1. Besides providing money, what role does work play in the Samsa family?
For the father, work plays a significant role in his sense of purpose and self-worth. At the beginning of the story the father is shiftless and lethargic. He frequently lingers for hours over his breakfast or spends the day sleeping, and he seems uninterested in finding work, indicating that he has no sense of motivation. Eventually, we learn that his loss of interest and apparent lack of self-worth resulted from the failure of his business five years earlier, which implies that he had come to derive these things from his business. While he regains some of his motivation and self-worth when he resumes working, both quickly appear to fade again as he stops removing his uniform in the evenings and allows it to become covered in grease spots. Though the story doesn’t explain fully why the father behaves this way, it does seem clear that he doesn’t find his new work satisfying, and as a result he falls back into his old behavior.
Gregor has a similar relationship to work. He took his job as a traveling salesman in order to earn money for the family, and consequently providing money for his family became the focus of his life. It provides him both with a sense of purpose and it created his identity as the money-earner of the family. After his metamorphosis, Gregor struggles with the idea that he can’t work and that he no longer acts as the family’s breadwinner. He continues to hope that he will suddenly turn back to his former self and return to work. Even toward the end of the story he imagines telling Grete of the plan he had to send her to the Conservatorium, indicating that he hasn’t let go of the idea and that he still longs to play that role in his family. But unable to work, Gregor finds himself in a position similar to that of the father, without any clear sense of purpose or motivation. The great difference between them is that Gregor has a greater struggle to overcome as he tries to reconcile his lingering human side with his new body.
Work plays a distinctly different role in Grete’s life, as it serves to help her mature and become an adult. At the beginning of the story, she is still a child. She has no real responsibilities, and in fact Gregor describes her life as “dressing herself nicely, sleeping long, helping in the housekeeping, going out to a few modest entertainments, and above all playing the violin.” After finding work to help earn money, as well as having the duty of caring for Gregor, Grete starts to become more mature. By the end of the story, she is essentially an adult as she now has adult responsibilities and is ready to marry.
2. How does Gregor’s personality change after his metamorphosis, and how does it remain the same?
Although at first Gregor is psychologically unaltered by his transformation, his personality changes over the course of the story in accordance with his new physical urges and desires. These changes primarily come about as he adapts to his new body and learns what it finds comfortable. For instance, he begins to prefer cramped, dark spaces, such as the space under his sofa, and he feels more comfortable resting on the walls and ceiling of his room than he does lying in bed. He also begins to feel disturbed by noise, such as the noise Grete makes when she enters his room to clean it, and eventually he comes to prefer being left entirely alone, even considering any human contact upsetting.
Many of Gregor’s desires from his human life remain essentially unchanged, however. Even after he ceases to want to see his family members, he still wishes he could provide for them financially, and he feels ashamed when he hears them discussing their finances and the sacrifices they must now make to earn money, such as selling their valuables. Notably, toward the end of the story Gregor fantasizes about revealing to Grete his plan to pay for her to attend the Conservatorium for violin, revealing that he continues to love his sister and to want to provide for her. This tension between Gregor’s lingering desires and emotions from his human life and the demands and restrictions of his new body leaves Gregor feeling deeply conflicted.
3. How does the meaning of the picture of the woman in furs change over the course of the story?
Although it is unclear what meaning the picture of the woman in furs initially held for Gregor, as the story progresses the picture takes on a meaning totally unrelated to its content. As we learn early in the story, Gregor cut the picture out of an illustrated magazine and hung the picture on his wall in a gilt frame, but neither Gregor nor the narrator specifies what drew Gregor to the picture. One interpretation is that the picture represents Gregor’s desires. He could have presumably found the woman in the picture to be physically attractive, and the many furs she wears in the image could symbolize wealth to him. Gregor, who we learn later tried briefly to court a woman without success, may have desired a relationship, perhaps a sexual relationship in particular, as well as to have the wealth represented by the furs, since wealth would allow him to care for his family as he wanted.
When Gregor clings to the picture as Grete and the mother are clearing the furniture out of his room, however, he does so because the picture has taken on an entirely different meaning. By that point, the picture is simply a token of Gregor’s human life that reminds him of who he used to be. Notably, as he looks around the room in desperation while Grete and the mother empty it out, he settles on the picture simply because it’s an object he can save, not because of its content. In other words, the picture lost whatever original meaning it had for him and took on a new meaning in the situation.
1. No characters, Gregor included, try to determine how to cure Gregor. What does this suggest about Gregor’s transformation and how does it affect the reader’s interpretation of the story?
2. Kafka grants readers access to Gregor’s thoughts, but we only learn about other characters through what Gregor sees, hears, and infers. How does this perspective affect the reader’s understanding of the story?
3. How do Gregor’s feelings for his family change over the course of the story?
4. What is the major conflict in the story, and is it resolved by the end?
5. How is Gregor’s metamorphosis similar to Grete’s, and how does it differ?
Under Money Motif:
Borders should be spelled boarders.
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