The Metamorphosis

by: Franz Kafka

Symbols

Main ideas Symbols

The Picture of the Woman in Furs

Mentioned right at the outset of the story, the picture of the woman in furs serves as a symbol of Gregor’s former humanity. Exactly why the picture, which shows a woman wearing a fur hat, a fur boa, and a thick fur muff that covers her arms, originally attracted Gregor is never made clear (though it could be that it embodied Gregor’s desires—the presumably attractive woman may be sexually alluring while the furs she wears could signal wealth to Gregor). But Gregor’s strong attachment to it does not derive from the content of the picture so much as from the fact that he put it on his wall when he was still human. He clings to it in panic when Grete and the mother are clearing out his room because, as he looks around the room in desperation, he sees it as one object from his former life that he can save. The content of the picture is irrelevant at that moment. It acts foremost as a reminder that a human lived there and chose that object to frame and display.

The Father’s Uniform

The uniform the father wears for his job symbolizes the father’s dignity, as well as Gregor’s shifting feelings of pity and respect for him. Throughout the story, we see the father primarily from Gregor’s point of view. We learn about the failure of the father’s business, for example, from Gregor’s thoughts as he overhears the father explaining the family’s financial situation, and through Gregor we gain a picture of the father as a shiftless and depressed man whom Gregor appears to feel sorry for but not necessarily respect. But when Gregor runs out of his room in Part 2 and sees the father for the first time in weeks, Gregor’s opinion of the father changes. This shift is most evident through Gregor’s description of the father’s uniform, which gives the father an air of dignity: Gregor notices the “smart blue uniform with gold buttons,” and thinks the father looks to be “in fine shape,” suggesting the father’s self-respect has been restored, and with it Gregor’s respect for him.

As the story continues, however, the father again declines—apparently from the pressure of living with Gregor—and in the evenings Gregor watches him sleep in his uniform, now dirty and covered with grease spots. As a result, the dignity the uniform conveyed to the father deteriorates, and Gregor again looks at him with pity. (Notably, there is also a picture in the house of Gregor in uniform. It is an army uniform, and in the picture Gregor smiles, “inviting one to respect his uniform and military bearing.”)

Food

Food represents the way the members of the Samsa family feel toward Gregor. Notably, it is Grete, the family member Gregor feels closest to, who feeds Gregor for most of the story. At the beginning of Part 2, she leaves milk and bread for him, showing sympathy and consideration for him after his transformation, particularly as milk was one of his favorite foods when he was human. When she sees he hasn’t drank the milk, she goes so far as to leave a tray of various foods out in order to discover what he now likes. Eventually, however, the work suggests that the family loses interest in feeding Gregor. One night, after the borders have moved in, the charwoman leaves his door open, and able to see everyone gathered, he watches as his mother feeds the borders. The scene causes Gregor to feel a great deal of resentment, and he thinks that he is starving while the borders stuff themselves, suggesting that as the members of the Samsa family have lost their sympathy for Gregor, they have stopped taking the same interest in feeding him. Significantly, the father inflicts the injury in Gregor’s back with an apple, and this wound appears to weaken Gregor and contribute to his death.