What significance is attached to the food in The Metamorphosis?

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hmassman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the story, “Metamorphosis,” the food is used as a symbol to represent several concepts. However, some of the most apparent and vital uses are the food’s symbol of transformation and of love in the story.

For example, after the transformation of Gregor, his preferences of food change. Although his sister brings Gregor his favorite food, Gregor has no appetite for the food. Thus, it acts as another example of how his physical transformation has impacted Gregor.

Furthermore, food acts as a symbol of care and love throughout the story. After Gregor’s transformation, his sister brings him several different types of foods to try because she cares about her brother. As the story demonstrates:

"She brought him, to test his taste, an entire selection, all spread out on an old newspaper. There were old half-rotten vegetables, bones from the evening meal, covered with a white sauce which had almost solidified, some raisins and almonds, cheese, which Gregor had declared inedible two days earlier, a slice of dry bread, a slice of salted bread smeared with butter. In addition to all this, she put down a bowl (probably designated once and for all as Gregor’s) into which she had poured some water. And out of her delicacy of feeling, since she knew that Gregor would not eat in front of her, she went away very quickly and even turned the key in the lock, so that Gregor could now observe that he could make himself as comfortable as he wished."

As his sister begins working and doubting if the bug creature really is her brother, her care with the food diminishes. She begins to simply bring his food quickly without noticing his malnourishment. As shown in the story,

"Gregor ate hardly anything any more. Only when he chanced to move past the food which had been prepared did he, as a game, take a bit into his mouth, hold it there for hours, and generally spit it out again."

Thus, the food in the story acts as symbolism for the change that Gregor has experienced. He no longer can enjoy the food that he once did due to his lack of teeth and new taste pallete. Furthermore, the food symbolizes the care that his sister feels towards him. Although she deeply cares about her brother, she soon questions if her brother is still in the creature and begins to care less about his nourishment needs.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Gregor's sister, Grete, becomes more and more consumed by her work and responsibilities, she begins to care less and less about his nutritional needs, likes, and dislikes.  At first, she notices that Gregor no longer cares for the foods he once favored, and she offers him a veritable buffet of assorted food in various states of ripeness, even decay, in order to ascertain what he now prefers.  However, as time passes and Grete becomes busier, she simply shoves food into the room with her foot, no longer caring what Gregor likes or even if he eats what she gives him.  It seems as though Grete is more concerned with his feelings and nourishment when she has less to do and also when she believes that there is still a chance he will return to his normal self.  On the other hand, when she has more to do and begins to believe that he will no longer be useful to the family again, her attitude changes.  In this way, Gregor's food correlates to his perceived usefulness.  When she thinks he might still return to himself and support the family again, he's fed well; when she realizes that he will never again support them, he's fed poorly.

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The Metamorphosis

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