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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Last Updated on October 31, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1139

If it weren’t for my parents, I would have given notice long ago: I would have confronted the Director and given him a piece of my mind. He would have fallen off his chair! It’s incredible the way he has of sitting perched at his reading desk and speaking from on high. . . . Oh well, I shouldn’t give up hope altogether: once I have the money to pay off my parents’ debt—it should only be another five or six years—I’ll definitely do it. Then I’ll make my big break. In the meantime, I have to get up—my train leaves at five. (Chapter 1)

This quotation occurs before Gregor has gotten out of bed the morning of his transformation. Gregor fantasizes about standing up to his demanding boss, imagining the Director will not understand why he is late. Gregor claims he would have left the job by now if he were not responsible for his parents’ care; he feels obligated and trapped by his work. In an imagined rebellion, he thinks about defying the boss and watching his stunned reaction, so extreme he would fall out of his chair. Gregor notes the Director’s sense of superiority, which Gregor obviously resents. At the end of the quotation, though he knows he cannot live out this fantasy yet, he thinks he will do so once he gets his parents out of debt. He asserts in an understatement that it will “only” take “five or six years,” which should seem almost endless in a job he hates. He holds out hope that he will find a better job and make a better way for himself. He tells himself that he will take action later, but now, he has to get to work. This last statement indicates that he is inured to his routine and does not seriously think of breaking from it.

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I will just get dressed, pack my samples up, and be off. Will you all allow me to go? Deputy Director, you see that I am not obstinate and that I want to work. Traveling is demanding, but I couldn’t live without it. Where do you intend to go now, Deputy Director? To the office? Yes? Will you report everything accurately? A person might be unable to work for a time, but it is precisely then that one must consider his past accomplishments and keep in mind that once the hindrance is past, he will certainly work even harder and more efficiently. . . . I’m in a fix, but I’ll work my way out again. But please don’t make it more difficult for me than it already is. (Chapter 1)

Once the Deputy Director and Gregor’s parents have seen his insect form, Gregor absurdly insists that he just needs to quickly get ready and will soon be off to work. His series of short questions to the official mark his sense of panic that he will lose his job or reputation as a reliable salesperson. Instead of embracing that he is ill or that his job has changed him for the worse, Gregor rededicates himself to working “even harder.” As a cog in the economic machine, Gregor must reassume his place as quickly as possible, with as little inconvenience to the machine as possible.

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Whenever the conversation turned towards the necessity of earning money, Gregor left the door and threw himself on the leather sofa that stood nearby, for he burned with shame and sorrow. (Chapter 2)

Gregor overhears his family’s conversations about money and learns they have a small sum left from the time when Mr. Samsa’s business collapsed, but it is not enough to last long. They don’t want to touch the money, so they must find ways to make money without Gregor’s pay. Gregor has felt responsible for his family’s financial security for several years, and he knows that the prospect of his mother or sister having to join the workforce is a result of his transformation. He feels guilty that he cannot work and provide for them anymore. It was a point of pride for him to be able to support the family.

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Latest answer posted August 22, 2011, 9:33 am (UTC)

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He couldn’t explain why he had earnestly desired that his room be emptied. Did he really want to let them transform the warm room, comfortably outfitted with inherited furnishings, into a cave? Granted, he would be able to crawl undisturbed in all directions, but he would at the same time forget, quickly and completely, his human past. He was already close to forgetting it, but his mother’s voice, so long unheard, had roused him. (Chapter 2)

In this scene, Gregor is torn between his insect instincts and his former human life. Grete has been moving furniture out of his room to allow him to move around more easily. Gregor feels instinctively that he would like to have the room free of furniture; he cannot rationally explain where this instinct comes from. However, he has enough human rationality left to think about whether he wants to make this change, as he believes it will exacerbate his distance from his human self. A month after his transformation, Gregor is losing much of what made him human. He is called back to his former sense of self by hearing his mother’s voice, which suggests that human connection and relationships are key to retaining his humanity.

It has to go. . . . That is the only way, father. You must simply try to rid yourself of the thought that it’s Gregor. Our real misfortune is that we believed it for so long. But how can it be Gregor? If it were Gregor, he would have seen long ago that such an animal cannot live with people and he would have left voluntarily. We would then have had no brother, but we could have lived on and honored his memory. (Chapter 3)

In this quotation, Grete tries to convince Mr. Samsa that the insect who occupies Gregor’s room should no longer be considered Gregor himself. It is ironic that Grete is the one to voice such strong opposition to keeping Gregor in the apartment, since she is the one who took over his primary care. However, she argues that the pest cannot be Gregor because it does not share Gregor’s feelings of responsibility for his family’s well-being. Grete sees her brother as a reasonable and compassionate person; if the bug were still Gregor, he would have left by now or done something to rid his family of the burden of his existence. Grete’s words impact Gregor, who seems to give up later that night and takes his last breath. His death can be seen as his sacrifice; he dies so that his family can “live on” and return to a normal life.

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