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

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What is the deeper meaning behind The Metamorphosis?

The deeper meaning behind The Metamorphosis is connected to the themes of alienation, identity, compassion, and the absurd. While the story itself is about a man who randomly turns into a giant insect, deeper analysis shows the reader that Kafka is exploring the absurdity of life and the human condition.

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The Metamorphosis brings out the interior life of Gregor Samsa. For some time, he has felt like nothing more than an insect, a creature toiling away at a dehumanizing job he hates.

Gregor is a traveling salesman, and as the story opens, he awakens and contemplates his day. He describes all that he dislikes about his job: he has to be up very early and never feels rested. He dislikes the food on the road and the fact that he can never get to know a specific set of people. He dislikes his boss, and he only took the job to help his parents pay off a debt to this boss.

Gregor's feelings of being little more than an insect manifest themselves in his body as he discovers he is a giant insect. Suddenly, he is wearing his feelings about himself on the outside, just as an insect's hard carapace is like a human bone structure turned inside out.

The feelings of dehumanization and alienation that Gregor experiences increase now that he is in insect form. He is liberated from his job, but he is also alienated from his family, forced to stay in his room, and increasingly resented by them as he is no longer bringing home an income. His death and his acceptance of it show his feelings of worthlessness.

Kakfa's message is that modern society, with its emphasis on work and money, alienates people and turns them into little more than insects like Gregor.

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There are numerous layers of meaning in The Metamorphosis. Since this is not a text which provides answers or makes clear statements, these are perhaps best expressed in the form of questions raised by the text. First, there are questions about the nature of love, natural affection, and family relationships. What does it mean to say that you love someone? Can this love disappear if that person alters? Is the same true of the bonds of family? What would it take for you to stop loving your son or brother and to see him as a hideous obstacle to happiness?

The questions above are clearly raised by the attitude of Gregor's family towards his transformation. Are these people unusually shallow and hypocritical, or are all relationships like this to some extent? Is love inevitably conditional, and, if so, what are the conditions? Apart from questions of love and family, the story explores issues of identity and society. What makes a human being valuable? How far is this value dependent on appearances and abilities? Is a person's value innate and inalienable, or is it socially constructed? These are some of the deeper meanings behind the text, but there are many more, and each reader will view them somewhat differently. Apart from love, family, identity, and society, The Metamorphosis raises powerful existential issues of meaning, purpose, and what makes like worth living, if it is.

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The Metamorphosis is a novella about a man named Gregor Samsa, who works a modest but exhausting job as a traveling salesman and provides for his family. One day, Gregor wakes up and realizes that he's been turned into a giant bug. This absurd shift in narrative reveals the monotony and loneliness of Gregor's life, although upon first read, the change is seemingly meaningless. However, the reader soon realizes that changing into a bug says more about the human condition and the meaning of happiness than meets the eye.

While Gregor’s relentless work schedule allows his family a comfortable lifestyle, it has left Gregor himself unable to pursue anything that might make him happy. Already dehumanized and isolated by his job, Gregor is at first hardly surprised or bothered by his transformation into an insect. Yet the feelings of loneliness, rejection, and worry he experiences in his new form, as well as the love he continues to feel toward his neglectful family, reveals that the core of Gregor’s humanity remains intact—even when his sister refers to him as “it.” It is human connection, the text suggests, that makes life bearable; denied this, Gregor resolves to fade away.

As readers peel back the layers of the text, starting with the grotesque spectacle Gregor becomes, they begin to realize that in a way, we are all Gregor. Gregor becomes a cockroach-like bug, but his mind is still much the same. Deep down, he still identifies with his old life, and while he may look different (and terrifying), he's still Gregor.

Gregor’s family tries to care for him at first, but eventually even Grete's patience runs thin. There is simply no way for them to relate to Gregor anymore, they believe, and no way for Gregor to relate to the world around him anymore, either—even though he shares many of the same thoughts, feelings, and concerns as they do. This could be related to anyone attempting to fit into a hostile society. Whatever their differences, everyone experiences the need for connection and affection, and the pain of rejection and loneliness, that characterize the human condition.

Unfortunately for Gregor, his exterior, like many in this world, causes those around him to judge and close their hearts to his inner world. He is simply too different, and not only different, but repellent. In turn, Gregor becomes literally isolated in his room and existentially isolated in his mind.

One question remains during the early period after Gregor’s transformation: is Gregor happy in his new life? He hated his job and the lack of trust from his boss, and it seems now that Gregor enjoys his lack of obligation and care for an outside world that never really cared about him. Looking at the novella through an absurdist lens, one could say that Gregor's misfortune is actually a gift, as it allows Gregor to accept the fact that life has no meaning or purpose. This acceptance could perhaps allow Gregor to find peace, as he is finally free from society's shackles and no longer has to conform or play the role he so desperately wanted to escape. In the end, however, his family members’ rejection of him now that he can no longer work is too much to bear, and Gregor starves himself to death rather than continue on as an unwanted burden to them.

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