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The Metamorphosis

by Franz Kafka
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In The Metamorphosis, why and how did Gregor become a vermin? Do you think his transformation is a literal one, or are we supposed to take his transformation as a purely symbolic one?

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The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka opens with the statement:

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

This novel is not a realistic one. Unlike in a work of science fiction , there...

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The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka opens with the statement:

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

This novel is not a realistic one. Unlike in a work of science fiction, there is no detailed explanation of the mechanism by which the transformation happened. No other characters in the work undergo a similar metamorphosis, so this is not a story about some mysterious plague that turns humans into giant insects. Instead, the transformation is intended as the premise for an allegory, in which the physical transformation leads to profound revelations about psychology and society.

One theme that this work holds in common with many of Kafka's other works is the way in which bureaucratic capitalist society dehumanizes workers and citizens. In some ways, the novel suggests that the transformation is an outward revelation of what has become a diminished inward life. Gregor, rather than fully realizing his potential as a human, has become a creature who simply toils away to earn money at a job he hates.

The transformation also strips away the outward conventions of social and familial relationships. Although in theory a family is supposed to be a site of love and respect, instead, despite the way Gregor has sacrificed himself for his family, their affection for him is revealed as outward convention not supported by inward commitment. It is this revelation that saps Gregor's will to live. Once the myth that has given him will to persist in the work he hates is stripped away, his life becomes absurd and meaningless.

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