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The Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

1. One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin.

This quotation, one of the most famous opening lines in modern literature, introduces the subject matter of The Metamorphosis and indicates how that subject matter will be treated throughout the story. The line has a notably flat, matter-of-fact tone that doesn’t remark on the oddness of the incident. On the contrary, the line treats Gregor’s change as though it were an ordinary event, and it never raises the issue of how or why Gregor undergoes his metamorphosis, implying that the change has occurred without any particular cause or for any particular reason. In doing so, it creates a sense that the world we see in the story is inherently purposeless and random, rather than rational and ordered, and that such events are to some degree to be expected. Thus the opening line exemplifies the idea of absurdism, which asserts that humans exist in an irrational, chaotic universe beyond our full understanding.

Although the opening line is narrated in the third person, it also reflects Gregor’s own attitude toward his change. Gregor never attempts to determine why or how he transformed into a bug. Instead, he appears to accept the change as an unfortunate incident, like an accident or illness, and doesn’t get particularly upset about it. In fact, after his transformation he continues to think about relatively normal subjects, like his family’s financial situation and his own physical comfort. Consequently, Gregor himself embodies this absurdist point of view exemplified in the opening line. He is the victim of an evidently purposeless and random metamorphosis, which he treats as though it were not completely unusual, suggesting he at least somewhat expects the world he lives in to be an irrational and chaotic place.

2. At that time Gregor’s sole desire was to do his utmost to help the family to forget as soon as possible the catastrophe that had overwhelmed the business and thrown them all into a state of complete despair.

The narrator recounts these details about Gregor and the family in Part 2, as Gregor overhears the father explaining the family’s financial situation to Grete and the mother. The failure of the father’s business five years earlier essentially created the family dynamic that we see at the beginning of the story and explains Gregor’s vital role in the family. Because the business failed, the father no longer works, and he appears depressed and lethargic. One early image we have of the father comes from Gregor, who thinks of him lingering for hours over his breakfast and dozing off during the day. Gregor, meanwhile, feels responsible for the family’s wellbeing as its only source of income. This fact explains why his greatest concern after his transformation is whether he will be punished or fired for not going to work on time, despite the fact that he greatly dislikes his job.

These circumstances play a significant role in Gregor’s feelings of alienation. Because of his job, which requires that he travel constantly, Gregor cannot develop relationships, and so he has no close friends. As the mother tells the office manager when he comes to check on Gregor, Gregor spends most evenings in the house reading the newspaper or checking the train timetables. Moreover, Gregor feelings of alienation from his parents also stem from the family’s financial circumstances. When he first started earning money to support the family, his parents showed a great deal of gratitude, which Gregor enjoyed. But as Gregor and the parents became accustomed to the new family dynamic in which Gregor was now the breadwinner, the parents gratitude gradually diminished and Gregor no longer felt the same feeling of joy in providing for them. The text says he only remained intimate with Grete, suggesting that he and his parents grew apart as a result.

3. Did he really want the warm room, so cozily appointed with heirlooms, transformed into a lair, where he might, of course, be able to creep, unimpeded, in any direction, though forgetting his human past swiftly and totally?

This quotation, which occurs in Part 2 as Grete and the mother empty Gregor’s room of furniture, marks the climax of Gregor’s struggle to reconcile his human past with his new life and physical form. Gregor’s transformation alters his body, but it leaves his thoughts and feelings intact. But shortly after the metamorphosis, Gregor’s thoughts and feelings start to change according to the physical demands and urges of his new body. Gregor finds that he feels comfortable in the cramped, dark space beneath his sofa, for instance, and he enjoys crawling on the ceiling. These changes imply that his mind is adapting to his new body, and that he is becoming an insect psychologically as well.

But Gregor still retains his human memories and emotions, such as his desire to take care of his family. As a result, he feels pulled in opposing directions by the insect and human sides of himself, and this inner conflict reaches its height when he is forced to choose whether he wants his room emptied of furniture. On the one hand, not having furniture would allow Gregor much more freedom to crawl over the floors and walls, which would make him physically more comfortable. On the other hand, his possessions serve as physical reminders of his human life, and keeping them would allow him to preserve what humanity he has left, making him feel more comfortable psychologically. In other words, Gregor must choose between appeasing his insect side or his human side. Gregor decides to appease his human side, and he clings to the picture of the woman in furs as a reminder of his human life.

4. “He must go,” cried Gregor’s sister, “that’s the only solution, Father. You must just try to get rid of the idea that this is Gregor. The fact that we’ve believed it for so long is the root of all our trouble.”

Grete says these words to the father toward the end of Part 3 after Gregor inadvertently reveals himself to the boarders, and the quotation marks a turning point in the family’s view of Gregor’s humanity as well as in the level of sympathy they feel for him. To this point in the story, the Samsa family has struggled to determine how much of Gregor’s humanity remains. Physically Gregor has changed completely, and since he is unable to speak, the family has no way of knowing whether his mind remains intact. The mother, most notably, has held onto the belief that Gregor will eventually return to his old self, and she uses this reasoning to argue against moving all the furniture out of Gregor’s room. The father appears to be uncertain one way or another. He feels pity for the bug after attacking it, but when Grete says they must get rid of it, he mostly questions whether the bug might be able to understand them, suggesting he is unsure of his own feelings on the matter. Grete, however, has gradually lost faith that any humanity remains in the bug at all, and she indicates that she no longer thinks of it as Gregor.

Moreover, the family has lost sympathy for the bug as they have become less certain that anything of Gregor remains and as the bug has become a greater burden to them. While Grete initially took care of Gregor just after his transformation, even taking his feelings into account in trying to determine what food he likes and moving the chair to the window for him, she has stopped caring for Gregor entirely by this point. In fact, the family begins using his room as a storage closet without any concern for Gregor’s comfort, suggesting they have hardly any sympathy remaining for Gregor at all. When Gregor reveals himself to the boarders, causing the boarders to say they’re leaving without paying rent, Grete finally decides they must get rid of Gregor. Without any faith that the bug is still Gregor, and with Gregor now costing the family more money, her sympathy runs out. The parents weakly object, but with only a little effort Grete appears to convince them of her point of view, indicating that they also feel little sympathy for Gregor by this point.

5. Lapsing into silence and communicating almost unconsciously with their eyes, they reflected that it was high time they found a decent husband for her. And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions that at the end of their ride the daughter was the first to get up, stretching her young body.

These final lines of the work suggest that the two other notable metamorphoses we see besides Gregor’s—that is, the family’s change from despairing to hopeful and Grete’s change from a girl into a woman—are complete. The family as a whole undergoes a drastic psychological change in the story, indicated in the “new dreams” mentioned in the final line. Because of the failure of the father’s business, the family appears hopeless and hampered by debt at the beginning of the work. But as the family members must find employment after Gregor’s transformation, they begin to save money and create opportunities for themselves. They appear not to realize that their lives are improving until the end of the story, when they talk on the train as they head out to the countryside. At that point, each recognizes that he or she has a job that will likely lead to better opportunities in the future, and they realize that with Gregor dead, they can move into a smaller apartment, which will save them money. In the final lines of the story, they become a genuinely hopeful and happy family.

The other notable transformation referred to in the quotation is Grete’s change from a girl into a woman. Grete begins the work basically still a child with no responsibilities. But as she begins caring for Gregor and working to help earn money for the family, she matures psychologically. She becomes more outspoken within her family, for instance, and she has the responsibilities of an adult. The last lines of the story, in which her parents realize that she’s grown into a pretty young woman and think of finding her a husband, signal that she is now physically mature as well. In other words, she has become an adult, and she embodies the hopes of her parents as she begins this new stage of her life. The last image of the story is Grete stretching, suggesting that she is emerging after a period of confinement, much like an insect emerging from a cocoon after its metamorphosis into a mature adult.

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