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'Metamorphosis' Review

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating
User Rating 4 Star Rating (1 Review)




W.W. Norton & Co.
In The Metamorphosis, Kafka warns that capitalism harbors inevitable changes that will result ultimately in loneliness and horror. He does so with a prophecy that women will replace men in the 20th century workforce, to their detriment.

Study Guide

  • 'Metamorphosis' Review
  • Quotes
In Part I of this novella, Gregor Samsa is a harried traveling salesman that runs back and forth, hawking fabric to support his parents and sister, Grete. He runs for his life, scrounging whatever he can find to eat, like an insect. Exhausted from this rat race, he oversleeps and awakens to find himself "changed into a monstrous vermin" that scurries to and fro. He is transformed, through workaholism, to embody the popular notion that a salesman is a scurrying bug.

Exhausting himself as a provider, Gregor becomes a non-entity. He is invalidated by the business that defines him as only a replaceable cog in a machine. While a hard exoskeleton traps insect-Gregor, he was imprisoned already by his job and parents' debts. He ran too hard to meet the demands of business, reducing himself to a serious condition in which he could work no more.

Capitalism harbors work-related obsessions and increasing rates of stress-related diseases. Some of these lead from dietary mistakes, such as hurrying to eat whatever is available. Food, eating, and starvation in Metamorphosis represent life, death, guilt, and withheld love. While the Samsas depended on Gregor as sole support, they trapped him into workaholism, through which he succumbed to an irreversible illness (his insect transformation). Grete takes over as provider and leaves food for Gregor, but in decreasing quantities and qualities, so work leads ultimately to Gregor’s death.
Hunger for Love: Metamorphosis

In Part II, Gregor's condition provokes his idle parents to work, frenetically sewing piecework, and becoming a bank messenger that must now run back and forth. Grete replaces Gregor as the running salesman of the family. The Samsas all scurry with the ambition that Gregor formerly displayed, but Gregor can now scurry only across the floor. They all scurry, but only Gregor looks like an insect. His family were parasites all along when he was working; and while he still feels and thinks as a human, the Samsas turn away in their newfound ambitions and become as emotionless toward him as insects.

Grete as a provider becomes disenchanted with Gregor's care, and begins kicking some food into him daily, finally telling a servant to take over. Gregor feels anger and then guilt about Grete's declining responsibility for him. He becomes depressed, eats less, and finally stops eating altogether in an attempt to stop "bothering" the family "for really, they were suffering enough as it was." Gregor also realizes as an insect that his hunger truly is for love rather than food: "He felt as if the way to the unknown nourishment he longed for was coming to light." Unfortunately, as Gregor loses his taste for food, his family loses their taste for him.
The revulsion he evokes leads to his mother's ill health and his father's violence. Mr. Samsa chases him with sticks, rolled up newspapers and even fruit "now pitching one apple after another." An apple lodges in Gregor's back forever in an act of abuse: instead of caring for family members, an abuser hurts them, often via withholding food, money, and love. In this case, Gregor is ironically injured with the very food that he cannot enjoy.

Becoming Invalid: Metamorphosis

In Part III of Metamorphosis, the Samsas take in three lodgers, because their own jobs together do not equal Gregor's previous income. The Samsas kowtow to the three men and eat in the kitchen, while the boarders dine in the place of honor in the parlor. Meanwhile Gregor, who once supported the entire household, hungers alone in his room.
One evening the lodgers complain loudly about Gregor's appearance and Grete screams that Gregor ("it") must go from the house, so he sadly returns to his room and dies. The next morning, the Samsas are relieved to find him dead, evict the lodgers, and go sightseeing. What is particularly even shallower is that Grete suddenly looks beautiful to her parents and ripe for marrying into a rich family. Thus, Gregor's invalidation by business and the family led to the validation of Grete, but not as a person. She is only a vehicle to link the Samsas to money. Horrifyingly, Gregor is dead and hard-working Grete is now only an object, while the parents continue as parasites.

Throughout Metamorphosis, industrialism is expressed in a precise technical writing style, using the themes of work, buying-power, and dehumanization through working too much. All this makes the story seem very factory-like as it warns us to find meaning aside from work, and to beware victimization, parasitic relationships, and abusers. However, these are exactly the issues we face today, and Kafka's prophecies are correct 100 years later.
User Reviews

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 4 out of 5
'The Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka, Member MayuramVSankaran

I have read a translation by Willa And Edwin Muir of the novella, 'The Metamorphosis', by Franz Kafka, recently. It is stranger than fiction that Gregor Samsa, a commercial traveler and the main character in the story, awoke one fine morning to find himself transformed into a 'gigantic insect'. Instead, it is easier to imagine, for instance, that he was stricken by a deadly disease, or became so mentally deranged that he could not function normally! A modern man's life, in an industrialized, commercialized, urbanized setting, is so full of tensions and worry, that it is easier to imagine the main protagonist becoming a victim of, say, a deadly communicable disease, or becoming mentally deranged, by reason of a disease of the mind. And the ordinary family situation of a young man in such a setting is that there are very old parents and a very young sibling, who are all dependent on him and who who need his care and support for their well-being. If such a young man were to turn into an insect, as the story goes, that merely scurries about inside the bedroom, just as he used to do earlier as a traveling salesman, and is now dependent upon the same old parents and the young sibling for sustenance, then things are surely going to take a turn for the worse as the days pass by and they have to find other means of livelihood in order to do without his support. In the end, with the onset of poverty, they are going to go without servants, and even take in lodgers into their small modest apartment, again in order to augment their present meager resources, as the story slowly unwinds. Ultimately, they are going to be so vexed with their new impoverished situation that they will eventually wish him dead and that is what happens in the story. With day by day increasing preoccupation with their own daily routines and eventual neglect and indifference, nay, even aversion to his presence about the house, expressed one day in no uncertain terms by the new lodgers, who happen to behold him, the protagonist is going to wish that he were dead and die one fine morning, as the story concludes. The irony of the situation is that the young sibling, a sister, who has by now matured and began to take on family responsibilities, in the place of the brother, becomes the focus of attention of the aged parents, who will slowly come to depend on her. It may be that there is a deep-rooted malady now in these days of crass commercialism and exploitation of the weak that once a person becomes infirm physically or mentally that he can no longer be useful to himself or the people around him and instead, becomes a burden to those very people around him, they forget all the good deeds that he had once done and only wish that he were dead. In fact, taking a cue from them, he himself begins to feel that the world will be a better place, if he were dead! Such is the attitude of the people in the present-day monetarily-oriented world, that a larger purpose to life is not seen. And a large heart to support the weak and the infirm among us is non-existent. The world that we live in is a cruel, callous, and wicked place indeed! The sooner we all realize the same by reading and reflecting upon stores like this one, the better it will be for us. More so, if we do become sensitive and aware of the kind of beings that we have become under the circumstances and make a conscious effort indeed to change our attitudes and so change our basic approach to life, it will be better for us! Human lives can become more meaningful and worth living thereby!

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