The Metamorphosis

by: Franz Kafka

Part 2

Analysis

The question of how much of Gregor’s humanity remains dominates the second section of the story. As the members of the Samsa family adapt to the new situation with Gregor, each one appears to develop a different perception of how much humanity remains in him. At the beginning of the section, for instance, Grete leaves milk for Gregor, apparently assuming that his preference for milk while he was human continues now that he’s a bug. The assumption suggests that Grete believes, at least initially, that some part of Gregor remains the same. But as she recognizes that Gregor’s tastes in food have changed and that he now likes to crawl about the walls of his room, Grete gradually begins to conceive of Gregor as an insect. In response, she suggests taking all Gregor’s possessions out of his room to eliminate obstacles to his crawling and to make the space more suitable to an insect. The mother, on the other hand, protests that Gregor will want his things when he returns to his former self, and earlier in the section she even refers to Gregor as her “unfortunate son,” implying she still believes Gregor to be fundamentally the same despite his appearance. The father gives no indication that he regards Gregor as the same, and attacks him as though he were a wild animal when he escapes his room.

This confusion regarding Gregor’s humanity extends to Gregor himself, and much of the section involves Gregor trying to reconcile his human emotions and history with the physical urges of his new body. Gregor’s lingering humanity is most evident through his thoughts and emotions. He continues to feel proud that he was able to help his family financially in the past, he feels shame at being unable to help them now, and he is determined to spare them any unnecessary suffering on his account. These details show that he still feels connected to his human past and still considers himself a part of the family. Physically, however, he feels more and more like an insect: his food preferences have completely changed, he feels terrified of his room and safe only under the sofa, and he takes great pleasure in scurrying up the walls and across the ceiling. This tension between Gregor’s mind and body culminates when Grete and the mother take the furniture out of his room. Initially, he feels he would prefer the room to be empty because that would make it more physically comfortable for him. But his ties to his possessions, which represent to him his past as a human, lead him to cling desperately to the photograph of the woman in furs.

Of all the characters, Grete has by far the most interaction with Gregor in Part 2, and over the course of the section their relationship changes dramatically. Though Grete initially wants to care for Gregor and takes on all the burdens of doing so, she cannot bear the sight of him. Notably, after noticing Gregor’s habit of moving the chair to look out the window Grete kindly starts placing the chair by the window for him, but when she inadvertently sees him standing on it later, she is overcome with horror. Gradually, Grete’s disgust appears to wear down her sympathy for Gregor, and while she continues to care for him, she does so evidently more from a sense of duty than love. In fact, she appears to regard caring for Gregor as her role—and thus part of her identity—in the family. She guards that role jealously against the mother, which suggests that Grete performs these duties more for her own sake than for Gregor’s. Gregor, meanwhile, begins to regard Grete’s presence in his room as an intrusion, and he prefers to be entirely alone. By the end of the section, Grete’s and Gregor’s affection for one another has faded completely. Grete appears to consider Gregor a chore and inconvenience, while Gregor feels as alienated from Grete as he does everyone else, making him even more isolated from others.

The reader learns a great deal more in this section about the family’s financial situation, providing a greater understanding of how money shapes the relationships in the Samsa family. Through Gregor’s reporting of the family’s conversations and his own recollections, we learn that the father’s business failed five years earlier and that subsequently the whole family fell into a state of despair. When Gregor first began supporting the family with his income, his parents were extremely grateful, but as they came to expect Gregor’s help, their gratitude diminished and Gregor began to feel alienated from them. These details clarify why the father in particular is so lethargic and unmotivated up to this point. It also explains why Gregor feels so distant from the mother and especially from the father, who is the only member of the Samsa family that Gregor never wishes to see. Moreover, because Gregor cannot work, he acts as an additional burden to the family, possibly contributing to their diminishing sympathy for him.