Part 1, Division 2: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2321

Summary

The chief clerk leaps back in fright and shock, with one hand clasped to his gaping mouth. Then Gregor’s mother notices him, and her reaction is swift and certain: she falls to the floor in a heap, holding her grief-stricken face in her hands. Mr. Samsa can only look...

(The entire section contains 2321 words.)

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Summary

The chief clerk leaps back in fright and shock, with one hand clasped to his gaping mouth. Then Gregor’s mother notices him, and her reaction is swift and certain: she falls to the floor in a heap, holding her grief-stricken face in her hands. Mr. Samsa can only look on and cry when he sees his unrecognizable and repulsive son.

Realizing that he must do something to explain himself to the chief clerk, Gregor follows him to the stairway in an attempt to reason with him and to calm his fears. However, as soon as he tries to open his mouth to speak, the chief clerk runs out of the house, forgetting his walking stick in the apartment.

As Gregor’s mother recovers and straightens up, she accidentally knocks over the coffee pot standing on the breakfast table. The coffee spills all over the floor. The sight of the spilled liquid causes Gregor to snap his jaws together repeatedly, and this inhuman, repugnant sound so frightens Mrs. Samsa that she rushes with a howl into the waiting arms of her husband, who glowers steadily at Gregor.

Gregor’s father, who seems both astonished and angry, picks up the chief clerk’s walking stick and a rolled-up newspaper and begins to drive Gregor back into his room. Panic-stricken, Gregor falls back and away from his enraged father, and when he turns in the doorway of his room to escape his father’s wrath, his body gets caught in the frame. His helpless legs can only flutter wildly in the air while “horrid blotches” ooze from his injured flank. His torment is finally ended when Mr. Samsa gives him one sudden, swift shove into his room.

The door slams behind Gregor, and the silence of the room engulfs him.

Analysis

The way Gregor’s parents and the chief clerk respond when they finally see Gregor’s unnatural and grotesque body—shock and horror, pain and sorrow, grief and despair, respectively—illuminate the human range of response to anything that is unfamiliar, unnatural, strange, bizarre, and unexpected. Such human responses seem natural enough, for how else can these people react to the sight of their transformed son and business employee? Does Gregor have some perverse motive in showing himself to his parents and the chief clerk? Does he want to shock them out of their hum-drum, everyday life experience? The scene provides the reader with an element of the absurd and the comic. The incongruity of Gregor finally placing himself within sight of everyone concerned about his welfare is so stark and extraordinary and so innocent in its intention, that the spectators who view him naked as an insect have no immediate verbal response, are unable to articulate their feelings, and can only express them on Gregor’s own level, that is, demonstratively.

Mr. Samsa’s tears perhaps tell us more about his initial response than ordinarily meets the eye. In that one startled glance at his son, doesn’t he also see in a flash the loss of Gregor’s job and income and the end of the very comfortable life that has sustained him and his family for the past five years? Is he not weeping for his own life and for that of his wife and daughter who now face poverty, illness, and even worse?

For his part, Gregor remains relatively calm after revealing himself. Part of him, of course, has not been altered. The human in him reaching out to others for acceptance and understanding, the need to explain himself fully, to try to apologize to his parents for any inconvenience he may have caused them—all of this is still very much alive in him and is directly connected to his human capacity for feeling, guilt, and remorse. It shows us that Gregor, in his changed state, is opening his heart and soul to his family in ways that he was incapable of doing before his metamorphosis. This is a sign of health and growth, and one of the more fascinating aspects of the story is to see this understanding and love blossom in Gregor even as his physical self begins the long process of decline, decay, and disintegration.

After his appearance in the doorway, Gregor notices that the fog of early morning has lifted and given way to stronger light, and that on the other side of the street, the hospital has come into sharper focus. He also notices the breakfast table with the morning’s dishes piled on it and a photograph on the wall taken when he was in the army. These familiar sights are always in and out of Gregor’s vision. More than just connecting Gregor to his human past and to his former life as a salesman, they keep him grounded in everyday, ordinary life as well. Without these banal details, the story would lose much of its power and mystery, for only by placing Gregor within the human context does his appalling situation take on the pain, anguish, and suffering necessary for the tragic quality and dimension he ultimately achieves.

Gregor cannot explain his parents’ violent reaction. He still regards himself as their flesh and blood, as a member of the family, and he expects them to treat him like their son. In his mind, he is still Gregor Samsa, and he believes that what has happened to him is temporary and will soon pass. He’s aware that his physical exterior has changed and that he must look different to everyone, but his heart has remained the same, his ability to think clearly has not been altered, and he is still capable of making his own decisions and of forming his own judgments. That these two parts of the whole—the changed external appearance and his human internal self—can never fully be reconciled (except in death), accounts for the aching pathos and even humor in the story, and for its inevitable tragic outcome.

Gregor’s pressing need to explain himself to the chief clerk—a monologue that never reaches the clerk’s ears—is thwarted by the chief clerk’s desire to flee the apartment. Gregor’s speech allows him finally to express his true feelings about his job and the people he works with without restraint. He reminds the chief clerk that as a traveling salesman, he is often the target of vicious rumors and attacks. He begs the chief clerk to have some compassion for him. “Don’t make things any worse for me than they are,” he says. “Stand up for me in the firm.” Elsewhere, Gregor says, “I have to provide for my parents and sister.”

Gregor fully realizes what the loss of his job would mean for his family. When the chief clerk runs to the staircase, Gregor’s sense of alarm and panic intensifies. He knows he cannot allow the chief clerk to vanish without offering him some explanation for what he has just seen. Just as Gregor presses forward toward the chief clerk, his mother springs up from the floor crying out, “Help, for God’s sake, help!” In her confusion and panic, Mrs. Samsa accidentally knocks over the coffee pot, spilling coffee all over the floor. When Gregor reacts by loudly snapping his jaws, his mother screams and flies into the outstretched arms of Mr. Samsa. Gregor’s plaintive, forlorn “Mother, Mother” is not heard, but the wrenching cry of the heart is the cry of the guilty, responsible son who wants to do right but who seems crushed and impotent in view of his stricken mother’s wailing.

Gregor’s attempts to flee his father’s wrath are greatly impeded by his inability to move backward, something he must now do if he is to escape his father’s gathering fury. Since he cannot move fast enough in this fashion, though, he has no choice but to swing himself around into a forward position and head straight for his room. He is finally able to do this but only at a great cost to his body. While trying to turn in the doorway, he gets caught. One leg is horribly damaged, fluid oozes from his bruised side, and it is only Mr. Samsa’s brutal, violent push that finally frees him from his agony.

This scene is both heartless and cruel. We see the enraged, overpowering, and punitive father with a walking stick in one hand and a rolled newspaper in the other, driving Gregor back into his room. In Mr. Samsa’s eyes, Gregor is nothing but a weak, puny, disgusting thing, too small to defend himself. In real life, Kafka wrote about his feelings of insignificance and inferiority in the face of his father’s dominance, and how he was made to feel awkward and inadequate in his father’s presence. One such passage from Letter to His Father reveals how uncomfortable Kafka felt in his father’s eyes:

I remember, for instance, how we often undressed in the same bathing hut. There was I, skinny, weakly, slight. You, strong, tall, broad. Even inside the hut, I felt a miserable specimen, and what’s more, not only in your eyes, but in the eyes of the whole world, for you were for me, the measure of all things.

Physically, Gregor Samsa is no match for his father. If the father is “the measure of all things,” how can a skinny weakling of a son (an insect) ever hope to be his equal or to surpass him in his success and accomplishments in life? Thus Kafka/Samsa (the similar-sounding, polysyllabic surnames are obvious in this connection) always felt insecure and inadequate as a man. With the strength of an insect, Samsa could never hope to measure up to his father’s tall, massive frame, but would always remain a “miserable specimen” in his father’s eyes and in the eyes of the world. Gregor must then resort to other means if he is to survive. He must use other weapons to defend himself—intelligence, cunning, shrewdness, concealment—and since he cannot make himself understood through human speech, he must try to reach his parents in other ways, ways that are inherently doomed to failure.

Though initially appalled and perhaps even repulsed by Gregor’s metamorphosis, the reader can only sympathize with Gregor in this final scene of part 1. Terrorized, Gregor can only stumble and crumble under his father’s merciless stamping and the “savage” hissing sounds coming from his throat. When Gregor falls defeated against the doorjamb and is pinned there helplessly with his “dark blotches” staining the white door, the reader immediately grasps the danger and gravity of Gregor’s plight and feels both pity and fear for him.

The father’s foot-stamping, the ear-splitting hissing sounds coming from his mouth, and the brandishing walking stick and newspaper flying in Gregor’s face foreshadow the more extreme and lethal form of violence seen in part 2. Mrs. Samsa’s own gesture of turning away from her son, toward the open window where she sticks her head out, suggests that the atmosphere in the apartment has suddenly grown oppressive and rank with Gregor’s presence. She allows a gust of wind to enter the apartment, a draft that shakes the curtains and scatters the newspaper about the floor. This fresh, cold air “cleanses” and “purifies” the air that has been contaminated by Gregor’s noxious appearance in the room. Moreover, the strong light that displaces the heavy mist of morning bursts into the apartment, symbolizing the truth of Gregor’s condition and the change the family must embrace if they are to accept Gregor as their son again.

When the door slams shut behind Gregor and he is once again enveloped in complete silence, we sense that a new phase has opened in Gregor’s life and in the life of his family. This is consistent with the major theme of change in the story, for not only has Gregor changed from man to insect, but by the end of part 1 his parents’ lives have been altered. Faced with a threat to their very existence, a threat that is both unfathomable and real to them, their lives have been turned inside out.

From now on, Gregor’s physical condition can only worsen, his state of mind grow more melancholy with the passage of time. He had hoped, when he was pulling on the key to his door to free himself from his room, that his parents were outside “pulling for him”; but instead of receiving their encouragement and sympathy, he only succeeded in arousing their fear, hatred, and disgust of him. Their rejection of him as their son is sudden and sure.

The chief clerk’s rejection of Gregor is also important. Gregor no longer has any place in society. His job as a traveling salesman defined him in the social community and gave him a certain status among his peers, but now that bond has been severed. His rejection is total. Gregor is an outcast, rejected by his parents and by society. Cut off from everything human, he must now live in isolation, not as a participant in society, but as one of its observers.

One other very important change occurs in part 1, and that is the complete reversal of roles within the family. For five years, Gregor was able to meet his family’s financial obligations, but now all that has changed. Transformed utterly into an insect, he can no longer provide that support for his parents and sister. He is now dependent upon them for his very survival and must now live off them like a parasite, just the way they lived off him and “sucked his blood” for five years. In this, we have the revenge theme, the exploited son who abjures all and any responsibility toward those who had taken unfair advantage of him.

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Part 1, Division 1: Summary and Analysis

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Part 2, Division 1: Summary and Analysis