The Metamorphosis

Introduction of The Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis was originally published in the German language as Die Verwandlung and later translated into English. It is a popular novelette written by Franz Kafka. It was first published in 1915 and immediately created an uproar in the literary circles. Later, it was translated into several other languages, after which it became a foundation for writing about/on the grotesque and psychological issues. The story, though, revolves around a poor salesman and his inexplicable transformation into a vermin, it highlights the struggle of the downtrodden in the face of mounting financial pressures.

Summary of The Metamorphosis

Gregor Samsa is an ordinary salesman. He maintains busy life to look after his entire family, trying to live in relative prosperity and happiness. His routine continues until a day comes when he gets up to see himself transformed into a monstrous insect or vermin. Considering it a new awakening dream, he goes to sleep again after throwing a casual glance at his room and tries to roll over but finds it uncomfortable on account of his shape. He finds his new legs and thinks about his life as a salesman but then turns to the clock to see that much time has passed after he has tried to sleep.

Gregor hears continuous knocking that keeps him on the toes. He tries to speak but nothing intelligible comes out of his mouth. He wishes there is a fix to the abnormal change. He tries to get out of the bed fails, locking himself in the room. After his absence, his manager comes to ask the reason for his delay. Hence Gregor, reveals the transformation as they wait for him to open the door. Strangely, no one recognizes him at first.

The manager issues a threat about his unsatisfactory performance despite his repeated protests. Then all of a sudden the manager is horrified while looking at Gregor in his changed shape. Gregor tries to request him by catching the fleeing manager but injures himself after which his father throws him back into the room with a cane and shuts the door. Exhausted with this way of dealing with people, he feels tired and goes to sleep that day.

When he wakes up, he sees food in the room but soon comes to know that his taste for regular human food is not there anymore. He starts listening to the sounds coming from the outside. Finally, his sister, Grete, senses his situation and throws rotting bread crumbs inside the room that he finds tasty. This act of eating leftover vegetables and crumbs turns into his routine, while the rest of the time he hides under the couch to avoid frightening her. He senses as well as hears his family talking about the impending financial crunch and his mother’s desire to see him, including the refusal from his sister and father to allow her to see him.

Soon he finds himself adjusting to his new life comfortably and trying to explore the wall and the ceiling. Making it his new routine, he explores the room which his sister, Grete, changes for him, removing additional furniture from the room. He tries to make them keep the woman’s picture in the room, but it is also removed. During the move, Gregor’s mother faints. Finally, Grete calls him one day but he runs toward the kitchen. His father, who just enters the room injuries him by throwing an apple, thinking he may have attacked his mother. However, the situation clears when she explains it to her husband. The apple lodges on Gregor’s back which become infected.

The family soon decides to give him some room to move. They also open the door for a few hours in the evening. He, however, becomes worried at their relative poverty, while Grete’s resentment also intensifies. The maid is gone, and the family is consulting to house three boarders which increases his distress. During this period, Gregor also realizes that his family are doing much better financially. His father had some savings. His mother and sister are also earning well. When one evening, a cleaning lady accidentally opens the door, he sees three boarders asking his sister to play the violin. When they see Gregor, they leave without paying her.

Grete, sensing Gregor’s presence as a threat to the family’s survival, tells the family to get rid of him. As he sees his father agreeing to her proposal, he also consents in his heart to alleviate their suffering. Therefore, he silently dies at night. The family discovers his body in the morning. His dead body is soon disposed of by the charwoman/maid. The family also review their financial conditions and notice that Grete is beautiful and will hopefully find a good husband. The family even goes on holiday after Gregor’s death and decides to move to a different apartment.

Major Themes in The Metamorphosis

  1. Transformation: Whether it is a physical transformation, a general transformation, or a situational transformation, it plays an important role in a family’s fortune. When Gregor Samsa sees himself changed, he feels the unease of seeing his family facing the financial crunch. However, he soon realizes that they have learned to live without him, for they have also transformed themselves; a necessity for their survival. Therefore, transformation, whatever it may be, is the major thematic strand of this story.
  2. Loss of Identity: After he sees his transformation into a vermin, Gregor realizes that his ability to communicate and think has not changed. This seems an extraordinary situation for him, for he has lost his identity but not the ability. He can clearly think and see others reacting to his situation and condition, yet he is unable to do anything. Soon his former identity of the traveling salesman changes into an odious vermin. With this transformation, he loses his identity and status of the breadwinner of the family.
  3. Social Isolation: When Gregor loses his physical shape, he also loses his social circles. Even his Manager comes running amuck to get him back or issue him threats of sacking instead of finding the reality behind his absence and late coming. This social isolation, soon, penetrates the family circle and the day arrives when Grete has to suggest that they must get rid of him, or lose their lives in impending penury and hunger.
  4. Human Relations: Human relations are a mystery that is evident from the loss of the status of Gregor Samsa from the important person of the family to a throw-away thing. Economic situation and status create human relations. Gregor Samsa is an important person of the family as well as the organization. However, he loses this status and relations when it comes to the transformation and loss of his former status and situation.
  5. Family Responsibility: Family responsibility is the thematic strand in that unless a person takes up the responsibility of himself and others, he is not worthy of respect and honor. Gregor Samsa loses his responsibility after he becomes a vermin. Hence, the family soon loses him after thinking that he is becoming a burden and liability rather than taking up the responsibility.
  6. Disability: Disability has its own ramifications, while survival of the fittest seems to rule the roost where Gregor has lost his ability to bring a change in the family. His disability has brought ruin for him, for the family faces the financial strain on account of his being a burden and nuisance for the family.
  7. Alienation of Man: Man becomes alienated from himself, his surroundings, and his family in a routinized lifestyle. Gregor Samsa may have suffered from a mental transformation, but he has lost his importance on account of his day-to-day routinized life in which he has no time to think about himself. His alienation soon takes his own life when the family sees that he is no more useful.
  8. Sense of Guilt: Gregor feels guilt that he has failed to take up the family responsibility after his physical transformation despite knowing that it is none of his mistakes. However, this sense of not assisting the family during the crunch leads him to consent to his elimination from the scene.
  9. Absurdity of Life: The transformation of Gregor also throws light on the absurdity of the life of human beings and the choices a person has to make himself worthwhile in the family as well as in society. Gregor loses his identity, place, and status when his situation changes and sees this absurdity of his life from close quarters. Therefore, he thinks it fit to die instead of continuing living in this humiliation.

Major Characters in The Metamorphosis

  1. Gregor Samsa: The central character and the protagonist, Gregor Samsa has been shown as a traveling salesman, who has routinized his life for the uplift of his family, proving himself a responsible adult. However, the sudden transformation of his physical shape into an odious vermin has played havoc with his future, crippling him to become a no-man and the most hated figure within his family. He loses his status, his centrality, and his identity as a result of this transformation, and soon hears that his family, too, is fed up with him like his Manager and the company. Therefore, he thinks it wise to die peacefully instead of making life difficult for his family members, who are now on the verge of making a decision to get rid of him.
  2. Grete Samsa: Despite her tender years, Grete proves an equally responsible and dependable figure, who shoulders the family during these trying times when the main breadwinner has transformed into a vermin, a change that is proving an anathema for the family. She takes up the double responsibility; fetching finances to run the house and taking care of the vermin, her brother. However, when she sees that the issues are paralyzing her ability to make the family survive the odds, she takes the family into confidence to get rid of Gregor Samsa. Although it does not show her hatred, it is rather a pragmatism of getting rid of one, instead of all.
  3. Mr. Samsa: As the head of the family, Mr. Samsa faces his inability to fetch finances to run the household. Fully dependent on his son’s salesmanship, he sees no way out of this dilemma that brings attacks of agony and estrangement on him. This becomes his fury whenever a chance comes to him. Later, Gregor realizes that Mr. Samsa was lying and had been saving some money in investments. The family was not entirely dependant on Gregor’s income. Mr. Samsa was one of the major reasons for Gregor’s misery. When he hears that Gregor is no more, he thanks God due to the prospectus of marrying his daughter and living with his wife happily.
  4. Mrs. Samsa: Mrs. Samsa, though, is typical in her domestic limits, she becomes horrified at the sudden transformation of her favorite and dependable son into a vermin. But strangely, her love for her son stays, though, she dares not to visit his room. Her hope that someday this process would reverse continues until she comes to accept the reality that her son has to go.
  5. The Manager: Despite being a secondary character, the significance of the anonymous Manager lies in the fact that he makes the family realize the uselessness of Gregor Samsa, for Gregor, is now unable to join his duty and hence is not a breadwinner. This initial thinking penetrates Grete, who, by the end, voices her concern to win the family’s consent.
  6. The Servant Girl: Anna is the maidservant of the family and knows the odious transformation of Samsa, but the financial crunch that the family faces on account of Gregor’s transformation takes her job, too.
  7. Cleaning Woman: After Anna leaves the family, the cleaning woman appears on the scene and comes to know about the strange creature living in the house. Disgusted at this revelation, she leaves the house.
  8. Three Boarders: These three boarders appear in the novel by the end when they come to live as family guests, but immediately leave out of fear after coming to know that such a huge vermin is living in a room. 

Writing Style of The Metamorphosis

The novel, Metamorphosis, shows Kafka’s style through the use of long and simple sentences. However, the irrationality of the incident of the transformation of Gregor has not lost its bizarreness in the simplicity of the words and sentences. The tone turns to a nonchalant one that continues until the end. That is why this distinct style has been named Kafkaesque style, which shows the sardonic attitude of Kafka in presenting highly fantastical elements in his narratives and continue narrating them as if they are real.

Analysis of Literary Devices in The Metamorphosis 

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a vermin and loss of his value, and importance in the family. The rising action occurs when Gregor gets up to find himself a vermin. The falling action occurs when the family members gather and Grete suggests that he should be thrown away to save the family.
  2. Allegory: Metamorphosis shows the use of allegory through the presentation of the main idea that modern society has transformed human beings into routinized creatures having little consciousness of the self. Gregor’s transformation turns him into a vermin without having any value.
  3. Antagonist: Although it seems that fate is the main antagonist of Metamorphosis in the opening chapters, yet it seems that Mr. Samsa is the primary antagonist who seems to have been restored to his position as the head after Gregor’s transformation.
  4. Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel. The first is the Biblical allusion of the apple as given in the story of Adam and Eve, and the second is the allusion of the crucifixion as Gregor has been nailed down like Christ on the crucifixion. For example,
    i. It was an apple; immediately a second one flew after it. Gregor stood still in fright. Further flight was useless, for his father had decided to bombard him. (Part-II)
    ii. But he felt as if he was nailed in place and lay stretched out completely confused in all his senses. (Part-II)
  5. Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that starts between Gregor and the Manager about his work in the company. Another conflict is in the mind of Gregor about his existence, his position in the family, and about the problems of the family how they are going to solve them.
  6. Characters: Metamorphosis presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young man, Gregor Samsa, and his sister, Grete, both are dynamic characters. However, the rest of the characters do not see any change in their behavior, as they are static characters like Mr. Samsa and Mrs. Samsa, including the Manager and the three boarders.
  7. Climax: The climax takes place when the three lodgers threaten to leave in the morning without making any payment, leaving the family high and dry. Therefore, the family reaches the solution which lies in throwing away Gregor Samsa.
  8. Foreshadowing: The novel shows the following examples of foreshadowing.
    i. But as he finally raised his head outside the bed in the open air, he became anxious about moving forward any further in this manner, for if he allowed himself eventually to fall by this process, it would take a miracle to prevent his head from getting injured. (Part-I)
    ii. In the middle of all this, the manager called out in a friendly way, ‘Good morning, Mr. Samsa.’ ‘He is not well,’ said his mother to the manager, while his father was still talking at the door, ‘He is not well, believe me, Mr. Manager. (Part-I)
    Both these foreshadows show that Gregor is not going to witness his previous status as the head of the family as well as the useful worker of the company.
  9. Hyperbole: Hyperbole or exaggeration occurs in the novel at various places. For example,
    i. One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. (Part-I)
    The above sentence is hyperbole, and also sets the stage for the fantasy shown in the shape of further hyperboles used in the novel.
  10. Imagery: Imagery means to use of five senses such as in the below examples.
    i. One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. (Part-1)
    ii. Still, what should he do now? The next train left at seven o’clock. To catch that one, he would have to go in a mad rush. The sample collection wasn’t packed up yet, and he really didn’t feel particularly fresh and active. And even if he caught the train, there was no avoiding a blow up with the boss, because the firm’s errand boy would’ve waited for the five o’clock train and reported the news of his absence long ago. (Part-1)
    Both of these examples show the use of different images such as the image of dreams, bug, movement, and image of his shape. The second example also shows the images of sound, touch, and sight.
  11. Metaphor: Metamorphosis shows good use of various metaphors such as the extended metaphors of Gregor Samsa, turning into a bug or a vermin. A couple of examples of the metaphors are given below.
    i. Gregor’s glance then turned to the window. (Part-I)
    ii. In his present situation, such futile ideas went through his head. (Part-II)
    iii. A huge bony cleaning woman with white hair flapping all over her head came in the morning and the evening to do the heaviest work. (Part-III)
  12. Mood: The novel shows an absurd mood, though it becomes tragic, ironic, and at times highly sarcastic. Sometimes, it also becomes gloomy when Gregor thinks about himself and his family problems, but then becomes sardonic.
  13. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are the loss of humanity, the loss of innocence, family love, financial pressure, and above all human life.
  14. Narrator: The novel is narrated by a third-person narrator. It is also called an omniscient narrator who happens to be the author himself as he can see things from all perspectives.
  15. Protagonist: Gregor Samsa is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his transformation and ends with his death.
  16. Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places. For example,
    i. Did you understood a single word?’ the manager asked the parents, ‘Is he playing the fool with us?’ ‘For God’s sake,’ cried the mother already in tears, ‘perhaps he’s very ill and we’re upsetting him. Grete! Grete!’ she yelled at that point. ‘Mother?’ (Part-I)
    ii. Come, wouldn’t it be better to go back to the living room for just another moment?’ (Part-II)
    iii. ‘What do you mean?’ (Part-III)
    This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed by different characters such as first by Gregor to himself, the Manager to his family, and Grete to herself.
  17. Theme: A theme is a central idea that the novelist or the writer wants to stress upon. The novel shows the titular thematic strands of metamorphosis and the absurdity of life, human relations, and the importance of financial issues in life.
  18. Setting: The setting of the novel is a small apartment in a small German town.
  19. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes. For example,
    i. In order to get as clear a voice as possible for the critical conversation which was imminent, he coughed a little and certainly took the trouble to do this in a really subdued way, since it was possible that even this noise sounded like something different from a human cough. (Part-I)
    ii. …it sounded like the wind whistling. (Part-I)
    iii. The father relentlessly pressed forward pushing out sibilants, like a wild man. (Part-I)
    iv. The whole thing really looked just like a coverlet thrown carelessly over the couch. (Part-II)
    The first simile compares his cough to some other sound, the second his sound to the whistling of the wind, the third his father to a wild mand, and the fourth the sheet to something like a coverlet.
  20. Irony: The novel shows situational irony. For example,
    i. If I were to try that with my boss, I’d be thrown out on the spot. Still, who knows whether that mightn’t be really good for me. If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would’ve quit ages ago. I would’ve gone to the boss and told him just what I think from the bottom of my heart. (Part-I)
    ii. The sister began to play. The father and mother, followed attentively, one on each side, the movements of her hands. Attracted by the playing, Gregor had ventured to advance a little further forward and his head was already in the living room. He scarcely wondered about the fact that recently he had had so little consideration for the others; earlier this consideration had been something he was proud of. (Part-II)
    Both of these examples show the situation’s irony, how the situation has changed, and how the reaction comes. The first is the situation of his thinking that he is sincere and the boss does not think so without considering his situation, while the second also makes him think about himself without thinking about his situation.