What is the significance of Gregor being transformed into an insect, rather than any other type of creature?I have to write a position paper about the topic, and I am extremely stuck.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Kafka's The Metamorphosis, the use of an insect is particularly significant because of all the things in this world, the insect is often seen as bothersome, disgusting, and easily squashed. While some people may see value in insects (for pollination, for example), most find them easy to ignore or horrific.

While many readers imagine Gregor to be a cockroach, nothing in his writing ever states this. However, the disgust of Gregor's father, Greta's increasing distaste for her brother, his mother's agony at his transformation, and even the antagonistic responses by the borders and the cleaning lady provide some basis for the feeling of disgust Gregor has for himself, perceiving himself to be a...

...monstrous vermin.

It can be argued that had he been another kind of insect, perhaps a lightning bug (firefly) or a butterfly, his reception by others might have been quite different. Most other animals are associated with pleasant attributes: dogs and cats are generally only singularly awful—as with a vicious dog. Elephants are protective of their young and seemingly mellow; lions are seen as the king of the animal kingdom. Chimpanzees are extremely clever. Even mice are often fairytale helpers in Disney cartoons.

However, because Gregor is disgusting in appearance and in his habits, the reader understands that although he still wants to be loved, he can see no reason why someone (even his family members) would do so because he experiences self-loathing that almost surpasses the hate of his father and sister.

Because of society's disgust with insects in general (associations with filth, abandoned hovels, disease, etc.), no other animal would collectively be as repulsive. The only other creature that could illicit a similar response might be the rat. Note again, however, that Gregor sees himself as some kind of "vermin."

In this unusual tale, Gregor is ugly and enormous: a frightening creature to all who see him. Stuck on his back, his many legs wave around in the air, while he is unable to control them. His room smells, and watching him eat is revolting. He scrambles around the room when agitated, something real insects do that cause fear and trembling in people nearby, and he even hides under furniture in dark places. Our society has seen countless movies, and many stories have been written, with an insect as humankind's nemesis. 

Culturally speaking, no other creature could evoke such overwhelming responses, which we can assume was Kafka's intent: to attribute characteristics of a creature few can bear to be near, onto a man who has come to feel the same way about himself and his place in the world.

If I were writing this paper, this would be my central idea: his transformation into an insect conveys the world's disgust with him (which other creatures could not be guaranteed to generate), as well as his sense of self-hatred. Like an insect, he sees no way someone could ever look at him without revulsion.


lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In order to think about this topic, start brainstorming your connotative associations with insects.  How do they look?  How do they behave?  Where do they live?  How do they live?  How do human beings generally feel about bugs, especially bugs in their homes?  Once you create your list of ideas, the next step is to see if there are any connections between being a bug and Gregor's existence as human being.  You could also consider how Gregor is treated after he becomes a bug.  How was his life like that of a bug?  Once you start seeing those connections you should be able to write a well-argued analysis of why Kafka choose a bug, rather than some other creature to make his point in the story. 

Here is one idea that you could consider.  Bugs are hard-working; they toil their whole lives for the good of group.  Gregor works very hard to provide for his family.  He has sacrificed his personal life and his personal happiness to do what he thinks his family needs for him to do.  You would then need to provide specific details from the story to support those asertions.

Once you have crafted several examples like the one above, you should have enough ideas to create an excellent essay!

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

#2 gives some great ideas for you to get started with. I would add that there is a sense in which you need to examine the way that Gregor's transfomation is only physical. Really, he has been a "bug" for all of his adult working life. His transformation only exposes the way that he has been treated like a bug by his family and his manager.

diamondkathleen | Student

I, too, have a topic where I must "discuss" the main events and talk about how the weakening of Gregor (him becoming less of a human) ends up strengthening the family.


My English teacher and I discussed this for a long period of time. Here are a few things I came up with. In the beginning, Gregor is awoken by "unsettling dreams" (we don't know what these dreams are, but still), he talks about the job he dislikes, why he has this job, and his lack of friends because of this job. In my "Ah-ha!" moment, I exclaimed, "Perhaps Gregor is a bug so that his family cannot take advantage of his work any longer and so that the family can learn to pull their own weight."


Now, why is he a bug instead of other creatures? Maybe simply because insects are something we as humans detest and find to be the most insignificant. Symbolism, per sé, of how his family treats/ed him. When Gregor is a bug, they treat him as a bug, desensitizing his aptness to be human.


I wish you the best of luck on your paper. I hope my points prove helpful. Happy writing!

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The Metamorphosis

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