Gregor Samsa wakes in his bed and discovers he has transformed into a giant bug. Wondering what has happened, he looks around his small room, where everything appears normal. He sees the fabric samples that he uses in his job as a traveling salesman, a picture of a woman in furs that he tore out of a magazine and framed, and the rain dripping down outside his window. He tries to roll over and go back to sleep in order to forget about what has happened, but because of the shape of his back, he can only rock from side to side.
Feeling sore from his effort, Gregor thinks about what a difficult job he has and the fact that his constant traveling prevents him from making any lasting friendships. He thinks that he would leave his overbearing employer but he has to work off a debt that his parents incurred. He suddenly realizes that he has overslept and does not have a good excuse to give his boss.
Gregor’s mother reminds him that he has to catch his train to work. When Gregor responds, he finds his voice has changed. His father and Grete, his sister, join his mother at the door, urging him to get up and unlock it. Gregor twists and rocks, managing to turn sideways and dangle off the bed. Then the doorbell rings. It is the office manager, come to check on Gregor. Gregor rocks his body violently and finally tumbles to the floor. His family and the office manager come to the door to inquire if he is all right.
Gregor’s mother pleads with the office manager, telling him what a devoted worker Gregor is, while Grete cries in the next room. The office manager calls through the door and demands an explanation. He hints that Gregor’s recent work has not been satisfactory and that Gregor’s current behavior looks very bad, especially in light of rumors that Gregor may have stolen money from the company. Gregor claims that he had a dizzy spell and asks the office manager to spare his parents any undue concern. While Gregor tries to lift himself off the floor, the office manager and his family discuss the strange change in his voice, and his sister leaves to fetch a doctor and a locksmith.
Gregor reaches the door, turns the lock with his mouth, and slowly pulls open the door. Seeing that Gregor is now a giant insect, the terrified office manager backs away, the mother passes out, and the father cries. Gregor delivers a long speech asking the office manager to put in a good word for him at work, since traveling salesmen often become the subjects of negative gossip, but the office manager continues to back out of the apartment. Gregor unsuccessfully tries to catch him as he flees and discovers how easily he can crawl on his new legs. The father then picks up a newspaper and the office manager’s cane and drives Gregor back into his bedroom. Gregor injures himself when he becomes stuck in the doorway, but the father shoves him through and slams the door.
The opening line of The Metamorphosis, which reports Gregor’s discovery that he has become a giant insect, sets the tone for the rest of the story. The line recounts the bizarre event of Gregor’s transformation in a sober, straightforward manner, and this contrast between an extraordinary situation and the ordinary terms used to describe it creates the sense that the narrator expects the world in the story to be absurd and chaotic, rather than rational and orderly. Gregor embodies this absurdist tone from the very beginning. When he first recognizes his transformation, he doesn’t appear significantly bothered by it, and treats it almost like any ordinary disturbance to his sleep, as if it were not entirely out of the ordinary. As the story progresses, he remains focused on largely ordinary concerns, such as losing his job, his physical comfort, and his family’s financial situation, thus maintaining the story’s absurdist overtone throughout.
In this section, we also begin to learn the details of Gregor’s human life, and we get the first glimpses into his feeling of alienation from those around him. As Gregor lies in bed, unable to get himself up, he begins thinking of his job as a traveling salesman, and we learn that he only continues at it because of his parents’ debt. In fact, he greatly dislikes the office manager, who has come to the house to check on him. Furthermore, the friendships he makes because of his work are only casual and never intimate, since he must always be traveling. The mother hints at Gregor’s lack of friends when she tries to explain to the office manager what a good employee Gregor is. She says Gregor never goes out in the evenings, but sits home reading a newspaper or checking the train timetables, suggesting that Gregor already lives predominantly in isolation. Now, Gregor is no longer even physically human. In his new form, he is unable to go to work, and his voice is so altered that he can’t even communicate with those around him. In addition, when he opens the door and the office manager and his family members see him, they are horrified, and together these details foreshadow that Gregor’s isolation from other people will only continue to grow.
The section also establishes the motif of money in the story, and hints at the major role money plays in the Samsa family. Gregor’s greatest concern after discovering his metamorphosis is that he will lose his job, which we quickly learn he only continues at so he can pay off his parents’ debt. (We also know that debt is substantial since he says it will take him five or six years to pay it off.) As the section continues, we receive indications that, of the members of the Samsa family, only Gregor works, and that the father stays at home. Though it remains unclear at this point why the family is in so much debt, it is evident that they are not wealthy and that their debts hamper them. Because he is responsible for paying these debts, Gregor feels trapped in his job. Finally, the office manager also brings up money when he tells Gregor that the chief suspects him of stealing from the company.