The Metamorphosis is a novel by Franz Kafka, published in 1915. It tells the story of Gregory Samsa’s transformation into a monstrous insect, and the family drama that ensues.
Its original German title is Die Verwandlung, which could be translated as ‘the transformation’. However, in Spanish it has been chosen to designate it as ‘metamorphosis’, a word that has a mythical component associated with it.
In this story we have seen an allegory of man’s confrontation with a modern world that oppresses and erases him.
For its part, Gregorio’s transformation is a fantastic event that inaugurates the literature of the absurd, and in the following decades will influence numerous established writers.
Summary of the work
The Metamorphosis is a story divided into three parts, which narrates the transformation of Gregorio Samsa, a traveling salesman of cloth trade, in a monstrous insect, and the impact that this event will have not only in his life, but in the life of his family.
The story begins with the awakening of Gregorio Samsa, who is in charge of financially supporting his entire family. The protagonist wakes up with the feeling of having had an uneasy dream. Little by little, he discovers his transformation into an insect: his innumerable legs, his bulging abdomen, the shell that replaces his back, his new strong jaws.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Gregorio’s first concern is to justify his condition at work. A manager of the warehouse where Gregorio works decides to pick him up at home because of his unusual delay. The protagonist makes a great effort to open the door and, then, his family notices his new form: that of a huge beetle.
At first, the protagonist’s relatives do not know how to cope with the new situation. His father gets angry and despises him. However, his sister Grete, who is very fond of Gregory, takes pity on him and takes it upon herself to feed and care for him.
After cleaning his room for a while, his sister begins to disown him. On another occasion, his mother faints at the sight of him. Then, his father blames the beetle for what happened and throws apples at him to mow him down.
The family economy is threatened due to Gregorio’s condition. Then, its members have to make some adjustments: cut household expenses, reduce the maid’s working hours and rent one of the rooms to new tenants.
The situation with the tenants generates conflicts in the household, as they are very demanding about cleanliness and the family will try to keep Gregorio a secret.
One night, Grete plays the violin for the guests and Gregorio, who loves her music, decides to go to the living room. Soon, the insect is discovered by the tenants, who end up leaving the house without paying for their stay.
After this event, the family understands that Gregorio’s situation is untenable. The protagonist also thinks so, so he decides to lock himself up in his room without feeding. Days later, the maid finds him dead.
In order to understand Kafka’s story, it is important to pay attention to its historical context. The reading of the work assumes different interpretations. Issues such as identity and loneliness, among others, can be guessed in its content. Likewise, some details present a certain similarity with the author’s life.
The work was published in 1915, at the beginning of the First World War (1914-1918), and very close to the Russian Revolution. This was an era marked by social, political and economic conflicts in which modern man faces different changes. Likewise, dilemmas related to individualism in an increasingly dehumanized modern world arise.
The protagonist becomes an insect and at the same time, in this process of transformation, his identity is gradually blurred. That is, he changes as his physical singularities change. His insect condition prevents him from financially supporting his family, who rejects him. Thus, Gregory loses importance at the moment he discovers himself as a “useless” piece of work, a burden for his parents and his sister.
Relationships and selfishness
How important are we to the people around us? There is a phrase that states that we must “be there for the good and for the bad”. Franz Kafka asks what importance the protagonist has in his family environment when he cannot respond to his “obligations” at work.
Gregory, as a breadwinner and hard worker, is loved and respected by them. However, when “misfortune” befalls him, he is disowned, first by his father and then by his mother and sister. At that moment the protagonist is reduced to oblivion and his relatives show their selfish attitude, since they only see him as a “breadwinner”.
The story shows the submission of the individual to an authoritarian power that disintegrates him. In this sense, superiority is embodied in the protagonist’s boss, who dares to humiliate him and criticizes his way of working. Likewise, Mr. Samsa also exercises authority over his family and, especially, over his son.
Guilt and frustration
Gregory’s sense of responsibility towards his family makes him feel guilty at the moment of his transformation.
From his metamorphosis and, consequently, the loss of his job, the feeling of frustration appears in the protagonist. Gregorio feels that he has become a burden for his parents and his sister when economic difficulties appear.
As the story progresses, he concludes that he is better off dead than alive and abandons himself. In other words, guilt and frustration drive him to his end.
Loneliness and isolation
The protagonist’s life is reduced to the fact of working, not worrying about himself, but about others.
On the other hand, Gregorio lives surrounded by people but, nevertheless, he is completely alone. He has no friends, no relationships, no good workmates either.
The protagonist is aware of this loneliness when he undergoes the transformation, a moment in which, due to the rejection of those closest to him, he decides to isolate himself and considers death as the only possible solution.
Parallels with Kafka
In this story we wanted to see biographical parallels with Kafka, especially in relation to his conflictive relationship with his father.
Such similarities can be found in Letter to the Father (1919), a writing in which Kafka addresses his father and highlights the abusive and tyrannical behavior of his father towards him. This fact can also be reflected in the threat that Mr. Samsa poses to his son in this narrative.
You may also be interested in: 25 short novels that must be read.
Characters of the metamorphosis
He is a young traveling salesman who works to financially support his family and pay the debts of his father, whose business went bankrupt. One day, Gregory dawns transformed into a huge insect, presumably a beetle. Soon, the protagonist is despised and rejected by his family, so he decides to live isolated in his room.
She is Gregorio’s younger sister and the person for whom he feels the most affection. The young woman takes care of her brother when he turns into a beetle. She feeds him and moves the furniture in the room to make it easier for him to move.
Grete plays the violin and Gregorio regrets not having passed on his wish for her to study at the conservatory.
When her brother transforms into an insect, she is forced to work. Finally, the girl despises him and pretends to let him die.
He is Gregorio’s father. He has outstanding debts from the bankruptcy of his business, which his son has to pay with his work as a traveling salesman. He has a tense relationship with Gregorio, whom he attacks and despises.
Because of his age, Mr. Samsa is unable to work. However, when his son becomes an insect, he has to find a job to support his family.
She is Gregorio’s mother. She suffers from asthma, which prevents her from making great efforts and working. As a result of Gregorio’s transformation, she is forced to work sewing and mending clothes. Although she loves her son, she is terrified by his insect-like appearance and faints every time she sees him.
He is Gregorio’s boss. He is arrogant and strict. When he becomes aware of Gregorio’s absence, he decides to go to his house to brand him as irresponsible. Seeing the transformation of his employee into an insect, he is frightened and flees from the Samsa family home.
They are three women who collaborate in the household chores of the family. One of them keeps an eye on Gregorio’s condition. However, another one decides not to leave the kitchen so as not to meet the insect.
Three guests stay in the family home when Gregorio stops bringing money home. The owners then decide to rent a room to improve their financial situation. In the end, the tenants leave the house frightened by the insect.
About the author: Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka was an author of Jewish origin, born in Prague in 1883, who wrote in German.
His particular literary work was characterized by the absurdity of the situations posed, the labyrinthine power structures, and by its suffocating atmospheres, all of which have given rise to the term Kafkaesque, which refers precisely to authors whose works have been influenced by Kafka and who present the aforementioned characteristics.
The Metamorphosis, published in 1915, is his most celebrated work. He is also the author of other important but unfinished novels, such as The Trial, America and The Castle.
In 1924 Kafka died in Austria due to an illness.