The Metamorphosis Analysis

  • Gregor's metamorphosis happens in his sleep, during "uneasy dreams." His transformation has been interpreted by some as the result of a subconscious desire to escape the pressure of being the breadwinner in his family. Following his metamorphosis, Gregor is freed of his financial obligation to his family but is burdened by guilt because of this freedom.
  • The framed photograph of the woman with the feather boa comes to symbolize Gregor's repressed desires and ambitions. Prior to his transformation, his obligations to his family prevented him from pursuing romantic relationships and forced him to set aside his dreams for the good of the family.
  • Gregor becomes a Christ-like figure when he decides to sacrifice himself so that his family can have a better life. In this light, The Metamorphosis becomes a religious allegory that likens Gregor's death to the death of Jesus Christ.


(Short Story Criticism)

The Metamorphosis Franz Kafka

See also Franz Kafka Short Story Criticism and "A Hunger Artist" Criticism.

The Metamorphosis is one of the most frequently analyzed works in literature. This elusive story, which chronicles the transformation of Gregor Samsa from a human being into an enormous insect, is renowned for its ability to inspire diverse, sometimes mutually exclusive interpretations. For this reason The Metamorphosis has come to be considered one of the central enigmas of the modern literary imagination. Nevertheless, critics generally praise Kafka's powerful and symbolic portrayal of alienation achieved through the literalized metaphor of man as insect.

Plot and Major Characters

The Metamorphosis opens as Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, awakes to find himself transformed into a "monstrous vermin." Initially shocked by the change, Gregor soon begins to worry that he will miss his train and be late for work. He also laments the boredom of his job, employment to which he had resigned himself for as long as necessary to pay off his parents' debts. From outside the room, Gregor's worried mother calls to him. Gregor, unfamiliar with his new body, struggles to get out of bed. Later, the chief clerk of his office appears outside the locked door to Gregor's room, inquiring why his employee has missed the early train. Speaking through the door, Gregor claims that he is slightly ill but will soon be on his way. Meanwhile, Gregor's concerned mother asks her daughter Grete to call for a doctor and a locksmith. Finally Gregor manages to open his door. His appearance startles the chief clerk, and although Gregor tries to reason with him, claiming he will get dressed and be on his way to work, the clerk retreats from the giant insect, as does Gregor's frightened mother. Gregor's father then appears and drives Gregor back into his room.

Time passes, and Gregor's family members grow more accustomed to living with Gregor in this strange form, though only Grete has the courage to enter her brother's room in the ensuing days. When Gregor leaves his room weeks later, his mother becomes distraught, and her husband forces Gregor to his room under a hail of thrown apples. Gravely injured and largely unable to move, Gregor suffers a lonely convalescence that lasts for more than a month. In the interim Gregor's mother devotes herself to sewing while his sister takes a job as a salesgirl. Increasingly, Gregor is neglected by his family. They hire a charwoman to attend to the heavier work around the house, tasks that used to be performed by Gregor. Odds and ends are placed in his room for storage, primarily to make space for three male lodgers the Samsas have taken in to supplement their income. One evening as Grete plays the violin for these men, Gregor is attracted by the music and crawls unnoticed into the living room. Later, one of the boarders observes him. Citing the revolting condition of the household, the lodgers threaten to give notice and depart. Grete realizes that they must get rid of this giant bug, which she seems to no longer view as her brother. The following morning, the charwoman enters Gregor's room and finds him dead. When the lodgers appear and demand breakfast, Mr. Samsa orders them to leave. Meanwhile, the giggling charwoman returns and explains that she has disposed of Gregor's body. The story closes as Gregor's parents, newly optimistic for the future and without a thought of their deceased son, comment on their daughter's vivacity and beauty, realizing she has grown into a woman.

Major Themes

Thematic analysis of The Metamorphosis has tended to focus on the psychoanalytic and symbolic, or allegorical, nature of the story. While evaluations of the narrative vary, many commentators view the theme of alienation from humanity at the center of the story and interpret Gregor's transformation as a kind of wish-fulfillment or as an extended metaphor. Critics who perceive the metamorphosis as a form of wish-fulfillment on Gregor's part find in the text clues indicating that he deeply resented having to support his family. Desiring to be in turn nurtured by them, he becomes a parasite in entomological fact. The complete dependence of Gregor's family and employer on him, then, is seen as an ironic foil to the reality of Gregor's anatomical transformation into a parasite. Many critics who approach the story in this way believe the primary emphasis of The Metamorphosis is not upon Gregor, but on his family, as they abandon their dependence on him and learn to be self-sufficient. One interpretation of the story holds that the title applies equally to Gregor's sister Grete: she passes from girlhood to young womanhood during the course of the narrative. Another view of Gregor's transformation is that it is an extended metaphor, carried from abstract concept to concrete reality: trapped in a meaningless job and isolated from the human beings around him, Gregor is thought of as an insect by himself and by others, so he becomes one.

Critical Reception

Kafka's letters to his fiancée Felice Bauer, and his diary entries concerning The Metamorphosis, indicate that although he was generally satisfied with the tale, he felt the ending was seriously flawed. For this he blamed a business trip that had interrupted him just before he completed the story. However, critics have noted that The Metamorphosis is one of the few works for which Kafka actively sought publication. Since Kafka's death, critical interest in the novella has been considerable. In addition to the attention critics have placed on thematic analysis of The Metamorphosis, several have observed its sustained realism, which contrasts with the initially fantastic occurrence of Gregor's transformation into an insect. Many critics have also offered psychoanalytical interpretations of The Metamorphosis, seeing in the work a dramatization of particularly modern neuroses. For its technical excellence, as well as for the nightmarish and fascinating nature of the metamorphosis itself, Kafka's story has elicited a vast amount of interest, and its various problematic features continue to challenge its readers. Stanley Corngold has noted that "no single reading of Kafka escapes blindness," but that each new reading of his work encourages the study of the vast body of criticism devoted to it.

Norman N. Holland (essay date 1958)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Kafka's 'Metamorphosis'," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. IV, No. 2, Summer, 1958, pp. 143-50.

[In the following essay, Holland examines Kafka's attribution of spiritual value to realistic elements in "The Metamorphosis," claiming "the realistic details of the story are fraught with significance."]

In allegory, symbolism, and surrealism—the three genres are in this respect, at least, indistinguishable—the writer mixes unrealistic elements into a realistic situation. Thus, Kafka, in Metamorphosis, puts into the realistic, prosaic environment of the Samsa household a situation that is, to put it mildly, unrealistic: "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from a troubled dream, he found himself changed in his bed to some monstrous kind of vermin." Kafka's strategy does not in essence differ from the techniques of Spenser and Bunyan: though they used for the unreal elements allegorical names, they, too, set them in realistic or conventional situations. Kafka's method, while rather more overpowering, works the same way: the unreal elements, be they allegorical names or human cockroaches, set up a kind of electric field; the most trite and prosaic detail brought into that field glows with extra meaning. To read allegory is simply to "probe" this field of meaning. We can probe it only if we momentarily put aside the unreality which creates the field and measure the extra values given the realistic elements. By reading them imaginatively, we can understand the nature of the field; only then can we turn back to and understand the unreal element that created the field.

If we look first at the unrealistic elements, there is a danger that we will be dazzled and see no more, as in the usual crude reading of Metamorphosis: Samsa is a cockroach, Samsa equals Kafka, Kafka thinks of himself as cockroach, and so on. Reading Kafka that way is like seeing The Faerie Queene as a moralistic tract about temperance or Justice without realizing the rich, plastic meanings Spenser's realism develops for his allegorical names. Looking first at the realistic elements and their extra values avoids a second danger in reading allegory: substituting abstractions for the realism of the story. Kafka's meaning, as Mr. Elíseo Vivas points out, "is something not to be better stated abstractly in terms of ideas and concepts, to be found beyond the fable, but within it, at the dramatic level, in the interrelationships . . . among the characters and between them and the universe."

If, momentarily, we put aside the unreality of Gregor Samsa's metamorphosis, we can see that the story builds on a commonplace, even a trite, situation: a man feels sick and decides to stay home from work. For fully the first sixth of the story Gregor goes through exactly the kind of internal monologue any of us might if we had caught a discomforting, but not disabling, cold. "Nothing is more degrading than always to have to rise so early." "How would it be if I go to sleep again for awhile?" "I'd like to see what my boss would say if I tried it; I should be sacked immediately." "What a job I've chosen . . . To hell with it all!" Job, employer, and employee are the core of the realism of Metamorphosis', not unnaturally, they form the heart of the allegory as well.

Metamorphosis has three parts, each marked by Gregor's emerging from his bedroom into the Samsa's dining-room and then retreating. The first part of the story tells of Gregor's metamorphosis and of his job. In the second part, Gregor's father goes back to work for the first time since the failure of his own business five years before. In the third part, Gregor's mother and sister go to work, although Gregor had hoped to send his sister to the conservatory, and the family takes in three lodgers, employers, as it were, in the home. After Gregor's death, in the third part, the lodgers are thrown out, and the Samsas write three letters of excuse to their three employers, and take the day off. Only by reading imaginatively the passages that deal with employers, employees, and jobs, can we see the extra meaning Gregor's metamorphosis gives to these elements.

Gregor, a traveling salesman who sells cloth, says of his boss: "That's a funny thing; to sit on a desk so as to speak to one's employees from such a height, especially when one is hard of hearing and people must come close! Still, all hope is not lost; once I have got together the money my parents owe him—that will be in about five or six years—I shall certainly do it. Then I'll take the big step!" Gregor muses about the firm:

Why was Gregor, particularly, condemned to work for a firm where the worst was suspected at the slightest inadvertence of the employees? Were the employees, without exception, all scoundrels? Was there among their number not one devoted faithful servant, who, if it did so happen that by chance he missed a few hours work one morning might have found himself so numbed with remorse that he just could not leave his bed?

After Gregor's metamorphosis, his father goes to work for a bank. "By some capricious obstinacy, [he] always refused to take off his uniform even at home . . . as if to keep himself always ready to carry out some order; even in his own home, he seemed to await his superior's voice." Gregor's mother "was killing herself mending the linen of strangers, the sister ran here and there behind her counter at the customers' bidding."

The three lodgers whom the family takes in "were very earnest and serious men; all three had thick beards . . . and they were fanatically tidy; they insisted on order, not only in their own room, but also, now that they were living here, throughout the whole household, and especially in the kitchen." Gregor's mother brings them a plate of meat in the dining room. "The lodgers leaned over it to examine it, and the one who was seated in the middle and who appeared to have some authority over the others, cut a piece of meat as it lay on the dish to ascertain whether it was tender or whether he should send it back to the kitchen. He seemed satisfied, however, and the two women, who had been anxiously watching, gave each other a smile of relief."

These descriptions are ambiguous, even cryptic—but not in themselves unrealistic; the pallor of unreality is cast by the impossible metamorphosis always present to our minds. The description of Gregor's boss has breadth enough to apply not just to a petty office tyrant, but even to an Old Testament God. Indeed, the reference to the high desk echoes the Old Testament metaphor of the God "most high" who yet can "hear" us: "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly" (Ps. 138:6); "The Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Is. 59:1-2). Read this way, the debt that Gregor assumed for his parents and must pay resembles original sin. Only after he has expiated the sin-debt can he "take the big step" toward freedom.

The description of the "firm," with its atmosphere of universal guilt and punishment, also hints at original sin: "A faithful man who can find?" (Prov. 20:6). Gregor and his fellow-workers are treated like the evil servant whose lord "shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 24:50-51). Gregor is indeed cut off from men; he gets his "portion" of garbage from his hypocritical family, and one evening when he eavesdrops on the three lodgers eating: "It seemed curious to Gregor that he could hear the gnashing of their teeth above all the clatter of cutlery." The lodgers themselves, "very earnest and serious," "fanatically tidy," resemble gods. Frau Samsa's submitting a plate of meat to them is almost like making a burnt offering to some very choosy deities:

"Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me" (Jer. 6:20).

The fact that employers come in threes after the metamorphosis hints at a shift from Old Testament to New like that of "In the Penal Colony"; more immediately, however, it suggests that each member of the family has to take up a share of the burden of subservience that Gregor had borne alone before. Thus, Gregor had proudly brought home cash as a traveling salesman for a cloth concern. His job is now broken into its separate components. His father goes to work for a bank: he now wears the special clothes and acquires Gregor's pride in supporting the family. His mother deals with the cloth, "the linen of strangers." His...

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Peter Dow Webster (essay date 1959)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' as Death and Resurrection Fantasy," in The American Imago, Vol. 16, No. 4, Winter, 1959, pp. 349-65.

[In the following essay, Webster offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of The Metamorphosis as a tale of death and redemption.]

Kafka's Metamorphosis has fascinated many readers who respond to it on an unconscious level of apprehension rather than on a level of conscious understanding. The tale is as weird as many a nightmare they have had, and as strangely, even humorously disturbing. Here are the eternal ones of the dream or the archetypal constructs of the unconscious subjected to the secondary elaboration and...

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Martin Greenberg (essay date 1966)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Kafka's Metamorphosis and Modern Spirituality," in Tri-Quarterly, No. 6, 1966, pp. 5-20.

[In the following essay, Greenberg examines The Metamorphosis as the dying lament of a spiritually vacant modern man.]

The mother follow'd, weeping loud,
'O, that I such a fiend should bear!'


In the Middle Ages it was the
temporal which was the inessential
in relation to spirituality; in the
19th century the opposite occurred:
the temporal was primary and
the spiritual was the inessential

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Norman Friedman (essay date 1968)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Struggle of Vermin: Parasitism and Family Love in Kafka's Metamorphosis1," in Ball State University Forum, Vol. IX, No. 1, Winter, 1968, pp. 23-32.

[In the following essay, Friedman discusses themes of guilt, dependency, and parasitism in The Metamorphosis.]

The basic motif in Franz Kafka's life and work is guilt, and the search for freedom from guilt. Indeed, the circumstances of his biography seem to have conspired in insuring that this would be so.


He was born in 1883 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, which was then part of the old Austrian Empire, a large and ungainly assortment of nationalities...

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Stanley Corngold (essay date 1970)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Kafka's Die Verwandlung: Metamorphosis of the Metaphor," in Mosaic, Vol. 3, No. 4, Summer, 1970, pp. 91-106.

[In the following essay, Corngold analyzes Kafka's literalization of metaphorical language in The Metamorphosis.]

To judge from its critical reception, Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) is the most haunting and universal of all his stories; and yet Kafka never claimed for it any particular distinction. His comments on the story in his letters and diaries are almost entirely negative. "A pity," he wrote to Felice Bauer on December 6, 1912, "that in many passages in the story my states of exhaustion and other...

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Carol Helmstetter Cantrell (essay date 1977-78)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Metamorphosis: Kafka's Study of a Family," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 23, No. 4, Winter, 1977-78, pp. 578-86.

[In the following essay, Cantrell examines the Samsa family in light of the work of psychiatrist R. D. Laing, focusing on "the relationship between the strange and the ordinary aspects of family life. "]

Critical discussions of Kafka's The Metamorphosis have long been based on the questionable assumption that the Samsa family's judgment of Gregor, the son, is accurate. In fact, literary critics have been nearly as severe and unanimous in their condemnation of Gregor Samsa as is the Samsa family itself. "When Gregor first...

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J. Brooks Bouson (essay date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Repressed Grandiosity of Gregor Samsa: A Kohutian Reading of Kafka's Metamorphosis," in Narcissism and the Text: Studies in Literature and the Psychology of Self, edited by Lynne Layton and Barbara Ann Schapiro, New York University Press, 1986, pp. 192-212.

[In the following essay, Bouson views Gregor Samsa's character in terms of the theory of narcissistic personality disorder put forth by noted neurologist and psychiatrist Heinz Kohut, a recognized authority on the subject.]

Why is Gregor Samsa transformed into an insect? Readers have long asked this question. Does it reflect, as some critics argue, his moral or spiritual defects? his extreme...

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Peter Beicken (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Transformation of Criticism: The Impact of Kafka's Metamorphosis" in The Dove and the Mole: Kafka's Journey into Darkness and Creativity, edited by Moshe Lazar and Ronald Gottesman, Undena Publications, 1987, pp. 13-34.

[In the following essay, Beicken surveys contemporary criticism of The Metamorphosis.]

The history of Kafka criticism appears to be a history of controversy. At the center of these critical combats is a writer about whom Ralph Freedman once remarked: "Kafka's obscurity is mirrored in the confusion of his critics."1 Indeed, Kafka's quintessential mode of writing and representation seems to be responsible for what the critics...

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Nina Pelikan Straus (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Transforming Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis" in Signs, Vol. 14, No. 3, Spring, 1989, pp. 651-67.

[In the following essay, Straus offers a feminist reading of The Metamorphosis that explores the central importance of Gregor's sister, Grete Samsa, in the work.]

In 1977 there were already ten thousand works on Franz Kafka in print,1 nearly all of them written by men. The reasons for scholars' interest in Kafka, particularly his short masterpiece, Metamorphosis, reflect a recognition on the part of students of religion, philosophy, psychoanalysis, political and social criticism, Marxism, and literature that Kafka's work is...

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Kevin W. Sweeney (essay date 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Competing Theories of Identity in Kafka's The Metamorphosis," in Mosaic, Vol. 23, No. 4, Fall, 1990, pp. 23-35.

[In the following essay, Sweeney evaluates the tensions of dualist, materialist, and social-constructionist theories of identity represented in The Metamorphosis.]

Although The Metamorphosis begins with Gregor Samsa finding "himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin," the transformation is at this stage psychologically incomplete, enabling Kafka to conduct a philosophical exploration of the nature of self, personhood and identity. Given the nature of the inquiry, it is significant that instead of providing a monologic...

(The entire section is 6077 words.)

Richard Murphy (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Semiotic Excess, Semantic Vacuity and the Photograph of the Imaginary: The Interplay of Realism and the Fantastic in Kafka's Die Verwandlung," in Deutsche Vierteljahrs Schrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte, Vol. 65, No. 2, June, 1991, pp. 304-17.

[In the following essay, Murphy discusses Kafka's mingling of modes of realistic and fantastic representation in The Metamorphosis.]

"Nature hath no outline
but Imagination has"



True to the peculiar hermeneutics associated with his literary works Kafka's poetological...

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Gavriel Ben-Ephraim (essay date 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Making and Breaking Meaning: Deconstruction, Four-level Allegory and The Metamorphosis," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. XXXV, No. 4, Summer, 1994, pp. 450-67.

[In the following essay, Ben-Ephraim probes the allegorical meanings of The Metamorphosis while acknowledging that the work "validates contradictory readings that cancel coherent interpretation."]

From Quintilian to Angus Fletcher critics have noted allegory's doubled significance; "twice-told," but many times understood, allegory invariably means more than it says. To supplement meaning, allegory characteristically enfolds abstract significance in narrative images. These suggestions...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Corngold, Stanley. The Commentators' Despair: The Interpretation of Kafka's 'Metamorphosis.' Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1973, 267 p.

Critical bibliography of The Metamorphosis preceded by a structural and symbolic analysis of the work. Corngold surveys and summarizes various interpretations of Kafka's novella.


Angus, Douglas. "Kafka's Metamorphosis and 'The Beauty and the Beast' Tale." The Journal of English and Germanic Philology LIII, No. 1 (January 1954): 69-71.

Approaches The...

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Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

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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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.

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.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

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

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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

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Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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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Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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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Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

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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Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

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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Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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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Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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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Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

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

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What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 242 words.)


(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.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

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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