What are the conflict, resolution, and meaning of The Metamorphosis?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The major conflict of this novel is between Gregor and society (as represented, symbolically, by his boss, his family, and the boarders). Gregor is a worker in a capitalist economy, and, as such, he isn't worth very much. He can be easily replaced, and because he does not own the means of production, he really has no say in the way a business is run. In a capitalist economy (for Kafka, who was a socialist), the worker is exploited by those who own the means of production; he is a cog in the machine, used to increase the wealth of those who own that machine.

Gregor is used by his boss, who does not seem to appreciate how hard Gregor works or what sacrifices he has made for his work, but he is also exploited by his family: they clearly can work, because when they are forced to do so by his physical transformation, they do. However, they've been eating lavish breakfasts while Gregor spends most of his life on the miserable road, supporting them. For Kafka, this is the tragedy, the horror, of capitalism: only a wealthy few really benefit from everyone else's work, while the worker remains in a lowly—vermin-like—position, with no hope of ever really becoming anything else.

In fact, this is one possible reason that Gregor turns into a monstrous vermin in the first place: he already was no better than a cockroach before his physical transformation—capitalism had already forced him to undergo that figurative metamorphosis—and, now, he simply experiences a physical change to match the mental one that has already taken place.

The resolution of this conflict, then, is that Gregor dies. His capitalist society wins, as first he, then his family (for a short time, at least) capitulates to society and is victimized by it. One possible meaning of the text, then, is that capitalism reduces its workers to vermin: easily interchangeable and replaceable, just as Gregor is replaced in the end by his sister, Grete.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflict of this story is Gregor's conflict with himself.  He is not able to assert his own power in his life.  He sacrificing for his family, but to a point that is unhealthy for himself - the extent of his sacrifice is unhappy.  He works hard at a job he doesn't like, while none of the other family members work.  He has no social life and little happiness.  But what is proven through Gregor's transformation is that the rest of the family is perfectly capable of work.  As a matter of fact, they thrive despite Gregor's infirmity. 

The climax of this conflict is when Gregor makes a move to defend the possessions in his room.  His sister, now possessing the power in the family, has chosen to remove them.  Gregor gets possessive, however, and defends his furniture.  It is the first time that Gregor puts his own interests first.  However, the climax is not a permanent shift in power.  Gregor quickly reverts to his subservient role, and eventually he willingly accepts death for the family because that is what they want.  Even betrayed, Gregor sacrifices.

The resolution of the story is Gregor's death and the future promise for the rest of the family.  With the overly self-sacrificing son gone, the family has improved their own prospects and look with hope to the future.

poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflict of The Metamorphosis centers on the stunning transformation that occurs in its opening line: Gregor Samsa awakens to discover than he is a "monstrous vermin." What follows is Gregor's struggle to accept his new circumstances and to deal with his family's disgust for his body and habits. Even though Gregor becomes more comfortable with himself, he is physically damaged when his father lodges an apple in his back.

This conflict between self and family is only truly resolved when Gregor decides that he must save his family from himself and consciously dies. His family manages to successfully move on with their lives and are freed by no longer having to care for him.

As for the meaning of the story, that is up for debate. At the bare minimum, we can assert that The Metamorphosis explores themes of deep alienation and the consequences that alienation may have in our lives.

Read the study guide:
The Metamorphosis

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