The Metamorphosis Summary
The Metamorphosis is a novella by Franz Kafka about a man who inexplicably transforms into a giant insect.
- Traveling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover that he has transformed into a giant insect. His metamorphosis makes it impossible for him to work.
- When Gregor finally opens the door, his hideous figure frightens his family.
- Gregor's parents have trouble adjusting to his metamorphosis. One day, Gregor's father becomes so frustrated that he throws an apple at Gregor. The fruit becomes lodged in Gregor's back, where it rots and causes an infection that ultimately kills Gregor.
Last Updated November 3, 2023.
Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis begins with Gregor Samsa’s transformation from man to insect. Gregor wakes up from a night of disturbed sleep in a new body featuring “arching segments” and “many legs.” After considering going back to sleep, he eventually struggles to move himself around and out of the bed. He discovers that he has woken up hours after his alarm was meant to go off, and he will likely be late for the train and for work.
Gregor’s immediate concern is how the Director will react; he has never called in sick in five years on the job. His mother knocks on his door to ask if he is going to work, and when he tries to communicate with his family, he discovers that his voice is distorted and squeaky. No one can understand what he is trying to say. His door is locked, so no one can get in, but he also cannot get out of bed because his legs are too weak. Eventually, he is able to throw his body onto the floor.
The Deputy Director arrives, trying to figure out why Gregor hasn’t come to work yet. He joins the family outside of Gregor’s bedroom door, while Mrs. Samsa tries to convince the Deputy Director that Gregor is unwell and cannot work that day. When the door is finally opened, after great effort on Gregor’s part, his family reacts with fear and horror upon viewing his new form. His father forces him back into the room.
After Gregor sleeps for several hours, his sister, Grete, tries to bring him one of his favorite foods. He finds he no longer has an appetite for foods he once loved; he is more attracted to rotting food. Grete carefully handles any dishes she brings to or takes from Gregor’s room.
Though his family cannot understand his voice, Gregor can hear all of their conversations. He learns that they have some money left in what they had saved after Mr. Samsa’s business went bankrupt. However, they do not want to dig into those funds yet, and they wouldn’t last very long. This revelation causes Gregor to feel guilty and ashamed, particularly at the idea that his mother and sister may have to find work.
Meanwhile, Grete has been maintaining Gregor’s room and gradually moving furniture around or out of the room to allow him to more comfortably navigate the space. Her mother argues that she should not move everything out because Gregor will lose his sense of humanity, and Gregor realizes that it’s true that he has begun to feel less human. His mother’s voice helps him to recall his human memories, at least temporarily.
Gregor takes to hiding under a sheet when Grete comes into his room or hiding under the sofa, which he finds surprisingly comfortable, to save his sister from the horrific sight of him. Gregor’s father has gotten a job at a bank, and Gregor notices changes in his appearance and attitude. One day, Mr. Samsa lashes out at Gregor, assailing him with apples, one of which gets stuck in Gregor’s back and rots.
Gregor has significantly weakened by the final chapter of the novella. His family sinks deeper into despair; his father wears his uniform constantly, ready to go to work at any given moment, while his mother has to sew clothes, and his sister works as a sales clerk. The family begins to sell off their valuables to supplement their meager incomes. They even want to move to a smaller, cheaper apartment, but they cannot think about relocating Gregor.
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lodgers rents a room in the apartment, and though it is the Samsa household, the family retreats to the kitchen for meals and allows the men the run of the house. When Grete plays violin one evening, and Gregor is drawn to the music, the lodgers spot him for the first time. They refuse to pay any rent and threaten to press charges against Mr. Samsa.
After this pivotal event, Grete insists that the family needs to resolve the problem of Gregor. She believes the insect is no longer Gregor because her brother would have been considerate enough to want to prevent his family’s pain. Gregor returns to his room, no longer able to move and in deep despair.
The next morning, the servant discovers that Gregor has died. The family mourns his passing, and the lodgers look at the body with interest before Mr. Samsa chases them from the house. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa decide to skip work that day and go into the city. This is the first leisure time they’ve experienced outside of the house as a family in months. While they are out, Grete’s parents realize that she is a beautiful young woman and is approaching marriageable age. They look forward to finding her a husband and creating a new life for themselves.