Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

January 9, 2018
By Barry SILVER, Ashburnham, Massachusetts
Barry SILVER, Ashburnham, Massachusetts
7 articles 0 photos 0 comments

A major part of human life is enduring personal transformations. These transformations inevitably impact others, resulting in further transformations in other people. Franz Kafka’s classic novella The Metamorphosis begins with its protagonist, Gregor Samsa, literally transforming into a gigantic and terrifying insect. Interestingly, Gregor’s family benefits from his horrific transformation because his negative change causes his family to transform in a positive way. After his metamorphosis, Gregor’s family develops the skills to obtain a promising future for themselves. They further develop an optimistic attitude and energetic spirit for life. As Gregor’s family improves their position in life, they gradually ignore the existence of Gregor. This leads him to sink even deeper into despair. Eventually, the story ends with the death of Gregor, much to the relief of his family. From this, the reader sees how Gregor’s transformation leads to an opposite transformation in his family. This situation creates a negative feedback loop for Gregor, as his family’s increasingly positive lives only make his condition worse.


The first positive change that Gregor initiates is in his sister Grete. After Gregor loses the to care for himself, Grete gains new skills. Kafka writes that “beneath his sister’s practiced hands, the bed’s blankets and pillows flew into the air and into orderliness” (40). Prior to the story’s beginning, Grete has been dependent on Gregor’s income. Once he transforms into a bug, Grete must now take care of him. As a result, she obtains the skills to clean beds, blankets, and pillows quickly and efficiently. Gregor’s father undergoes a similar change. At the novel’s onset, he is also reliant on Gregor’s income. Despite the horrors of Gregor’s new form, his father ironically becomes more vigorous throughout the novel. Kafka describes him by saying, “now he was standing properly erect; dressed in a smart blue uniform with gold buttons…his black eyes peered out acutely and attentively” and his hair becomes “painstakingly combed and parted until it gleamed” (30). This passage shows Gregor’s father preparing himself to get a job. Here we see his father taking clear pride in his neat, orderly appearance. Because he must go out to provide for the family, Gregor’s father becomes more self-reliant. His efforts are ultimately successful; the author writes that “their future prospects” were “in fact quite advantageous and above all offered promising opportunities for advancement” (Kafka 46). Gregor’s horrific change eventually becomes a crucible for his family to push themselves towards brighter prospects.


As the family’s condition improves, they exert a reciprocal influence on Gregor which only causes his condition to deteriorate. Because his family must focus on improving their circumstances without Gregor’s income, they spend no time with Grego himself. He eventually falls into complete hollowness and despair. The reader sees this in the way “he too was covered in dust; he dragged around threads, hair and food scraps clinging to his back and sides” (Kafka 38). In contrast to this, he is previously described as  “flipping over so as to scrub his back against the rug” (Kafka 38). Even after he becomes a bug, Gregor still cleans himself initially. As his family ignores him further, however, he abandons this simple human act. At this point, Gregor has completely accepted the reality of being an insect who does not require cleanliness to live. As Gregor’s family provides less and less of their already slight love, Gregor fully abandons his humanity.


In addition to his deteriorating physical state, this is also seen in the way Gregor’s personality changes as a result of his family’s changes. When his mother enters his room late in the book, Kafka writes that “Gregor gave no reply but instead remained where he was, immobile, as if the door had never been opened” (36). This contrast with the way Gregor is delighted when his mother first pays him a visit immediately after his transformation. Since that point, Gregor has become a completely different organism both externally and internally. He gives no reply to his beloved mother and stays still during her later visit. Just as his family has abandoned Gregor to focus on their own lives, he too has become indifferent to his family. The total disregard that Gregor’s family has for him can be seen most clearly when he dies. Here, Kafka explains that  “indeed Gregor’s body was completely flat and dry, which hadn’t really been noticeable until now when he was no longer raised up on those little legs and nothing else remained to distract the gaze” (44). Clearly, Gregor does not die peacefully. He passes away from starvation and dehydration, which can be seen by his flat and dry body. His family does not notice this, however, because they do not look at him while he is alive. Gregor’s death is, therefore, a consequence of the way his family ignores him. Gregor’s body and spirit are forever gone as an unavoidable outcome of what his family has been through.


Gregor’s miserable transformation to a bug brings personal improvements to his family. At the same time, this exerts its own influence on Gregor; as his family’s prospects improve, he becomes completely hopeless and inhuman. The entire relationship between Gregor and his family is fascinating. Though his family is distraught by their lot in life when Gregor transforms, they are ultimately made the better for it. Gregor, for his part, is unable to take part in any of the improvement’s his family experiences because these improvements come at his own expense. Ultimately, Gregor’s physical transformation is only the beginning of his titular metamorphosis. Though he is a bug at the novel’s onset, he clings to his humanity. He worries about work and is excited to see his mother and sister. As his family members withdraw from him and become stronger through the ordeal they face because of his new form, Gregor’s true metamorphosis occurs as this causes him to lose his humanity.



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