Gregor’s Parents: Loony or Reasonable?

April 3, 2008
By Katrina Wilbur, Braintree, MA

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a story about a young workaholic who wakes up one day and realizes he has turned into a large insect-like creature. The main character of the story that went through this transformation, Gregor, is seen by the average reader as treated very poorly by his parents and family. Gregor’s father pushes Gregor through his bedroom door “with no regard for what might happen” in order to get him away from the family, and badly injures Gregor in the process (12). Later in the story, Gregor’s father throws an apple at his son that “hit squarely and lodged in his back” (22). On top of these serious physical injuries, the family neglects him, and often shows how repulsed they are by him. Gregor’s sister, the only family member who visits Gregor’s room to bring him food, hates being in there, and hates looking at him. Gregor’s mother is scared to death of him, and shows her dislike for him through her fear. Any casual reader in their right mind would side with Gregor, right? It would make sense, since the story is from his point of view, and the reader can see how badly he is hurt by what his family does. But none of this necessarily means the parents were wrong in anything they did.
Parenting, defined by the dictionary, is “the process of raising and educating a child from birth until adulthood.” When Gregor was still human, his parents and sister took good care of him. For example, at the beginning of the story, all his family members keep checking on him to make sure he is feeling well when he has his door locked and doesn’t leave his room. In addition, Gregor is out of school, and is old enough to be independent. By society’s standards, Gregor would be considered an adult. When Gregor is human, he is responsible enough to support the whole family with his job, meaning he should definitely be considered an adult. Based on this fact about Gregor and the definition of parenting, Gregor’s parents have done more than enough to raise him already, and should not be expected to fix all of his problems. It may sound a little cruel, but it’s reasonable.
The reality of the situation is, if you’re child woke up one day turned into a giant insect, would you really treat him or her as kindly as you did before? Communication and routine would be near impossible. Can you imagine that attempted and failed dinner table conversation that would occur with a giant bug for a son? It would be impossible to know what he or she wants at any given time, or what bothers them. Between the general public’s fear of regular insects, never mind giant ones, and the lack of human connection with a creature like a bug, it makes a lot of sense for a family to treat a transformed son like Gregor badly out of fear and misunderstanding. Personally, in this situation, I would react similar to Gregor’s family. I wouldn’t be particularly at ease if there were a giant bug crawling around my home. On top of this, I would be upset and frustrated at the loss of the family member that transformed, since an insect is a terrible replacement for someone who you cared about and shared your life with. I think any person with any compassion would have a hard time going through what Gregor’s family did, but in the end would certainly not treat an insect like it were human.
Gregor’s parent’s reaction to the situation was perfectly normal. Both Gregor’s parents and sister fear him, which I believe most people in that situation would. They hurt him because they feel like they are hurting a giant insect that is a burden to their home, and not their son. The story clearly talks about how the family, especially Gregor’s mother, hopes Gregor will get better and looks for any sign of improvement with him, even though they do not find any. Even though Gregor’s mother is scared, she still wants to see Gregor, since she realizes for the time being, he is still part of the family. Gregor’s family begin to give up on him at the end, since they’ve kept him as an incest for a significant amount of time, and have seen no change. In this situation, most families would be forced to do the same. The time period in which the story takes place also factors into the normalcy of the reaction to Gregor. This story takes place in the early 1900’s, in which it was certainly not okay to take your giant pet insect son for a walk. It’s likely that they keep him locked up, don’t tell anyone about him, and don’t get professional help so that their neighbors and friends wouldn’t think less of their family. During this time, parents using physical punishment to reinforce behavior was very common. Gregor was only physically harmed by his father when he was disobeying and not staying in his room, which for the time period, makes sense.
In summary, it’s not fair for readers to criticize Gregor’s family’s reactions. His family did the best they felt they could given the situation and the century. I feel that if most readers put themselves in the family’s shoes, they would do the same. Would you do something different?

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