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

Start Free Trial

Student Question

What might Kafka's message be about Gregor's transformation in The Metamorphosis, and should readers sympathize with him?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Metamorphosis is one of the most famous novellas by renowned author Franz Kafka. It was published in 1915. The story focuses on Gregor Samsa and his family. The inciting event in the story is when Gregor turns into a cockroach. Because of that, he's not able to go to work. Then, the family and his community begin to turn on him. Gregor's own father even becomes disgusted with him. He expresses this by throwing an apple at Gregor, which then becomes lodged in his back and ultimately rots and kills him. Gregor is also betrayed by his sister, who says that the only chance the family has for happiness is for Gregor to disappear. His father and mother ultimately accept this as truth and leave with Grete for the countryside.

In The Metamorphosis, Kafka has created a darkly rich world for us to explore. In order to understand this world and Gregor's transformation, you have to understand the time period that this novella was written. It was the early 1900s, when gender norms and traditional values still reigned supreme. Think of how this affects the main character, Gregor. He has to provide for his family, because they have no other way of surviving if he doesn't. Additionally, society expects him to take care of his family in this way.

Because of that, Gregor begins to feel trapped in a life that he doesn't want to live. This might be what Kafka is referencing with Gregor's transformation into a cockroach. With this transformation, Kafka is able to explore what would happen if Gregor spurned both his family's and society's wishes for him in favor of his own. The cockroach that Gregor turns into is an apt metaphor for how Gregor would be viewed by his family and community if he quit his job to pursue his real passions.

Given that, I think the reader has to feel some sympathy for Gregor. He's caught in a society that doesn't want him to pursue his dreams. When he turns into an insect and is no longer able to provide for his family, they turn on him. Ultimately, Gregor dies alone and without anyone to care for him. He's a tragic character who has become a slave to the norms that govern his era of history.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial