Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Samsa apartment. Dwelling, in no particular city, of Gregor Samsa and his family. Comfortable and spacious, the apartment signifies Gregor’s success in providing for his family, which fell on hard times after his father’s business failure. Gregor’s exhausting work as a traveling salesman keeps the family in respectable circumstances. After his metamorphosis, however, the apartment proves to be too big and expensive to maintain. In a sense, it has always been a burden. Gregor selected it, and his support of the family has stimulated a growing lethargy among them. His mother coughs incessantly, his sister is losing her youth to extreme fatigue, and his father has abandoned his role as the head of the family. All of this changes as Gregor changes, and after his death, the family is liberated from the apartment and from Gregor.
Gregor’s bedroom. Room in which the story begins, with Gregor’s metamorphosis into a giant insect already an accomplished fact. Though initially alarmed, he soon takes comfort in the familiarity of his bedroom. The room itself changes through the course of the story, in ways that mirror Gregor’s own decline. His furniture is removed to provide him with more space to crawl. After his sister neglects to clean the room, filth begins to accumulate. Eventually, the room becomes a storage space for useless household items—much like Gregor himself. Once a...
(The entire section is 549 words.)
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Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
This novella is an extended literalization of the implications of the metaphor used in its initial sentence. Gregor is metamorphosed into an insectlike species of vermin, with Kafka careful not to identify the precise nature of Gregor’s bughood. German usage applies Kafka’s term, Ungeziefer, to contemptible, spineless, parasitic persons, akin to English connotations of the work “cockroach.” Gregor’s passivity and abjectness before authority link him with these meanings, as Kafka develops the fable by transforming the metaphor back into the imaginative reality of his fiction. After all, Gregor’s metamorphosis constitutes a revelation of the truth regarding his low self-esteem. It is a self-judgment by his repressed and continually defeated humanity.
By having Gregor become a bug, Kafka has also accomplished a bitterly parodistic inversion of a traditional motif in fairy tales. In folktales the prince is rescued from his froghood by the princess’s kiss; beauty redeems the beast with love. In Kafka’s version, however, the “beauty,” the sister Gregor loves, is horrified by her beastlike brother and condemns him to die rather than changing him back through affection. The most poignant aspect of the story is the inextinguishable beauty of Gregor’s soul, as he consents to his family’s rejection of his humanity and dies on their behalf.
Kafka illustrates Gregor’s subjection to his father by the implied parable of the episode involving the lodgers. This triad duplicates the Samsa triad that excludes Gregor, with the middle lodger, like Mr. Samsa, exerting authority over his supporters. Initially they intimidate and threaten the Samsas. After Gregor’s death, however, Mr. Samsa curtly orders these boarders out of the apartment, and they accede without a struggle—their apparently awesome power proves spurious. Equivalently, had Gregor found the self-confidence to revolt openly against both his firm and his father, had he walked out on his job and asserted his autonomy against his family’s clutches, he, too, could have matured into triumphant adulthood and would not have needed the disguised hostility of his metamorphosis.
Part 1, Division 1: Questions and Answers
1. What are Gregor’s thoughts and impressions when he wakes up to find himself transformed into an insect?
2. What kind of work did Gregor do before his metamorphosis?
3. What are Gregor’s obligations to his family before his transformation into an insect?
4. What are some of the things that Gregor hopes for?
5. Who sends Grete to get the doctor? The locksmith?
6. How would you describe the chief clerk?
7. What two contradictory goals does Gregor seem to be striving for throughout the story?
8. Why does Gregor finally decide to reveal himself to the chief clerk and his parents?
9. How does the chief clerk...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
Part 1, Division 2: Questions and Answers
1. How do Mr. and Mrs. Samsa react when they see Gregor for the first time?
2. Why can’t Gregor explain himself to the chief clerk?
3. What are some of the things Gregor tries to tell the chief clerk?
4. Who knocks over the coffee pot?
5. What causes Mrs. Samsa to collapse to the floor?
6. How does Mr. Samsa force Gregor back into his room?
7. What happens to Gregor as he is being driven back into his room?
8. In what ways has Gregor been alienated from society?
9. How have the roles within the Samsa family changed?
10. What is the major theme of the story?
(The entire section is 348 words.)
Part 2, Division 1: Questions and Answers
1. Why doesn’t Gregor drink the milk his sister leaves for him?
2. Why does the household cook ask Mrs. Samsa to let her go?
3. Where does Gregor like to hide?
4. Who has assumed major responsibility for Gregor’s life?
5. Why did Gregor become a traveling salesman?
6. How do the Samsa’s expect to live now that their son’s source of income is lost?
7. Why is Gregor so intent on sending his sister to the conservatory to study music?
8. In what ways are Gregor’s physical powers declining?
9. How has Grete’s attitude and behavior toward Gregor changed?
10. Why does Grete want to remove...
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Part 2, Division 2: Questions and Answers
1. Why does Gregor cling to the picture of the woman in furs on the wall?
2. What causes Mrs. Samsa to faint on the sofa?
3. Why does Gregor run after Grete after his mother faints?
4. What kind of job has Mr. Samsa taken?
5. Why doesn’t Gregor recognize his father in his new uniform?
6. How does Mr. Samsa react when he first comes into the apartment and sees his wife lying on the floor?
7. How does Mr. Samsa punish Gregor?
8. Why does Gregor lose consciousness?
9. Who saves Gregor from an almost certain death?
10. How has the balance of power in the Samsa household changed by the end of Part...
(The entire section is 391 words.)
Part 3, Division 1: Questions and Answers
1. How has Mr. Samsa’s attitude toward Gregor changed at the start of Part 3, Division 1?
2. What kind of job does Mrs. Samsa have?
3. What kind of job does Grete have?
4. How is Grete trying to improve her prospects for the future?
5. How do you explain Grete’s ambivalence toward Gregor?
6. Why does Grete become angry with her mother?
7. Who do the Samsas hire to clean Gregor’s room?
8. Why do the Samsas rent a room to the three men?
9. Why doesn’t Kafka give us any information about the three men?
10. How does Gregor feel when he hears the three men chewing their food at dinner?...
(The entire section is 356 words.)
Part 3, Division 2: Questions and Answers
1. Why do the three lodgers threaten to sue Mr. Samsa?
2. What private thoughts does Gregor have of Grete when he hears her violin playing?
3. Why does Grete want to get rid of Gregor?
4. How does Gregor feel once he is back in his room?
5. How would you describe the cleaning woman’s responses to Gregor when she first comes into the house?
6. Why does Gregor feel that Grete is right about his disappearing from everyone’s life?
7. Who discovers Gregor’s body?
8. Why does Mr. Samsa order the three lodgers out of the house?
9. What do the Samsas plan to do the day of Gregor’s death?
(The entire section is 572 words.)
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bouson, J. Brooks. “The Narcissistic Drama and Reader/Text Transaction in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.” In Critical Essays on Franz Kafka, edited by Ruth V. Gross. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Heinz Kohut’s work on narcissistic disorders suggests a new reading of Gregor’s hostile world, arguing against the theory of depersonalization.
Eggenschwiler, David. “The Metamorphosis, Freud, and the Chains of Odysseus.” In Modern Critical Views: Franz Kafka, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. The author traces the psychological origins of the story in Kafka’s life and encourages a recognition of the...
(The entire section is 180 words.)