The Metamorphosis

by: Franz Kafka

Gregor Samsa

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.