Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Samsa apartment

Samsa apartment. Dwelling, in no particular city, of Gregor Samsa and his family. Comfortable and spacious, the apartment signifies Gregor’s success in providing for his family, which fell on hard times after his father’s business failure. Gregor’s exhausting work as a traveling salesman keeps the family in respectable circumstances. After his metamorphosis, however, the apartment proves to be too big and expensive to maintain. In a sense, it has always been a burden. Gregor selected it, and his support of the family has stimulated a growing lethargy among them. His mother coughs incessantly, his sister is losing her youth to extreme fatigue, and his father has abandoned his role as the head of the family. All of this changes as Gregor changes, and after his death, the family is liberated from the apartment and from Gregor.

Gregor’s bedroom

Gregor’s bedroom. Room in which the story begins, with Gregor’s metamorphosis into a giant insect already an accomplished fact. Though initially alarmed, he soon takes comfort in the familiarity of his bedroom. The room itself changes through the course of the story, in ways that mirror Gregor’s own decline. His furniture is removed to provide him with more space to crawl. After his sister neglects to clean the room, filth begins to accumulate. Eventually, the room becomes a storage space for useless household items—much like Gregor himself. Once a refuge from the toils of his job, the room becomes his cell and ultimately his tomb.

Living/dining room

Living/dining room. Social center of the family, where Gregor’s father once read the newspaper aloud to the family and where Grete played her violin. Immediately after revealing his altered self to the family, Gregor is cut off from this space. Grete keeps the door to his room locked. Each time he ventures out among the family, his father drives him away. Late in the story, the family relents and allows his door to stand ajar in the evening, allowing Gregor a distant view of the family from which he has been excluded. Drawn by the music from Grete’s violin, Gregor enters the living room a final time, to the horror of the three boarders who have taken rooms with the Samsas. Amid the turmoil his presence creates, he finds that his sister, in whom he has placed the last hope of any understanding and future happiness, can no longer stand his presence in the apartment. Without needing to be forced, he retreats to his room, and Grete locks him in. His position within the family is irrecoverable, and his transformation is complete.

Tram car

Tram car. Conveyance on which members of Gregor’s family travel from the apartment to the country in the story’s final scene. They are the only passengers, and the car is filled with warm, morning sunlight. The tram moves quietly into the peaceful countryside, and with it the Samsas discover that their prospects for the future are brighter than anticipated. Gregor’s death has lifted an enormous burden from them, and as his parents watch their young daughter, they see that, despite the recent hardships, she has blossomed into a beautiful woman. With Gregor gone, the family moves, like the tram, toward a peaceful future.

The Metamorphosis Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This novella is an extended literalization of the implications of the metaphor used in its initial sentence. Gregor is metamorphosed into an insectlike species of vermin, with Kafka careful not to identify the precise nature of Gregor’s bughood. German usage applies Kafka’s term, Ungeziefer, to contemptible, spineless, parasitic persons, akin to English connotations of the work “cockroach.” Gregor’s passivity and abjectness before authority link him with these meanings, as Kafka develops the fable by transforming the metaphor back into the imaginative reality of his fiction. After all, Gregor’s metamorphosis constitutes a revelation of the truth regarding his low self-esteem. It is a self-judgment by his repressed and continually defeated humanity.

By having Gregor become a bug, Kafka has also accomplished a bitterly parodistic inversion of a traditional motif in fairy tales. In folktales the prince is rescued from his froghood by the princess’s kiss; beauty redeems the beast with love. In Kafka’s version, however, the “beauty,” the sister Gregor loves, is horrified by her beastlike brother and condemns him to die rather than changing him back through affection. The most poignant aspect of the story is the inextinguishable beauty of Gregor’s soul, as he consents to his family’s rejection of his humanity and dies on their behalf.

Kafka illustrates Gregor’s subjection to his father by the implied parable of the episode involving the lodgers. This triad duplicates the Samsa triad that excludes Gregor, with the middle lodger, like Mr. Samsa, exerting authority over his supporters. Initially they intimidate and threaten the Samsas. After Gregor’s death, however, Mr. Samsa curtly orders these boarders out of the apartment, and they accede without a struggle—their apparently awesome power proves spurious. Equivalently, had Gregor found the self-confidence to revolt openly against both his firm and his father, had he walked out on his job and asserted his autonomy against his family’s clutches, he, too, could have matured into triumphant adulthood and would not have needed the disguised hostility of his metamorphosis.

The Metamorphosis Historical Context

Socio-Economic Background
For most of Kafka's lifetime, his home town of Prague was a Czech city within a...

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The Metamorphosis Literary Style

Point of View
The story is told in the third person but is for the most part limited to Gregor's point of view. Only his...

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The Metamorphosis Literary Techniques

It is so difficult to imagine someone being turned literally into an insect that many critics have read The Metamorphosis...

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The Metamorphosis Ideas for Group Discussions

Because the world of Kafka's fiction is so bizarre it usually provokes a reaction in his readers. If nothing else, The Metamorphosis...

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The Metamorphosis Social Concerns

Franz Kafka's fiction is curiously disengaged from its own time. That does not mean, however, that it lacks application to the modern world,...

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The Metamorphosis Compare and Contrast

1840-1920s: Kafka writes at a time when the drudgery of work is becoming a serious issue. Long hours at boring jobs create...

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The Metamorphosis Topics for Further Study

Depending on the translation and the commentator, Gregor is described variously as an insect, a bug, a beetle, a cockroach, a louse, and a...

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The Metamorphosis Literary Precedents

In many ways Kafka does not have any direct predecessors. He borrowed literary forms such as the parable from the trove of literary...

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The Metamorphosis Related Titles

In many ways Kafka's prose overlaps both thematically and stylistically as the ongoing saga of the hapless character, K, who appears in...

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The Metamorphosis Media Adaptations

In 1987, there was a British television adaptation of The Metamorphosis. Called Metamorphosis and starring Tim Roth as...

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The Metamorphosis What Do I Read Next?

The Trial (1925) is Kafka's novel about a man arrested and put through nightmarish court proceedings for a crime that is never...

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The Metamorphosis Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bouson, J. Brooks. “The Narcissistic Drama and Reader/Text Transaction in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.” In Critical Essays on Franz Kafka, edited by Ruth V. Gross. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Heinz Kohut’s work on narcissistic disorders suggests a new reading of Gregor’s hostile world, arguing against the theory of depersonalization.

Eggenschwiler, David. “The Metamorphosis, Freud, and the Chains of Odysseus.” In Modern Critical Views: Franz Kafka, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. The author traces the psychological origins of the story in Kafka’s life and encourages a recognition of the tension between parable and interpretation.

Gray, Ronald. Franz Kafka. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1973. This is the best and most accessible short analysis of Kafka’s work, and it furnishes a literary context for the tale.

Hayman, Ronald K. A Biography of Kafka. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981. This biography is a solid and readable account of Kafka’s life.

Karl, Frederick R. Franz Kafka: Representative Man. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1991. Karl’s exhaustive study of Kafka’s culture extends the possible interpretations of his work.

The Metamorphosis Bibliography and Further Reading

Albérès, R.M. and Pierre De Boisdeffre. Kafka: The Torment of Man. Trans. Wade Baskin. New York: The Citadel Press, 1968.


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