illustration of a giant insect with the outline of a man in a suit standing within the confines of the insect

The Metamorphosis

by Franz Kafka

Start Free Trial

The Metamorphosis has been described as having "the flavour of a personal nightmare with a wider symbolic meaning" (John Hibberd). To what extent do you think this is an accurate description of the novella? What evidence can you offer to support your view?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Upon first glance, Kafka's infamous The Metamorphosis appears to be, as Hibberd states, a "personal nightmare"; Gregor transforms into an insect and is left to die by his family as a result. However, close analysis reveals that Kafka utilizes this transformation to symbolize the effects of labor on humanity.

Evidence of this can be found in Gregor's thankless work as a travelling salesman. Before his metamorphosis, Gregor complains of feeling isolated from humanity in his job, describing "constantly changing human relationships that never come from the heart" (4). In this context, his transformation into another species entirely is just the physical manifestation of the dehumanization he was already experiencing through his labor.

Further evidence can be found in the immediate reactions to Gregor's transformation. Gregor's employer comes to the house looking for him, not to check on his health, but to tell him that he must work even if he isn't feeling well. Gregor's family immediately start worrying about the financial trouble that his condition will cause and give no concern to his well-being. Gregor's own first thought is that he must find a way to continue to work in spite of his transformation. Through these reactions, Kafka demonstrates how labor warps humanity and reduces the value of human beings to their capacity to work.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team