Analysis of Major Characters
Despite his complete physical transformation into an insect at the beginning of the story, Gregor changes very little as a character over the course of The Metamorphosis. Most notably, both as a man and as an insect Gregor patiently accepts the hardships he faces without complaint. When his father’s business failed, he readily accepted his new role as the money-earner in the family without question, even though it meant taking a job he disliked as a traveling salesman. Similarly, when he first realizes he has transformed into an insect, he does not bemoan his condition, wonder about its cause, or attempt to rectify it in any way. On the contrary, he quickly accepts that he has become a bug and tries to go about his life as best he can in his new condition. The narration in the story mirrors Gregor’s calm forbearance by never questioning or explaining how or why this odd transformation occurred or remarking on its strangeness. Instead, the story, much like Gregor, moves on quickly from the metamorphosis itself and focuses on the consequences of Gregor’s change. For Gregor, that primarily means becoming accustomed to his new body.
In fact reconciling his human thoughts and feelings with his new, insect body is the chief conflict Gregor faces in the story. Despite having changed into an insect, Gregor initially still wants to go to work so that he can provide for his family. It takes him time to realize that he can no longer play that role in his family and that he can’t even go outside in his current state. As the story continues, Gregor’s insect body has an increasing influence on his psychology. He finds that he is at ease hiding in the dark under the sofa in his room, like a bug would, even though his body won’t fit comfortably. He also discovers that he enjoys crawling on the walls and ceiling. But Gregor’s humanity never disappears entirely. He still feels human emotions and has strong memories of his human life. As a result, even though he knows he would feel more physically comfortable if his room were emptied of furniture, allowing him to crawl anywhere he pleased, Gregor panics when Grete and his mother are taking out the furniture, such as the writing desk he remembers doing all his assignments at as a boy. In a desperate attempt to hold onto the few reminders he has of his humanity, he clings to the picture of the woman muffled in fur so that no one will take it away. Ultimately he’s unable to fully adapt to his new body or to find a new role within his family, which is disgusted by him and ashamed of his presence in the house. Toward the end of the story, he even feels haunted by the thought that he might be able to take control of the family’s affairs again and resume his role as the family’s money-earner. Despite these hopes, he decides it would be best for the family if he were to disappear entirely, and so he dies much as he lived: accepting his fate without complaint and thinking of his family’s best interests.
Apart from her brother Gregor, Grete is the only other character addressed by name in the story, a distinction that reflects her relative importance. Grete is also the only character to show pity for Gregor through most of the novella (his mother also exhibits pity for him later in the story), apparently owing to the great affection Grete and Gregor had for each other before Gregor’s transformation. Consequently, she becomes Gregor’s primary caretaker. She brings him food, cleans his room, places his chair by the window so he can see out to the street, and comes up with the idea of removing his furniture so he has more room to scurry and climb. In this role as caretaker she serves as Gregor’s only real human contact for most of the story, and she acts as Gregor’s only strong emotional tie to his family—and indeed to the rest of humanity.
Grete, however, changes more than any other character in the story—in essence undergoing her own metamorphosis from a girl into a woman—and that change occurs while her pity for Gregor slowly diminishes. While at first Grete takes care of her brother out of kindness, eventually she comes to regard the job as a duty. She doesn’t always enjoy it, but it serves to define her position in the family, and she becomes territorial about caring for Gregor, not wanting her mother to be involved. As she matures and takes on more adult responsibilities, most notably getting a job to help provide for her family financially, her commitment to Gregor diminishes. Eventually she comes to resent the role, and it is Grete who decides they must get rid of Gregor. The story ends with the parents recognizing that Grete has become a pretty young woman and thinking that it may be time to find her a husband, suggesting Grete has completed her own transformation into an adult.
The reader predominantly sees Gregor’s father from Gregor’s point of view in the story, and for the most part, he appears as a hopeless and unkind man, concerned primarily with money, who isn’t particularly close to his son. We learn, for example, that he had a business that failed, and since its failure he has lost his motivation and essentially given up working, forcing Gregor to provide for the family and work to pay off the father’s debts. Yet despite Gregor’s help, the father has no sympathy for Gregor after Gregor undergoes his metamorphosis. On the day of Gregor’s change, the father only seems concerned about the family’s finances, and in the two instances when he interacts directly with Gregor in the story, he attacks Gregor in some way, first when he beats Gregor back into his room at the beginning and later when he throws the fruit at him.
These details suggest an estrangement between Gregor and his father (Kafka’s strained relationship with his own father, whom he viewed as alien and overbearing, certainly gives weight to such an interpretation). Gregor never explicitly says he resents his father, but it’s clear that he only works as a traveling salesman to make up for his father’s failure in business, suggesting he feels trapped by his father’s failings. Moreover, Gregor never displays the same affection for his father that he displays, albeit rarely, toward his mother and sister, as when he longs to see his mother before she and Grete begin moving the furniture out of his room. Adding to this sense of estrangement is the way the father is referred to in the story. The narrator does not name him beyond calling him “Mr. Samsa,” and in Gregor’s thoughts he almost always appears as “the father.”
by mjindra5, July 15, 2012
Under Money Motif:
Borders should be spelled boarders.
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