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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The Metamorphosis Analysis

  • Gregor's metamorphosis happens in his sleep, during “uneasy dreams.” His transformation has been interpreted as the result of a subconscious desire to escape the pressure of being the breadwinner in his family. 
  • The framed photograph of the woman with the feather boa may symbolize Gregor’s repressed desires. Prior to his transformation, his obligations to his family prevented him from pursuing romantic relationships.
  • Gregor becomes a Christlike figure when he decides to sacrifice himself so that his family can have a better life. The Metamorphosis could be read as a religious allegory that likens Gregor’s death to the death of Jesus Christ.


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The Metamorphosis is famous for its absurd premise: that a man quite literally transforms into an insect. Descriptions of Gregor’s insect form vary based on the translation, but it is also well-known that Franz Kafka did not want to to be overly specific about what type of bug Gregor becomes. In Alexis Walker’s translation, a character refers to Gregor once as a “dung beetle,” but otherwise, we must rely on descriptions of his size (“strangely broad”), his many legs, and his inability to express himself with a human voice. He begins to experience inhuman instincts, his food preferences change, he feels most comfortable under furniture or hanging from the ceiling, and those around him react to him with horror and disgust. As a literal pest, Gregor becomes a nuisance and eventually a burden to his family.

Despite Kafka’s requirement that the reader suspend their disbelief to imagine Gregor’s transformation as physical and actual, readers naturally search for symbolic or allegorical meaning in the fact of Gregor’s evolution and in the choice to have him become a despicable insect. His transformation itself may indicate that Gregor is at a turning point in his life, and we know from the early pages of the novella that he is not happy with his job. He complains of “early rising,” “the demands of business . . . on the road,” “the Director’s wrath,” and “a social life limited to passing acquaintances.” It is also difficult to request time off of work, as the process of “proving” one is sick is laborious and difficult, since “the doctor . . . considered all people completely healthy, but work-averse.” In other words, neither the doctor nor the supervisors at a person’s job would take a health complaint seriously; instead, they’d suspect the worker of lying simply out of laziness. Kafka paints a picture of a society completely obsessed with productivity. Workers are dehumanized, treated as cogs in a machine that must keep running at any cost.

The idea of the capitalist society’s prioritization of work is emphasized by both Gregor’s and Mr. Samsa’s attitudes toward their jobs. Immediately after Gregor becomes an insect, the Deputy Director from his workplace shows up, even though it has been mere hours since Gregor was meant to get up and catch his train. The narrator asks, “Why was Gregor condemned to work at a company where the least infraction immediately attracted the greatest suspicion?” The arrival of the official is so ridiculous that the reader must wonder why any job would require so much loyalty and precision from its employees; clearly, no one is permitted to make even the simplest of human mistakes, and the corporate system has no tools to deal with a situation like Gregor’s. When Gregor’s mother insists he must be ill, otherwise he would never miss work, the Deputy Director retorts that “we businessmen . . . must often ignore a trivial indisposition in the interest of business.” Firstly, the wording “trivial indisposition” is a vast understatement for what Gregor is experiencing. The juxtaposition of the official’s perception and the reality of the situation create an absurdly humorous moment that allows Kafka to subtly critique the way in which work has become a god in this society. The man even insists that “there is no time of year in which to do no business . . . that cannot be.” The centrality of work in a capitalist world is taken as a given, as something preordained to the point of being enshrined as law. When Gregor’s father returns to work at a bank following Gregor’s metamorphosis, he remains in his uniform at all hours and notes that he must get good rest so he can do his job well the following day. His entire life, even when he is at home and off the clock, revolves around his job.

Kafka continues his critique as he details the fallout of Gregor’s change. As Gregor can no longer work, the reader learns just how heavy a burden is placed on others when one worker is incapable of contributing. In his household, Gregor has been the breadwinner of the family for five years. Since he cannot leave the house anymore, his father must return to work. His pay is not enough to keep the family afloat, however. His mother sews lingerie for a women’s boutique, and his sister, Grete, works in sales. She also goes to French lessons and typing classes at night to prepare for a better job in the future. The family sells jewelry and rents out a room to a trio of lodgers; they would even love to move apartments to spend less money on rent but cannot do so because Gregor cannot be relocated. His care sends his parents and sister into despair, and they are basically trapped inside of their dingy apartment. When Gregor dies at the end of the story, it can be inferred that he sacrifices himself for the greater good of his family, such is the burden he has been as essentially dead weight in the household. Gregor’s metamorphosis and the subsequent downfall of his family serve as a powerful critique of capitalism and its dehumanization of workers. It is only after Gregor’s death, when all of the family are productive members of society, that there is any hope for them.

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