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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Key elements and characters in The Metamorphosis

Summary:

Key elements in The Metamorphosis include themes of alienation, identity, and family dynamics. The main character, Gregor Samsa, transforms into a giant insect, causing a profound impact on his family. Other significant characters are his sister, Grete, who initially cares for him but later rejects him, and his parents, who struggle with Gregor's transformation and its implications.

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Who pleads for Gregor's life in The Metamorphosis?

Sometime after his metamorphosis, Gregor's father enters the room and attempts to kill him. He is sick of the spectacle and the humiliation of Gregor's transformation into a bug, a situation that reached a crisis point when Gregor's mother fainted after seeing him. After first trying to kick his transformed son, he then pelts him with apples, one of which lodges in his back, creating a festering wound. It is his younger sister Grete who begs her father not to kill him, throwing herself at his feet and crying, and the father relents, although he leaves Gregor in pitiful condition.

To this point, Grete has been the only person in the house who has really interacted with him, cleaning his room and providing him with food. His mother was too horrified and his father too angry and anxious to confront their son. But this exchange proves to be a turning point in Grete's relationship with Gregor. She gets a sales job, becomes a promising and desirable young woman, and eventually changes her tune about her brother. In an emotional conversation with her family, she persuades her parents that Gregor, by then emaciated, sick, and immobile, needs to be allowed to die. After Gregor is gone, she becomes the source of the family's hopes.

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Who is Gregor in The Metamorphosis?

In the story, The Metamorphosis by Kafka, Gregor appears as the main character. Although Gregor becomes a bug, he is human first. As the story progresses, the readers learn about his life, transformation, and even his thoughts.

When first reading the book, Gregor appears as the first character mentioned. The readers quickly learn about his life, including information about his family and his job.

As the book progresses, the readers discover more about his life before and after the transformation into a bug. Although he was initially a human, he eventually (and mysteriously) became a bug. He responds by going through a period of seeming not to care or possibly even denial about the transformation. However, he must soon face the repercussions of this change.

Furthermore, the readers personally learn about Gregor’s thoughts. Although Gregor is a bug for the story’s entirety, the readers still discover insight about his thought processes and emotions. With this, the readers see how he feels about his family, his job, and even himself.

Thus, Gregor is a pivotal character in The Metamorphosis. Although there are other characters in this story as well, the story focuses on his life, thoughts, and transformation. His feelings and changes make his character fascinating and even personable, despite his outward appearance.

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What does Gregor's transformation symbolize in The Metamorphosis?

Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to gradually realize he has turned into a giant insect. He has six little legs that wave around in the air and an armored back. Since he is lying on his back, if he lifts his head he can see his brown, domed belly, split into six sections. Although he tries many times, he can't manage to roll over on his side.

Gregor's transformation is a symbol of how he has been dehumanized by his job and family. He is treated more like an insect than a human being, so he becomes an insect. His new outward form represents how he feels on the inside.

Gregor hates his job: like an ant, he endlessly toils at stressful, unsatisfying labor. He is a traveling salesman, a lifestyle that undermines his health because he never gets enough sleep. He also eats poorly on the road. He feels alienated from society because he is always meeting different people rather than establishing meaningful relationships.

His family uses Gregor as a breadwinner. He is paying off his parents' debts and supporting his sister. They do not love or value him for himself but for the money that he brings in, and they quickly turn on him once he can no longer go to work.

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What does the actual metamorphosis of Gregor symbolize?

Kafka’s seminal work starts with the sudden transformation of Gregor Samsa from a young man to a beetle-like creature.  The transformation takes place in his sleep, in the opening paragraph of the story.  This is Kafka’s device for examining the central premise of existentialism – Are we a product, an invention, a creation according to some plan; is there an essence to which we all conform, as though by blueprint?  Or are we designing and forming ourselves by our choices as human beings (existence precedes essence)?  Kafka examines this second premise by stripping all “human” characteristics from his protagonist, especially his physical “shell.”  (A beetle is a good substitute, because it has an exoskeleton, and a recognizable behavior.)  As the story progresses and as Gregor acts (especially with his sister), we as readers are able to question his actions and reactions, and compare them to “human” expectations .  This device allows the premise “that humans define themselves by their actions” to play out.

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How does Gregor die in The Metamorphosis?

The opening of Kafka's The Metamorphosis is dramatic and memorable, but its ending is much more low-key. Given the way in which the Samsas quickly lose sympathy for Gregor and come to regard him as a burden, one might expect them to end the story by killing him. In a sense, they do, but not by using physical violence. Grete, whose responsibility it has been to take care of Gregor, suggests that they must get rid of "it" somehow. Hearing this, Gregor loses the will to live and starves himself. He collapses and dies during the night after wasting away.

There is clearly a symbolic aspect to this form of death. It is effectively suicide, though it is caused by the passivity of failing to eat rather than some dramatic self-slaughter. However, the real cause of death is the withdrawal of affection by Grete and the rest of the family. Even though she initially insisted on looking after him, Grete has made it clear how much her brother disgusts her after his transformation. Deprived of any human connection, and understanding that it would be a relief to his family if he were to disappear, Gregor does just that and fades away as unobtrusively as he can.

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What insect does Gregor transform into in The Metamorphosis?

In The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka describes the extreme physical transformation that Gregor Samsa experiences. However, the third-person narrator who tells the story does not actually specify the type of insect into which Gregor has been transformed. The narrator states that Gregor turned into “some monstrous kind of vermin” and mentions numerous features associated with a beetle or a cockroach. It is the charwoman who enters to clean the room who addresses Gregor as an “old dung-beetle.” Kafka’s decision not to be more definite seems consistent with the story's overall surrealism. Because the reader is forced to use their imagination, they are free to conjure up an insect they find as revolting as Gregor's family members do.

Among the key features that the narrator mentions are the insect’s shape and the relationship between the legs and body. Once Gregor has turned onto his back, he finds it nearly impossible to right himself. Another important characteristic is the insect’s ability to climb walls. These features are consistent with a beetle or similarly shaped bug.

Kafka’s omission of definite identification is also consistent with the interpretation that the episode may be Gregor’s fantasy or dream. Gregor’s family members find his physical form so disgusting that they both attack and neglect him. Their treatment of him seems to mirror his existing low self-esteem, which is perhaps expressed by his imagining himself as physically repulsive and trapped in an unwanted form.

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What two personas does Gregor embody in "The Metamorphosis"?

The question of the self or multiple selves is a good one for The Metamorphosis. It can be explored on several levels. If we equate the self with the body, we would say that the human form and the insect form are Gregor Samsa’s two selves. But if we look at the whole person, which, it seems, is what this question is addressing, there are more possibilities. Your answer will ultimately depend on what kind of person you think Gregor is deep inside. Does changing into an insect allow him to express that inner self better than his previous human form did?

Gregor is initially shown as a working man with a strong obligation to his family. That self, before his transformation, could be called the social self. There is another dimension to him, however, which is his interior self. That aspect of him is multidimensional. He is artistic and sensitive, a music lover. Those aspects of him have been unfulfilled in his tedious job and reporting to an unpleasant boss.

Gregor’s physical transformation changes all his bodily functions. The power of communication through speech disappears, so he cannot make himself understood. Gregor’s social self is eliminated; he cannot report to work, and he consequently withdraws, and his family rejects him. That change supports the development of his inner self, as he has more time for self-reflection because he is no longer working.

Another angle to consider is that at the end, Gregor dies. His insect form has suffered numerous injuries, and his sister, who once helped him, is no longer feeding him. It is assumed that he dies of hunger. Thus, another interpretation could identify his two selves as living and dead.

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What is Gregor's profession in "The Metamorphosis" and what does he dislike about it?

It is revealed early in the novella that Gregor Samsa is a traveling salesman, and he loathes his occupation. He dislikes the isolation, repetitive nature of the work, and the draining effects of constantly traveling. He laments,

"Oh God, he thought, what an exhausting job I've picked out for myself! On the road day in, day out. It's much more irritating work than doing the actual business in the home office, and on top of that there's the trouble of constant traveling, of worrying about train connections, the bad food and irregular meals, casual acquaintances that are always new and never become intimate friends.''

Moreover, his boss hunts him down at home to confront him about his accused laziness. He is subject to constant scrutiny about work for which he cares very little.

The story details many specific gripes, but Gregor's malcontent essentially boils down to the following: "He was the boss's minion, without backbone or intelligence." He resents the dehumanizing effect his boss, his work, and his role as "the provider" have on him. It is so profoundly dehumanizing, Gregor is literally transformed into an insect, a "monstrous vermin." This makes the use of the word "backbone" especially poignant, as Gregor trades his literal backbone for the exoskeleton of a bug. His exterior finally reflects his interior state inflicted by his work life: "without backbone or intelligence."

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Who visits Gregor in The Metamorphosis?

As Gregor predicts, his boss comes to visit him after he does not show up for the early train. Gregor is a traveling salesman and is expected to be on the 5:00 a.m. train so that he can visit clients. However, since he has turned into a giant insect, going to work is impossible.

As Gregor listens from the next room, his mother covers up for him and explains to the boss how dedicated Gregor is to the job. She and her husband tell the manager that Gregor is sick.

The boss insists that salesmen have to learn to work through mild symptoms of illness for the sake of the business. When Gregor does not come out of his room, the manager starts accusing him of acting strangely and implies he has embezzled money, is not doing well with his sale quotas, and may soon have to be fired. Gregor starts to beg him to calm down and says he is coming and will go to work. Of course, since he has changed into an insect, this comes out as gibberish.

Gregor, not quite aware of how much he has changed, manages to open the door to his room. In a comic scene, his mother faints while the boss backs away and flees from the house in terror.

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