How do Gregor's feelings for his family change over the course of The Metamorphosis?
Interesting question! In the story “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, Gregor’s transformation greatly impacts his feelings about his family.
Initially in the story, Gregor demonstrates the profound responsibility that he feels toward his family. His feelings seem to be largely based on his belief that his family is incapable of taking care of themselves. For example, he believes that they cannot work because his father is too old, his mother is too frail, and his sister is too young. Thus, he works arduously at a job that he hates. As Gregor’s thoughts reveal:
“If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would’ve quit ages ago. I would’ve gone to the boss and told him just what I think from the bottom of my heart. He would’ve fallen right off his desk!”
“...what a demanding job I’ve chosen! Day in, day out on the road. The stresses of trade are much greater than the work going on at head office, and, in addition to that, I have to deal with the problems of traveling, the worries about train connections, irregular bad food, temporary and constantly changing human relationships which never come from the heart. To hell with it all!”
As the story progresses, Gregor realizes that he can no longer provide for his family and now feels as though he is a burden to them. He relies on his family to clean his room, move furniture, and even to bring him food for each meal. Not only this, but he realizes that his new form scares his family and he feels responsible for protecting them from himself.
Finally, the story draws to a conclusion when Gregor realizes how much of a burden he has become to his family.
“But Gregor did not have any notion of wishing to create problems for anyone and certainly not for his sister.”
Thus, Gregor goes to his room and quietly passes away. After this event, his family grieves their loss; however, they also experience more freedom and become more self-sufficient.
In conclusion, Gregor’s transformation caused his feelings to change about his family. Although he first feels responsible for their well-being, he soon sees himself as a burden to his family. As a result, their roles have changed and he perceives that transition.
When Franz Kafka's Gregor awakes one day to find himself "transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect," he does not immediately seem to grasp what has happened (89). Indeed, he attempts to go about his day as if he is simply ill by sleeping a bit longer and perhaps calling in sick. This attitude of normalizing his condition to the normal rhythm of life in the Samsa household pervades much of the novel. Gregor is the primary money earner of his family and has grown accustomed to sacrificing himself for their needs. As such, he is concerned for much of the story with minimizing fallout of his transformation for the family. At first, that means doing his best to return to work and family life. Only when a clerk comes by to see what has kept him from making it to work does Gregor realize the predicament he is in: he can no longer speak, and his appearance is revolting to others, including his family. Gregor thus enters the second phase of his "metamorphosis," so to speak, in attitude toward his family. He hides in his room, cowering under a couch whenever his sister enters to feed him, and otherwise tries to keep from burdening his family. As his physical conditions become more and more revolting to the family, his father, especially, becomes increasingly hostile toward him, culminating in a scene in which Mr. Samsa throws fruit at Gregor, eventually striking him in the back and causing what would prove to be a fatal wound. Gregor retreats, determined not to cause any further trouble. As his family begins to care for him less, leaving his room dirty and even the apple stuck in his back, Gregor becomes somewhat resentful. He takes to listening to every word and movement of the family from a safe distance until one day, overtaken by his sister Greta's violin playing, he runs out of his room, revealing himself to the boarders the family has had to take on to support themselves. This transgression proves to be the last straw, and his sister pushes her father to rid the family of Gregor. Gregor decides, however, that he will do it for them. Kafka writes, "The decision that he must disappear was one that he held to even more strongly than his sister, if that were possible" (135). Gregor settles down and dies, therefore, so that his family may move on and thrive without him.
In other words, Gregor consistently seeks to do what is best for his family. What changes is his perception of what is best: 1) returning to life and work as normal; 2) minimizing his presence in the family; and 3) dying so that his family may grow from his sacrifice.
Kafka, Franz. "The Metamorphosis." Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories. New York: Schocken, 1971. 89-139.