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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Chapter 1 Summary

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Last Updated on October 31, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 864

Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover that he is now some sort of insect instead of a man. He tries to negotiate his new body and get out of bed, noticing that he has “many legs” and a ”jutting brown underbelly divided into arching segments.” He wonders if he is dreaming but realizes he is in his room, the same room where he fell asleep the night before. He notices a picture on his wall and looks at the sample fabrics that he brings with him in his job as a traveling salesman.

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Gregor feels a desire to stay in bed, though he has never missed a day of work in five years, never having been sick enough to abandon his duties. He reflects on the demands of his job, which forces him to constantly travel; this limits his social life and creates daily inconveniences. Wondering if he is feeling so strange because he has to get up so early for work, he realizes that it is nearly seven a.m., though he set his alarm for four. Gregor is baffled that he could have slept through the noise. He thinks about calling the Director to say he is ill but knows it will be seen as unlikely, as he never has done so before, and about how much trouble it would cause to have to see a doctor.

Gregor’s mother asks softly outside his door whether he is going to work. He tries to reply but notices his voice sounds unusual, “distorted.” Attempting to control his voice, he tells his mother that he is getting up now. Gregor assumes the “fantasies” of the morning will wear off as he gets out of bed, eats breakfast, and goes to work. He finds, though, that he cannot get out of bed easily. It is too difficult to sit up or swing out of bed with his legs, so he tries to turn his upper body instead. Gregor is very careful, knowing that knocking himself unconscious would further complicate his predicament.

Chastising himself for still being in bed at seven, Gregor tries to lie still and see if he will go back to his normal state, but to no avail. He attempts rocking back and forth and hopes that someone will come help him, but he locked his door, so the family can’t get in.

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As he continues to persuade himself to get up, Gregor hears the Deputy Director arrive at the house. Gregor laments working for a business that will come by to investigate even the smallest irregularity. At last he manages to swing himself out of the bed and onto the floor with a thump, which the Deputy Director hears. Gregor’s father informs Gregor that the Deputy Director has come to see him, while his mother insists her son must be unwell. Gregor worries he will lose his job and thus his ability to take care of his family.

The Deputy Director pleads with Gregor to come out and get to work, noting how unusual this behavior is for someone the Deputy Director always held to be “a quiet, reasonable person.” He insists that their business never rests. Gregor replies that he was unwell but is already better and will be out soon. They don’t seem to be able to understand Gregor and think he is playing a joke on them, while Gregor wonders how they will react to seeing his new form. He thinks he is able to control his voice enough to communicate clearly, but the family panics, yelling that they need a locksmith to open the door.

As Gregor moves around on the floor, he notices sticky material on his feet and a brown fluid coming from his mouth. He tries to unlock the door, and those outside encourage his efforts. When the door finally opens, Gregor’s father and mother look on in shock, and the father attempts to beat his son back into the room.

Gregor feels compelled toward the feast on the breakfast table, and he remains calm as he assures everyone he just needs to get dressed and will soon be off to work. He vows to “work even harder and more efficiently” after this setback. Gregor tries to convince the Deputy Director that his “illness” must be a result of his hard work traveling for the company and begs for his understanding. The official cannot speak but only stares, aghast. Gregor feels the need to keep the man in the house so he cannot go back and report Gregor, which would cause him to lose his job.

As Gregor moves around using all of his legs, he feels the most comfortable and natural he has since he woke up, and despite his best efforts, he instinctively acts like an insect as he scuttles about and snaps his jaws. The others either run for him or try to swat at him, attempting to get him back in his bedroom. The sounds of panic from his parents sound like “hissing” to Gregor. They succeed in chasing their son back to his room before slamming the door shut on an injured, bleeding Gregor.

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Chapter 2 Summary