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

In Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, how did Gregor become a traveling salesman?

Expert Answers

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

In Franz Kafka's novella, The Metamorphosis, (published in 1915), Gregor Samsa awakes one morning as a "monstrous insect." His concern is not so much that he has turned into an enormous bug, but about how difficult his job is and what a toll it has taken on him. It is almost as if he sees his altered state as a result of:

...the stresses of selling[: there are] the problems of travelling, the worries about train connections, irregular bad food, temporary and constantly changing human relationships, which never come from the heart. To hell with it all!”

There is always debate as to whether Gregor literally turns into an insect overnight, which would understandably surprise, and perhaps disgust his family, or if the novel is speaking figuratively: that once Gregor stops working—does not get out of bed that morning and get on the train—he becomes a pariah to the family—people who do not work, but pursue their personal agendas while Gregor works desperately hard to pay the  family's bills.

How does Gregor end up this way? We read later in the story that he was in the military at one point. However, when we meet him at the story's beginning, Gregor explains why he has this specific job:

Once I’ve got together the money to pay off my parents’ debt to [the boss]—that should take another five or six years—I’ll [quit] for sure.

Regardless of whether this is figurative or literal—whether it is a dream (as Gregor wonders when he wakes up) or an actual event, Gregor is unable to go to work. Though he would willingly try to do so, as he has for so long, he simply cannot maneuver and his condition rapidly deteriorates. It is soon apparent that whatever the case, his value to his family rests firmly on his ability to provide a paycheck, and except for his mother, who eventually also turns away, sadly he is worthless to them from this point on.


A novella has generally fewer conflicts than novels, yet more complicated ones than short stories.

Additional source:

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Near the beginning of The Metamorphosis, the book's protagonist, Gregor Samsa, reveals how he became a traveling salesman.  His parents had fallen into debt to the owner of the sales firm, and Gregor took a job with the company in order to pay off his parents' debt.  Gregor estimates that it will take him another five or six years to finish paying off the debt.

Gregor says to himself that when he finishes paying the debt, he will leave his job: "I'll cut all ties and move on."

It is interesting that Gregor refers to his job as something that "ties" him down and prevents him from moving.  Compare this to his unsuccessful attempts--just after being transformed into a beetle--to move his body:

No matter how hard he threw himself onto his right side, he always rolled again into a prone position. He tried it a full hundred times, closing his eyes because he had to avoid seeing the wriggling legs, and gave up trying when he began to feel a slight, dull pain in his side that he had hitherto not felt.

Gregor's metaphorical condition of being tied down has become literal and physical.

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