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The Metamorphosis

by Franz Kafka

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Is the conclusion of The Metamorphosis optimistic or pessimistic?

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By and large, the conclusion of The Metamorphosis is bleak in its outlook. Gregor dies despised by the very people who should love him the most. Indeed, the infection that kills him is indirectly initiated by his own father, who throws an apple at Gregor, causing it to get stuck in his back and rot there. When his family realizes he has passed on, they unceremoniously move on with their lives, more exhausted and relieved than grieving. Though Gregor has taken on the form of a parasite, his family are the true parasites, rejecting Gregor the moment he can no longer obtain money for them. In this way, Kafka subverts the idealized notion of family as a safe haven of unconditional love and support, presenting instead a pessimistic outlook on such close human relationships.

If the ending is optimistic at all, it is only so from the viewpoint of the remaining Samsa family. No longer burdened with Gregor, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa now turn their attention to Grete, who is pretty and vivacious. Grete can bring in money through an advantageous marital alliance. The final image of the story is Grete stretching her "young body." This emphasis on her youth presents the ending of the story as a new beginning for the surviving Samsas, freed from the tragedy of Gregor's decline. However, since Gregor is the character with whom the reader most identifies, the optimism of this conclusion is tainted with irony.

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The conclusion of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is bittersweet, containing both optimistic and pessimistic events designed to leave the reader with a lingering sense of unease. It is pessimistic is the sense that the novella's protagonist, Gregor, passes away without any fanfare or grief on the part of the family members he helped to support for so many years. He dies isolated and with his aspirations unfulfilled.

On the other hand, it is not only Gregor who transforms over the course of the story. Due to the sudden impotence of the family's primary breadwinner, each of Gregor's relations must come into their own throughout the plot, and the novella ends with his father, mother, and sister living their lives as fully empowered individuals. Ultimately, however, it is likely that Kafka intended the tone of the ending to be purposely ambiguous in order to unsettle the reader and force them to confront their own values in order to make a judgement on whether the outcome is good or horrific.

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