What is the importance of appearance in Franz Kafka's short story "The Metamorphosis," as illustrated by the description of Gregor, his family, and his house?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Metamorphosis," by Franz Kafka, is all about appearances. Gregor wakes up this morning and everything has changed--or at least everything about him has changed.

He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.

He sees his new reality and his horrified; when he looks around at the rest of his room, though, everything is as it was when he went to bed. Nothing outward has changed in his room; the only thing that has changed is his appearance. Now what he looks like (his appearance) matches how he has been living on the inside. He has felt trapped and helpless in a job he feels obligated to continue; now he feels trapped and helpless in a body he does not want.

Gregor's family appears to be happy and prosperous, but that, too, is just how they appear on the outside. Gregor has made life easy for them, so none of them has had to do anything productive. Under his calm and peaceful exterior, Gregor's father is a cruel man. Though he does not work (because Gregor has been providing), he can work. Gregor's sister is described as ‘‘a somewhat useless daughter," which is true before the transformation because she has never needed to be productive. After Gregor's death, she gets a job and becomes a more useful, productive young woman. His mother is much the same on the inside as she appears on the inside; she is rather a non-entity throughout the entire ordeal, though she does seem to be most affected by Gregor's death. Later in the story, Gregor's family is described "tired and overworked," which really just means they are now doing their share of maintaining a household--something Gregor had always paid others to do for them.

The three "earnest gentlemen" who become the Samsas' boarders appear to be men of discerning tastes. They prefer their rooms, as well as every other room in the house, to be neat; at mealtimes, they routinely test the food to see if it is good enough. They seem to be men of culture, but when, as they read the newspaper one evening (one newspaper which they all share), Grete plays the violin "beautifully," they are disdainful and act as if their evening has been ruined by inferior music. These are three poor men (or they certainly would not have boarded here) who pose as cultured and refined gentlemen. When Gregor's father has finally had enough of them, he orders them to leave, and the first man quickly walks out of the apartment. The other two men "jumped off after their friend as if taken with a sudden fear that Mr. Samsa might go into the hallway in front of them and break the connection with their leader. Once there, all three took their hats from the stand, took their sticks from the holder, bowed without a word and left the premises." Again, appearances are deceptive.

Metamorphosis means transformation; Gregor, his family, and the boarders, all undergo some kind of transformation. Gregor's appearance finally matches his life; the laziness and faults the seemingly perfect Samsa family are revealed; and the apparent gentlemen are revealed as weak impostors. 

Read the study guide:
The Metamorphosis

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question