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 July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 443

Because the world of Kafka's fiction is so bizarre it usually provokes a reaction in his readers. If nothing else, The Metamorphosis prompts a series of questions about how literally we are to take Gregor Samsa's transformation. Is he really an insect? Are we to read his change metaphorically? What is the symbolism imbedded in his vermin-like body? In addition the story explores a number of painful questions about family relationships, and Gregor's rather oppressive home life is extended to include the overly formalized social and moral atmosphere created within the late Hapsburg Empire, a venerable collection of states and ethnic groups which was collapsing toward its final dissolution during the First World War.

Kafka is regarded as the pre-eminent writer of twentieth century modernism with all of the alienation, angst, and dislocation that modern life seemed to suggest for European writers born in the nineteenth century. His stories, for all of their odd trappings, are always about the effects on human beings of the loss of belief systems brought about by the rapid social and economic changes characteristic of our modern world.

1. How literally can we understand Gregor Samsa's transformation to be? What does it mean to be changed into an insect?

2. The German word which is sometimes translated as a "cockroach" or "insect" actually is more properly rendered in English as "vermin." What sorts of changes does this more literal translation do to our reading of the story?

3. In what ways does Kafka's mater-of-fact literary style affect our reading of this otherwise horrific tale of transformation?

4. Discuss the place of the family in this story.

5. How effective is Kafka in rendering Gregor's changes? Is he able to capture what it must feel like to be trapped in an alien body? How does the unfamiliar physical nature of the character affect his perceptions of the familiar world?

6. The ending has been the subject of much debate among Kafka's commentators. What does the ending of the story suggest to you?

7. What is the role of the three boarders in the Samsa household? In what ways does their presence change the dynamics of the family and bring to the surface the "reality" of Gregor's problem?

8. Trace the mental deterioration of Gregor which parallels his physical deterioration. What is the relationship between the two?

9. What do the changes in the family which result from Gregor's change tell us about the family relationships that precede his transformation?

10. How do the small details of the narrative, the pictures on Gregor's bedroom walls, the apple which sticks in his back, the uniform his father puts on to return to work, intersect with the larger concerns of the story?

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