Part 3, Division 1: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2622

Summary

Part 3, division 1, covers the action from a description of Gregor’s worsening physical condition to the concert Grete gives for the three gentlemen lodgers. One month has elapsed from the time Mr. Samsa injured Gregor with the apple.

The apple decaying in Gregor’s back has made him extremely...

(The entire section contains 2622 words.)

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Summary

Part 3, division 1, covers the action from a description of Gregor’s worsening physical condition to the concert Grete gives for the three gentlemen lodgers. One month has elapsed from the time Mr. Samsa injured Gregor with the apple.

The apple decaying in Gregor’s back has made him extremely weak and has greatly limited his physical movement. He is almost completely incapacitated now, but he can lie in the silence of his room and listen in on the conversations of his parents in the living room since the door to that room is now wide open all the time.

The family has adopted an attitude of patience toward Gregor, and even Mr. Samsa has put aside his feelings of disgust for his son and has resolved to be more patient and to see what happens.

All the family members are now working. Gregor’s mother is working for an underwear firm, sewing at home; Grete has taken a job as a salesgirl, and she is also learning French and shorthand in order to secure a more solid future for herself. Mr. Samsa, as has already been noted, works as a bank messenger.

For more than a month, Gregor has been confined to his room. During this time, his room has grown oppressive and filthy; dust is everywhere, on the floor, in the corners, on the walls, and thick dust balls cling to Gregor’s body when he drags himself along the floor. His physical appearance is unsightly. He eats very little now and is growing weaker and more frail by the day.

Grete no longer takes any pride in her care for Gregor. She allows his room to grow dirty and stale, if not chaotic with filth. When she has to go into his room to bring him his food, she does so quickly and not without a little contempt. The strain of taking care of her brother for so long has finally caught up with her and has affected her outlook, her spirit, and her personality. Besides, with her new job, she now has other interests and pursuits in life, and so Gregor is no longer the center of her universe.

To help meet the household expenses, the Samsas decide to rent one of the rooms in the apartment to three men. These men are all bearded and appear to be serious in their manner, bearing, and speech. They take their evening meals in the living room and smoke their cigars and read their papers after dinner while the Samsas eat in the kitchen. The three lodgers are obsessed with order and cleanliness, and they demand that the garbage can and ash can be placed in Gregor’s room. The Samsas have also dismissed Anna, the young servant girl, and in her place have hired an old cleaning woman to come into the apartment in the morning and evening to help with the domestic chores. This old woman complies with the lodgers’ demands and dumps the refuse cans in Gregor’s room.

One evening, after dinner, Grete is playing her violin in the kitchen. The music casts a spell over the apartment, and the three lodgers stop what they are doing to listen. Gregor, too, is attracted to the sad, graceful melody coming from the kitchen. He crawls to the doorway of his room and sticks his head out into the living room, where he is mesmerized by the music.

Analysis

Gregor’s disabling injury—the rotting, festering apple sinks deeper and deeper in his back for everyone to see—makes it virtually impossible for him to crawl on the walls or the ceiling and reduces him to the status of a wounded invalid. Perhaps feeling a little guilty himself for inflicting this horrible injury to his son, Mr. Samsa decides to be more patient and resolute with Gregor in the future and, along with his wife and daughter, tries to accept him as one of the family and not as the enemy. This change in Mr. Samsa does not necessarily suggest that Mr. Samsa’s attitude toward Gregor has radically changed, but only that he is buying time and really doesn’t know how to react to Gregor. Kafka does not explain this change in Mr. Samsa’s thinking. It could be that now that he is working again and earning a salary and feels that he once again has the upper hand in the family, he is more willing to be accepting and patient with Gregor. Or it just may be that his focus is no longer primarily on his son, but on his job and on his wife and daughter. Distracted by these other cares and concerns, Mr. Samsa shows us that, if nothing else, he at least has the virtue of patience in his character.

In the evenings, the door to the living room is now left open all the time, and this allows Gregor to listen in to his family’s conversation when they are all seated around the table. From one of these conversations we learn that Mrs. Samsa has been employed by an underwear company as a seamstress, that Grete has taken a job as a salesgirl and is also studying French and learning shorthand to improve her prospects for the future. With all three members of the family now working, the family’s finances seem to be improving. Gregor’s parasitic life has forced his parents and sister to go to work and to become more independent. This new sign of their financial independence has two immediate benefits for them: it gives them a greater measure of personal freedom, and it diverts their attention away from Gregor, who had been their sole preoccupation for some time.

Gregor notices that in the evenings, when his father falls asleep in his chair, he still wears his bank messenger’s uniform, as if he were about to go to work at a moment’s notice. When the clock strikes ten, Gregor observes that his mother tries to rouse Mr. Samsa from his chair, but Mr. Samsa nods his head and then falls back to sleep again. At times, it takes Mrs. Samsa and Grete to lift Mr. Samsa out of his chair and practically carry him off to bed.

Comfortable, sleepy, and complacent, Mr. Samsa sometimes remarks, “This is a life. This is the peace and quiet of my old age.” At this point, he shuffles off to bed, leaning on his wife and daughter for support. With the restoration of his position as head of the household, Mr. Samsa has finally found some peace and contentment in his old age. His trials and tribulations seem to be over, for Kafka gives us a picture of Mr. Samsa in this section that is in sharp contrast to the angry, vengeful father of parts 1 and 2.

One day, a very tall, white-haired woman shows up in the apartment. This nameless cleaning woman takes on the responsibility of handling the heavy cleaning in the apartment mornings and evenings. The young servant girl, Anna, is no longer working for the Samsas, and this new, older woman, a widow, has been engaged to free Mrs. Samsa and Grete from the more burdensome household tasks and duties. This old woman, whom Kafka describes as having white hair and a “strong bony frame,” in effect becomes Gregor’s undertaker. She will be the one to discover his body and to dispose of his corpse. Her appearance in the story is brief, but her function is unmistakable, and after she fulfills her function, she will be summarily dismissed by Mr. Samsa.

One evening, Gregor overhears his family discussing the possibility of moving to another, smaller apartment. Gregor is mentioned as the sole reason for their not being able to move out of their current apartment. How would they move Gregor out of his room? What would they do with him? Gregor knows only too well that he is not the reason for their lamentations and indecision. The real reason, he believes, is their own inertia, exhaustion, and feelings of hopelessness, and their conviction that they alone have been singled out by a cruel, unjust fate to deal with their terrible misfortune. All they have to do, Gregor reasons, if they really wanted to move, is to place Gregor into some kind of box with the necessary air holes in it for him to breathe, and they would be out of their apartment, but their despair and helplessness have paralyzed them. Further, they now have the extra burden of working, and their jobs have physically drained them. Gregor watches his mother and sister at night, after they have put Mr. Samsa to bed, and sees them crying and wiping away their tears. His own sense of sorrow and guilt is enormous and overwhelms him, but his own ambivalence takes possession of him, too. His emotional life swings back and forth between guilt and rage and frustration. Although he feels directly responsible for his family’s suffering, he also feels angry that they have chosen to neglect him completely. He sleeps little and refuses to eat anything at all. Often, Grete just shoves the food into his room with her foot and then returns with a broom to clear out the remains. She allows Gregor’s room to turn into a dung heap, thick with dust and dust balls in every corner. The room that was once his only source of comfort, that provided him with a measure of safety and security, now threatens to engulf him with its gathering filth and fetid odors.

Mrs. Samsa can no longer tolerate the unhealthy condition of Gregor’s room. One day she takes it upon herself to give the room a thorough cleaning. When Grete finds out what her mother has done, she grows furious with her and reminds her that she alone has the responsibility of cleaning out Gregor’s room. A big fight breaks out between the two women, and Mr. Samsa finally steps between them to settle the matter. He reprimands both his daughter and his wife for being at odds with each other, and he warns Grete never to clean Gregor’s room again. Grete bursts into tears, while Mrs. Samsa quickly pulls Mr. Samsa toward the bedroom to calm him down. Meanwhile, Gregor is seething in his room. He hisses loudly at his family to show his displeasure and reproaches them for not having the good sense to keep their squabbling and fighting to themselves.

These family eruptions—though more the exception than the rule—all point to the terrible pressure and the frayed nerves the family has been experiencing. Much of their private feelings—especially those of Grete and Mrs. Samsa—have been suppressed for a long time, and occasionally their deepest emotions break through their stoic defenses—defenses that have been pierced by Gregor’s helplessness and long-suffering illness.

Here it might be interesting to note that while it is true that all this surging hostility and bitterness are seen through Gregor’s eyes—indeed, the entire story is told from Gregor’s point of view—it is also true that as his physical condition worsens and as his powers of observation diminish, his impressions are called into question. Can we be absolutely certain that what he is hearing and seeing is actually what is taking place? His body is weak, his vision is failing him, he sleeps little, and the little food he takes into his mouth is soon discharged. Lack of food over a long period of time usually results in a certain lightheadedness, if not a hallucinogenic state of mind, so we must ask ourselves how accurate Gregor’s perceptions and observations of reality are. What is important is Gregor’s sensitivity. Though his physical powers are weakening, his inner life or spiritual life has grown stronger. In this respect, we see growth and maturity in Gregor’s character, and with growth comes recognition and understanding.

The old cleaning woman who has been placed in charge of cleaning out Gregor’s room shows little reaction or emotion when she first lays eyes on Gregor. Perhaps her long, difficult life has prepared her for just this encounter with Gregor. Unlike the chief clerk, or Gregor’s parents, this old charwoman seems to take things in stride. She is neither shocked nor horrified when she has to enter Gregor’s room. She provides a little comic relief in the story by the way she calmly addresses him. She tries to humor him, and she speaks to him in a kind, friendly tone of voice, the way a grandmother might talk to her recalcitrant grandchild. “Come along then, you old dung beetle,” she says.

Gregor, however, resents her intrusions, and once, during a terrible rain, Gregor reacts violently and threatens to attack her when she enters his room and starts talking to him in her usual playful way. The cleaning woman picks up a chair and shows him that if he doesn’t back away, she will bring it down on his head. This incident, though of relatively minor importance in the story, heightens Gregor’s estrangement and demonstrates what happens when someone from outside the family is confronted with a repulsive-looking but harmless being.

Now that Grete has been replaced by the cleaning woman as Gregor’s caretaker, Kafka tells us that “Gregor was now eating hardly anything.” Is Gregor’s absolute refusal to eat his way of passively withdrawing from life and the world? Or is this a form of self-imposed punishment for all the terrible hardships he has placed on his family? What better way to vanish from the world than by wasting away into nothingness?

With the entrance into the story of the three bearded lodgers who rent a room in the Samsa apartment, the story takes a subtle but important shift toward its climax. Kafka doesn’t tell us who these men are. He gives them no names; he does not provide us with any facts of their lives or backgrounds. They are completely anonymous, each a carbon copy of the other. Who are these men, and why does Kafka introduce them into the story precisely at this moment? Are they sinister characters, or do they have some divine purpose? Are they supposed to represent the Three Wise Men who come bearing “gifts” for Gregor’s liberation and the Samsa family’s salvation? Their full beards and serious demeanor might suggest three religious men—rabbis, perhaps—or teachers, but Kafka does not give them any calling or profession in life, so we are left to speculate on their significance. One thing is clear, as will be seen in part 3, division 2, and that is that they act as a catalyst and help push events toward their conclusion. By their idiosyncratic behavior, they generate a chain reaction of events that result in Gregor’s death.

These three men are obsessed with cleanliness and order, and they force the cleaning woman to remove anything from their room that is superfluous to their needs. These things are deposited in Gregor’s room, which begins to resemble an old storage room heaped with junk.

One evening, when the three lodgers are eating dinner, Gregor hears them chewing their food. He smells the plate of “steaming potatoes” and the rich, savory meat, and he sadly thinks, “How these lodgers are stuffing themselves, and here am I dying of starvation!” Like an old tired dog, whom the family no longer takes any delight or pleasure in, Gregor has been ignored, neglected, and left alone to suffer with his martyrdom, while the three bearded men become the main focus of the Samsa household.

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