The Metamorphosis Additional Summary

Franz Kafka


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Franz Kafka, who wrote relatively little in his short life and who published less, has been enormously influential on later writers, including writers in North America. He is considered an exponent of German expressionism—his work deals with a world that seems normal and recognizable but is also surreal, seemingly influenced by emotional and subconscious states, especially guilt.

Kafka has inspired a lengthy list of American writers. By creating a parallel between anguish and hope, employing a tightly controlled perspective, and adding a liberal sprinkling of black comedy, Kafka’s work may be said to have influenced the works of writers as diverse as Edward Albee, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, J. D. Salinger, and Walker Percy.

Kafka’s frequently anthologized short story “The Metamorphosis” is the tale of a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who awakens one morning to find he has become an enormous beetle. This transformation and estrangement reflects Kafka’s view of the desperation connected with the human struggle for redemption. Gregor is killed as a result of his father’s throwing an apple at him; the psychological and biblical symbolism of this act is clear but unstated. Kafka’s emphasis on guilt and his technique of presenting the grotesque in bland, everyday language are perhaps most evident in the works of the Southern American writers in general and of Flannery O’Connor in particular. O’Connor recorded her observations about the story in her journal.

Kafka and O’Connor employ grotesque characters—physically or spiritually malformed—to demonstrate the human condition. Both writers are intrigued by a transcendent moment of grace, wherein a person can seek and be granted redemption. The two writers also share a biblical preoccupation with guilt and with parable. As does Kafka, O’Connor uses the world of the human spirit, the external world and the world within to demonstrate a collision of values. Gregor Samsa is destroyed by an apple, depicting the Fall; O’Connor’s protagonists are often destroyed by the acknowledgement of their humanity. In the works of both writers there is often a veiled dialogue between the real and the symbolic. Many North American writers have incorporated Kafka’s themes and techniques into their work, including his father-son confrontation, his disproportion between guilt and punishment, his emphasis on spiritual ambiguity, and his refined literary style.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Metamorphosis is Kafka’s longest story and one of his most frequently analyzed works. Tripartite in form, it traces the months from Gregor Samsa’s unique metamorphosis to his death from dehydration, injury, and general neglect. Gregor’s health declines as the health of his father, mother, and sister improves. His metamorphosis from the sole breadwinner to an utterly dependent and undesirable creature prompts the metamorphosis of his sluggish family into hardworking, happier people.

The point is often made that, although it is Gregor who takes on a grotesque form, the real ugliness in the story lies in his family’s attitude toward and treatment of him, in their assumption that he is responsible for the debt incurred by his father. As the parents and sister selfishly exploit the best years of Gregor’s youth, any possibility he might have of marrying and establishing a family of his own is reduced to his making a fretwork frame for a magazine picture of a woman. They have used him up.

Likewise, his employer shows no appreciation for Gregor’s humanity and seems bent only on getting the maximum return from his employee. After five years without missing a day, Gregor needs only to miss one train to have the chief clerk threaten him with dismissal. They also use him up.

The integrity of Gregor’s self is under attack from all sides. Not even his bedroom is a safe retreat. It has doors in all three inside walls, enabling his mother,...

(The entire section is 607 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The first sentence of “The Metamorphosis” has become one of the most famous in modern fiction: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Franz Kafka thus subverts narrative tradition by stating his climax in his initial declarative sentence. He then organizes three subclimaxes in three frustrated attempts by Gregor to escape from the imprisonment of his bedroom. The novella’s three sections divide it into three clearly identifiable parts, showing Gregor in relation to his occupation, his family, and his divided psyche.

In the first section, Gregor accepts his fantastic transformation matter-of-factly, perhaps wishing to bury its causes in his subconscious mind. Instead of worrying about the mystery of his metamorphosis, he worries about the nature and security of his position as traveling salesperson for a firm whose severity he detests. Even though his boss treats him tyrannically and overworks him, Gregor needs to keep his degrading job because his father owes his employer a huge debt. He can only dream of walking out into freedom in five or six years, after having slowly repaid it from his earnings.

The firm’s chief clerk appears in the Samsas’ apartment at 7:10 a.m. and inquires why Gregor failed to catch the 5:00 a.m. train to work. He yells at Gregor that he is “making a disgraceful exhibition” of himself, exploiting his anxiety and insecurity by telling him that his sales have slackened to the point where he faces dismissal. Gregor responds with an agitated speech replete with a succession of special pleas that contradict one another: He is only mildly indisposed, yet cannot rise from his bed; he feels all right, yet is struck down with a sudden malady. “Oh, sir, do spare my parents!” he cries hysterically—but the chief clerk cannot understand him: Gregor has lost his capacity for human speech. Frantic, Gregor manages to open his bedroom door by painfully turning its lock key with his toothless mouth. When he...

(The entire section is 857 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Gregor Samsa wakes one morning from uneasy dreams to find that he has been transformed during the night into a gigantic insect. At first, he tries to remain calm and go back to sleep. His transformed body, however, prevents him from getting comfortable. Regardless of the changes in him, Gregor’s thoughts turn to the job he hates, and, as he looks at the clock, he fears being late at the office. Through the locked door to his room, his mother reminds him of the time, and he notices the change in his voice when he replies. His response alerts the rest of his family that he is still at home, which is unexpected at this time of day.

Still attempting to maintain some semblance of normality, Gregor tries to get out of bed, but it requires an unusual effort, rocking back and forth, before he finally falls out of bed onto the floor. When the chief clerk from his office arrives to check on Gregor’s whereabouts, he doubles his efforts to return to normal. Gregor’s father calls to him to allow the clerk to enter his room, but Gregor refuses because he is afraid that his job will be jeopardized if the chief clerk discovers his transformation. He is convinced that he can explain his rudeness later, after he has recovered. The clerk threatens him, and Gregor hears the clerk comment about how inhuman his voice sounds. Gregor finally wedges himself against the door and opens the lock with his jaws, but, as he appears in the doorway, his altered appearance frightens the clerk, who flees the apartment. Gregor’s family stares at him, amazed at the metamorphosis he has undergone. Finally, his father forces him back into his room and shuts the door.

The next morning, Gregor’s sister leaves him food on the floor of his room, but Gregor remains hidden underneath the sofa while she is in the room, lest he should frighten her. For the next two days, he overhears his family discussing what they should do about him and the changes they will have to make in their lives, since he has supplied their only source of income. Gregor worries about his family and mulls over the guilt he feels for losing his job and his place as breadwinner of the household. Night after night, he huddles in the dark and thinks about his predicament....

(The entire section is 911 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Part I
As the story opens, Gregor Samsa has already turned into a gigantic insect. He notices this, but does not seem to find it...

(The entire section is 1007 words.)