his fantastic transformation matter-of-factly, perhaps wishing to bury its causes in his subconscious mind. Instead of worrying about the mystery of his metamorphosis, he worries about the nature and security of his position as traveling salesperson for a firm whose severity he detests. Even though his boss treats him tyrannically and overworks him, Gregor needs to keep his degrading job because his father owes his employer a huge debt. He can only dream of walking out into freedom in five or six years, after having slowly repaid it from his earnings.

The firm’s chief clerk appears in the Samsas’ apartment at 7:10 a.m. and inquires why Gregor failed to catch the 5:00 a.m. train to work. He yells at Gregor that he is “making a disgraceful exhibition” of himself, exploiting his anxiety and insecurity by telling him that his sales have slackened to the point where he faces dismissal. Gregor responds with an agitated speech replete with a succession of special pleas that contradict one another: He is only mildly indisposed, yet cannot rise from his bed; he feels all right, yet is struck down with a sudden malady. “Oh, sir, do spare my parents!” he cries hysterically—but the chief clerk cannot understand him: Gregor has lost his capacity for human speech. Frantic, Gregor manages to open his bedroom door by painfully turning its lock key with his toothless mouth. When he scuttles into the clerk’s sight, however, ostensibly to reassure him about his health and competence, he instead puts him into panicked flight, with the clerk relinquishing his cane as he leaps down the stairs. This will prove Gregor’s sole triumph over authority; it is short-lived. His father snatches up the cane and “pitilessly” drives his son back into his bedroom, with Gregor bleeding heavily from the agony of squeezing his broad, clumsy body through its half-door.

In the second section, Gregor’s isolation and alienation intensify. The reader learns about his relations, past and present, with his family; they have been characterized by concealment, mistrust, and exploitation on the father’s part. Gregor now discovers that, contrary to what he was led to believe, his father did not go bankrupt when his business failed but managed to save and augment a tidy sum while relying on Gregor’s income to sustain the Samsas. Ever the dutiful son, Gregor “rejoiced at this evidence of unexpected thrift and foresight.” Gregor’s mother is gentle, selfless, weak, and shallow; in the story’s development she becomes increasingly her husband’s appendage. His sister Grete is his favorite; he once hoped to subsidize her violin training in a conservatory. However, though she now ministers to his animal needs, she fails him emotionally, suggesting that his furniture be removed from his room—thereby stripping him of the last vestiges of his humanity. Desperately, Gregor scurries about the room trying to protect his possessions; his mother faints; his sister shakes her fist at him; then his father, now vigorously self-confident, joins battle with his son again and bombards him with apples, one of which grievously wounds his back. As Gregor is about to faint with pain, he sees his mother, her clothes in disarray, embracing his father “as she begged for her son’s life.”

In the third section, Gregor, defeated, yields up all hope of returning to the human community. His parents and sister form a triadic unit that shuts him out, as Gregor’s miserable existence now slopes resignedly toward death. The wound in his back festers agonizingly; his room becomes a repository for the household’s discarded articles and rejected food; he eats almost nothing. He does erupt from his room for what turns out to be the last time when he hears his sister perform a violin recital for roomers the Samsas have taken in; horrified by his appearance, they give immediate notice and threaten the family with a lawsuit for damages. Grete thereupon presides over a family conference in which she brusquely announces her determination to get rid of Gregor: “If this were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that human beings can’t live with such a creature.” Gregor agrees with her, and that night dies a sacrificial death, reconciled with his family as he thinks of them “with tenderness and love.” The next morning the relieved Samsas make a holiday of his death day, review their promising prospects, and admire Grete’s blooming young womanhood, bursting with crude health as she stretches her body in the spring sunshine.

The Metamorphosis Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Gregor Samsa wakes one morning from uneasy dreams to find that he has been transformed during the night into a gigantic insect. At first, he tries to remain calm and go back to sleep. His transformed body, however, prevents him from getting comfortable. Regardless of the changes in him, Gregor’s thoughts turn to the job he hates, and, as he looks at the clock, he fears being late at the office. Through the locked door to his room, his mother reminds him of the time, and he notices the change in his voice when he replies. His response alerts the rest of his family that he is still at home, which is unexpected at this time of day.

Still attempting to maintain some semblance of normality, Gregor tries to get out of bed, but it requires an unusual effort, rocking back and forth, before he finally falls out of bed onto the floor. When the chief clerk from his office arrives to check on Gregor’s whereabouts, he doubles his efforts to return to normal. Gregor’s father calls to him to allow the clerk to enter his room, but Gregor refuses because he is afraid that his job will be jeopardized if the chief clerk discovers his transformation. He is convinced that he can explain his rudeness later, after he has recovered. The clerk threatens him, and Gregor hears the clerk comment about how inhuman his voice sounds. Gregor finally wedges himself against the door and opens the lock with his jaws, but, as he appears in the doorway, his altered appearance frightens the clerk, who flees the apartment. Gregor’s family stares at him, amazed at the metamorphosis he has undergone. Finally, his father forces him back into his room and shuts the door.

The next morning, Gregor’s sister leaves him food on the floor of his room, but Gregor remains hidden underneath the sofa while she is in the room, lest he should frighten her. For the next two days, he overhears his family discussing what they should do about him and the changes they will have to make in their lives, since he has supplied their only source of income. Gregor worries about his family and mulls over the guilt he feels for losing his job and his place as breadwinner of the household. Night after night, he huddles in the dark and thinks about his predicament.

For the first fortnight, Gregor’s parents cannot bear to enter his room, but Grete removes his furniture piece by piece, claiming that he will be more comfortable if he can move around unencumbered by things that are no longer useful to him. His mother argues with her about leaving the room alone, hoping that he will recover from his illness, but his father has lost hope and insists that he will never recover.

One day, Gregor’s mother enters his room and sees him clinging to the wall by the sticky feet of his many legs. The shock at seeing him behaving like an insect shatters her attachment to him and destroys forever any hope she has for his eventual recovery. Despite his changed appearance, Gregor remains lonely for the company of his family and, one night, in a desperate attempt to join his family, ventures out of his room once more. However, his father, angry at Gregor’s intrusion into the family’s quarters, yells at him and pelts him with apples, wounding him in the back before forcing Gregor to return to the solitude of his room.

Gregor’s movements are hindered by his injury. He observes, through his door, which is inexplicably left open every evening, the changes his family experiences during his absence. Even though his father has returned to work and they had to dismiss the maid, his parents are strained economically, physically exhausted, and increasingly despondent. They largely neglect Gregor and leave him alone in his room. He seldom sleeps and is increasingly haunted by the thought that he will one day recover and once again provide for his family.

To increase their income, the family takes in three lodgers, and one evening they request that Grete play her violin. Attracted by the music, which reminds him of the way his life used to be, Gregor leaves his room once again, seeking the warmth and companionship of the others. The lodgers, who do not know of his existence, are outraged by his appearance and threaten to leave. For the first time, Gregor hears Grete demand that something be done about him. She calls him a creature and denies that he is still her brother. In his weakened condition, it is difficult for him to return for the final time to his room. Once back inside, though, Gregor realizes that he, too, feels the same despair his sister does and longs for death. During the night, he loses consciousness. The next morning, the charwoman finds the husk of Gregor’s dead body in the room and sweeps him up with the trash.

Gregor’s family seems little surprised by his death. They all leave the apartment the same day for the first time in months, going into the country to discuss their prospects for the future. They decide to move to a smaller and more convenient apartment. Observing the vivacious change in their daughter, brought about by Gregor’s death, her parents realize that it is time to find her a husband.

The Metamorphosis Summary

Part I
As the story opens, Gregor Samsa has already turned into a gigantic insect. He notices this, but does not seem to find it...

(The entire section is 1007 words.)

The Metamorphosis Summary and Analysis

Part 1, Division 1: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Gregor Samsa: the protagonist or hero of the story

Mr. Samsa: the protagonist’s father; an old man, described as having bushy eyebrows and black eyes

Grete: the protagonist’s younger sister; 17 years old, she plays the violin

Mrs. Samsa: the protagonist’s mother; she suffers from asthma and is anxious to please her husband

Anna: the 16-year-old servant girl

Chief Clerk: a bureaucrat representing the Chief

Summary
Although The Metamorphosis falls neatly into three parts, for the purposes of our discussion, we will divide the work itself into six parts. Part 1, Division 1 covers the...

(The entire section is 3842 words.)

Part 1, Division 2: Summary and Analysis

Summary
The chief clerk leaps back in fright and shock, with one hand clasped to his gaping mouth. Then Gregor’s mother notices him and her reaction is swift and certain: she falls to the floor in a heap, holding her grief-stricken face in her hands. Mr. Samsa can only look on and cry when he sees his unrecognizable and repulsive son.

Realizing that he must do something to explain himself to the chief clerk, Gregor follows him to the stairway in an attempt to reason with him and to calm his fears. However, as soon as he tries to open his mouth to speak, the chief clerk runs out of the house, forgetting his walking stick in the apartment.

As Gregor’s mother recovers and straightens up, she...

(The entire section is 2324 words.)

Part 2, Division 1: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Household Cook: the woman who asks to be dismissed from her job

Summary
Part 2, Division 1 covers the action of the story from twilight of the same day to the removal of Gregor’s furniture from his room.

When Gregor wakes up it is twilight. He is immediately drawn to the smell of food in his room and sees a basin of milk with little pieces of bread floating around in it. The sight of the food makes him happy because he knows that no one else but his sister, Grete, left it for him and because she knows that milk is his favorite drink. Instead of drinking the milk, however, Gregor discovers that he has lost his appetite for it and he leaves the milk alone. He also...

(The entire section is 2541 words.)

Part 2, Division 2: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Part 2, Division 2 covers the action from the sighting of Gregor on the wall by Mrs. Samsa to Mr. Samsa’s bombarding Gregor with apples.

After Grete and Mrs. Samsa remove Gregor’s writing desk and place it in the next room along with the other furniture, they start back to his room to see what other pieces they can take out. Gregor is so agitated and distraught over the removal of his furniture that he runs around his room in a panic hoping to save what is left. The picture of the woman on the wall catches his eye and he flies up to it and clings to it tenaciously, determined at any cost to hold onto it.

Grete sees him first as she and her mother re-enter Gregor’s room. She tries...

(The entire section is 2373 words.)

Part 3, Division 1: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Three Lodgers: the three bearded men who rent a room in the Samsa apartment

Cleaning Woman (Charwoman): the woman who takes on the job of cleaning out the protagonist’s room in Part 3

Summary
Part 3, Division 1 covers the action from a description of Gregor’s worsening physical condition to the concert Grete gives for the three gentlemen lodgers. One month has elapsed from the time Mr. Samsa injured Gregor with the apple.

The apple decaying in Gregor’s back has made him extremely weak and has greatly limited his physical movement. He is almost completely incapacitated now, but he can lie in the silence of his room and listen in on the conversations...

(The entire section is 2659 words.)

Part 3, Division 2: Summary and Analysis

Summary
The action of Part 3, Division 2 begins with Gregor’s emergence from his room during Grete’s violin concert and ends with his death and the Samsa family’s emotional and spiritual rebirth.

From his room, Gregor hears Grete’s violin and sticks his head out of his room to listen. One of the lodgers notices him and immediately alerts Mr. Samsa. Mr. Samsa tries to assuage his boarders but one of the lodgers is so outraged at the sight of Gregor that he threatens to sue Mr. Samsa for damages and for causing him to live in such a close proximity to Gregor. The two other lodgers also protest their disgusting and inexcusable living conditions, and they threaten Mr. Samsa with a lawsuit as...

(The entire section is 3158 words.)