In the wake of Gregor’s injury, which limits his mobility, the family takes pity on him and leaves the bedroom door open at night so Gregor can watch them. The father dozes in his chair while the mother sews lingerie for a boutique and Grete studies French and shorthand in hopes of moving up from her job as a sales clerk. The father stops taking off his bank attendant uniform when he comes home, and the uniform becomes increasingly filthy. Grete and the mother encourage the father to go to bed early, but he stays up late every night, muttering about how sad his life has become.
Gregor learns that the family has been selling off jewelry to bring in money, and they replace their regular maid with an elderly cleaning lady. He also realizes that they feel trapped by his presence. Gregor stops sleeping and eating as he frets about the family and the past, alternating between guilt over not helping them and outrage that they have neglected him. Grete hardly takes care of him at all anymore. Despite this apparent indifference to Gregor, she becomes extremely upset when the mother cleans Gregor’s room and insists that Gregor is hers to look after.
The new cleaning lady, meanwhile, regularly talks to Gregor. She openly stares at him, and even tries to sneak into the room to catch him off-guard. One day, Gregor, tired of being peered at, attacks her, but the cleaning lady threatens him with a chair, so he desists.
The family takes three boarders into the apartment. These men cannot stand mess and disorder, so the family moves much of the furniture and the cleaning lady’s supplies into Gregor’s room. Gregor enjoys crawling through the clutter, though doing so leaves him exhausted.
One night, the cleaning lady accidentally leaves the door open while the boarders are home. The boarders eat in the dining room while the family eats in the kitchen, and Gregor notices the boarders being very picky about the food that his mother and sister have cooked. Hearing Grete playing the violin, the boarders invite the family into the parlor. The boarders initially stand very close to Grete as she plays, but they soon lose interest. Gregor is entranced by the violin and slowly creeps out into the parlor. He longs to take his sister back to his room and tell her about his plan to send her to music school.
One of the boarders spots Gregor and cries out. The father rushes the boarders out of the parlor as they declare they will move out and not pay rent. Grete tells her parents that they have to stop believing that the bug is Gregor and says they must find a way to get rid of it. The father wishes they could explain to Gregor why they need him to leave, but Grete says that if he could understand them, he would have left long ago to spare them any more pain. Gregor, feeling terrible, scuttles back to his room. He remains motionless through the night, thinking to himself all the while that he must go away to relieve them of their suffering. As dawn breaks, he dies.
The cleaning lady discovers Gregor’s body the next morning. The family gathers around the corpse and Grete notices how skinny Gregor had become. The father kicks the boarders out of the apartment. The family decides to take a walk, but first they write letters to their bosses explaining why they aren’t coming into work. The cleaning lady tells them that she got rid of the body, but the family seems uninterested in her, and the father decides to fire her that night. Grete and her parents leave the apartment and take a trolley ride to the countryside. They discuss their finances and discover that they have much more money than they thought. They decide to move to a smaller apartment in a better location. The parents notice what an attractive young woman Grete has become and think they should find a husband for her soon. As they reach their stop, Grete stands and stretches.
The members of the Samsa family continue to struggle with their uncertainty regarding Gregor’s humanity, all the way up to his death. In a show of kindness, they begin leaving the door to Gregor’s room open in the evenings, providing Gregor with at least a little contact with them. This action suggests that they continue to regard Gregor, if only slightly, as a part of their family, and that they believe some of his former humanity persists. After Gregor frightens away the boarders, however, Grete comes to the conclusion that nothing of Gregor remains. The father appears to wrestle with Grete’s assessment. He suggests if the bug could understand them maybe they could work out a mutually agreeable situation, indicating that he holds out hope that Gregor’s mind remains intact. But that hope is apparently minimal, as it takes Grete very little effort to convince the father and mother that no remnant of Gregor, or any humanity at all, exists in the insect.
Gregor’s confused feelings about his family and his own humanity appear again as he listens to Grete play the violin to the boarders. Gregor has a strong reaction to the music, so strong in fact it appears to make him feel distinctly like a bug, as he wonders if his great attraction to the music derives from the fact that he is now an animal. But his feelings for Grete point to lingering feelings from his human life, as he still loves Grete and wants her to know it, leading him to imagine a tearful scene in which he locks Grete in his room and tells her he had intended to send her to the Conservatorium. The scene also suggests that Gregor still has the desire to take care of his family financially. Notably, however, in his fantasy Gregor is still a bug while he speaks to his sister, despite the fact that he has not been able to speak properly since his transformation. This detail signals a conflict in Gregor’s sense of his own identity, as he is not fully insect or human in his fantasy.
Gregor becomes even more isolated as the family loses interest in caring for him. Grete, once the family member to spend the most time in contact with Gregor, stops caring for him entirely, leaving the task instead to the new cleaning lady. By this point, the family has also lost any concern for Gregor’s comfort, which is apparent in the fact that they begin using Gregor’s room as a storage closet once the boarders move in. Gregor simultaneously appears to lose all interest in his family. He prefers to be by himself, and he even becomes angry when they leave his door open during an argument and disturb him with the noise they make. With the arrival of the boarders, Gregor’s presence becomes a liability rather than just a nuisance—he could scare the boarders away and cost the family the rent money they would earn—and the family essentially begins pretending he doesn’t exist. By this point, his only connection to his family is that they live in the same apartment, and he lives in almost total isolation but for the occasional intrusion by the cleaning lady.
The family’s sympathy for Gregor has steadily diminished over the course of the story, and Gregor’s encounter with the boarders finally exhausts what little compassion they have left. Although demanding, the boarders provide the family with an additional source of income. Gregor, on the other hand, is a burden. He has to be fed, he takes up a room that could be used for other purposes, and perhaps most importantly, his presence in the house causes the family a great deal of stress. By driving away the boarders, Gregor does, in fact, become a liability, and the family, specifically Grete, can no longer tolerate his presence. By this time, Grete also doesn’t think of the bug as her brother anymore, and since Gregor cannot speak, he’s not able to convince her otherwise. Grete consequently demands they get rid of Gregor, indicating that she has no sympathy remaining, and it takes her little effort to convince the father and mother, which suggests their own sympathy for Gregor was minimal.
In contrast with the feeling of anxiety that dominates the story, the story’s final scene has a hopeful tone, and it culminates in an image that suggests Grete’s own metamorphosis into a woman is complete. As the family travels out to the countryside, the narrator describes “warm sunshine” filling their train car, and this image creates a marked contrast from confining image of the family’s small apartment. The family also appears to have experienced a dramatic shift away from the frequent worrying over money that has preoccupied them through much of the story, as each family member realizes his or her current employment will likely lead to better opportunities. Finally, they think they can now get a smaller, cheaper, and better-located apartment, implying that it was Gregor who kept them in their current home and that, with Gregor gone, they will now be able to move onto better things. Together these details create a feeling of relief that the family’s ordeal with Gregor is now over as well as a sense of hope for the future. This hope reaches its climax in the final lines of the story. Looking at Grete, the mother and father realize she’s grown into a pretty young woman and think of finding her a husband, signaling both that Grete has undergone her own metamorphosis over the course of the story and that a new chapter in her life is beginning. The story concludes with Grete stretching, an act that suggests emerging after a long period of confinement, as if from a cocoon.
by mjindra5, July 15, 2012
Under Money Motif:
Borders should be spelled boarders.
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