More Than One Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, is the story of a commercial traveler, Gregor Samsa who one morning awakes and finds he has converted into a gigantic insect. It is no dream but, simply and plainly, a real metamorphosis with no rhetoric in between. Facing this incredible fact, Kafka does not provide any realistic concessions and keeps the new condition of the character to the end. Surprisingly, Gregor’s bizarre new state is not the central transformation in the novel. In fact, it is Gregor who remains largely unchanged. He struggles to maintain his daily routine during most of the story, until his body finally forces him to surrender and accept that he is no longer fully human. Furthermore, even when confronted with proof of his family’s scorn and rejection, Gregor refuses to see them as anything but justified in their disappointment and anger towards him. Kafka uses Gregor’s surreal change as a catalyst for an almost more shocking metamorphosis: that of Gregor’s family, as they move from helplessness and sympathetic fear to emancipation and hostile rejection.
The initial depiction of Gregor’s family is of helplessness and the fact that Gregor’s main concern is to support his parents and send his sister to the Conservatory to have a better life. We learn that Gregor follows the call of duty towards his family even though he hates his job; he has been supporting his family for years that their apartment, their everyday sustenance, and their few luxuries (Grete’s fancy dresses, violin lessons, and the maid) come from Gregor’s hard work. Therefore after Gregor loses his job, he gets his distress at the prospect that he must “stay in bed being useless” (79). He is always active and useful for his family, he likes to make a better life for them and make them happy, but now he has to stay at bed and does nothing which makes him feel useless and wasteful. However, a family meeting that Gregor overhears reveals that his parents have been hoarding money, and that they have decided to keep living off their son’s earnings for as long as they can. Rather than being angry, Gregor is actually relieved that his family has saved money. He feels he has to show “every possible consideration,” and “help them bear the inconvenience which he simply had to cause them in his present condition” (84). This is ironic because his family is just thinking how they can live on without their son and they don’t even care about him, but Gregor still thinks how he can help them to get out of this situation. His parents, Gregor thinks, “were suffering enough as it was” (85). All along, he believes he will be able to work again, that this is a temporary illness, and that life will eventually return to normal. But as story keeps going on he loses this hope by experiencing the reactions of his family to his metamorphosis.
All the member of Gregor’s family experience a transformation as Gregor does, except Gregor’s mother who has changed a little throughout the whole book; she is the only one in family who believes in Gregor’s return and supports him in any case. Gregor’s mother has much difficulty dealing with Gregor’s condition. In between her fainting spells, Mrs. Samsa shows love and concern for her son. Earlier in the story we get familiar with Gregory’s mother true feelings about her son: “Let me in to Gregor, he is my own unhappy boy! Can’t you see that I have to go to him?” (87). She can’t stay quiet and leave her son alone in this situation; she wants to help him to go back to his life. Throughout most of the story, Mrs. Samsa does not give up hope for her son’s return. Mrs. Samba even disagrees to remove anything from Gregor’s room saying: “… by moving the furniture we meant to show him we had given up all hope of his getting better” (89). She thinks by removing Gregory’s furniture, they are making Gregor believe that there is no hope for him to return to normal and continue the life he had; she prefers to leave the room as it is. But this never happens and they remove everything from his room because Grete convinces her that by removing the furniture Gregor would have more space to freely move. Therefore Mrs. Samba agrees with her daughter because she wants to make a better place for her son; she still thinks about her son and his comforts. Even when Gregor’s father attacks Gregor by apples, Gregor’s mom buffers herself for protecting her son, she also begs her husband “to spare Gregor’s life” (95), and doesn’t kill him.
One of the examples of metamorphosis in the family is Gregor’s father who changes from being a lazy and incapable to a power-hungry and exhausted tyrant. During the countless hours in his room, Gregor recalls the days before his metamorphosis, “Now his father was indeed still healthy, but he was an old man who had not worked for the past five years …, he had put on a lot of fat and as a result had become distinctly slow in his movements” (85). Kafka portrays Gregor’s father as a lazy and weak person. After Gregory’s transformation, there are many incidents where Gregory’s father is described as being more aggressive and intimidating. One of the best examples of how the father changes to an aggressiveness person is in his description of him. “Above the high stiff collar of the jacket his heavy chin protruded; under his bushy eyebrows his black eyes darted bright, piercing glances; his usually rumpled hair was combed flat, with a scrupulously exact, gleaming part …, his hands in his pant pockets, went for Gregor with a sullen look on his face” (93). He really changes from an old weak and ruffled guy to a middle aged strong and tidy man. He also can be seen as a hunter in the house; whenever he sees Gregor he is watching him carefully and is ready to attack him.
The other character that changes the most is Grete, who transfers from being a little girl to a mature woman. In the beginning of the book, she was still very much a child. For example during the first scene when the manager is at the house, Grete was not handling the commotion well. “In the room on the left an embarrassed silence fell; in the room on the right his sister began to sob. Why didn’t his sister go round to join the others? Probably she had only just got out of bed and not even started to get dressed yet.” (71). She is really acting as a little girl who scared or worried about one of the family member, cries and stays in her room. She is not able to handle the pressure. “And was his sister now supposed to work, who for all her seventeen years was still a child and whom it would be such a pity to deprive of the life she had led until now, which consisted of wearing pretty clothes, sleeping late, helping in the house, indulging a few modest amusements, and above all playing the violin?” (85), Gregor sees his sister as a young teenager who should just be relax and not worry about finding a job. But when Gregor can not provide anything for family, Grete looks for a job and by getting the job she slowly starts to change her behavior toward her brother. She starts to don’t cleaning his room or giving the food that is left over, she step by step cares less about Gregor. Gete, who never has any responsibilities in society, should face the responsibility for the first time in her life. Although she starts to neglect Gregor, she becomes an independent person. She gets to the point where she says: “things can’t go on like this. Maybe you don’t realize it, but I do. I won’t pronounce the name of my brother in front of my brother, and so all I say is: we have to try to get rid of it” (105). She has been exhausted from her brother, and can not handle the Gregor’s metamorphosis. She has lost a great opportunity for finding a job when Gregor hears the violin and comes out of his room while they have special guests. She is loosing her life because of this bug; she gets to the point how this bug can be her sympathetic brother who helped her to be a successful woman.
Gregor’s love and devotion towards his family remain unchanged throughout the story, the only constant left in his rapidly deteriorating life. As his physical needs and abilities shift from human to animal, it is his family who forces him to adapt to his new identity: they remove the furniture from his room, begin feeding him leftovers, and gradually help strip away everything that had identified him as a human being. It is no surprise, then, that they’re able to exclude Gregor from their lives, and ultimately cause his death. After the death of Gregor, the family’s feelings change from despair to hope and happiness. By the end of the story, Gregor’s parents regain a youthful vigor as they begin to work, take trips to the countryside, and eventually sell the apartment they had shared with Gregor. Therefore, Gregor’s “disappearance” forces his parents and sister out of their own parasitic existence, leading them to a much deeper transformation at the end. Gregor’s death brings about a positive change in the way they now see Grete, as compared with the way they perceived her when Gregor was alive. Now to them Grete “had recently blossomed into a pretty and shapely girl … the time was also ripe to find her a good husband.” (110). She looks like a blossom that one day will turn to a juicy fruit, which her parents can eat it and depend their life to this new wonderful origin. Her parents are also thinking to find a husband for her and they are planning a head for their daughter’s future and make decisions for her, as they did plan and make decision for Gregor. Now when Grete transforms
from being a consumer to a producer, and she will take Gregor’s place in family, her parents will do the same things that they did to Gregor. Who knows, probably one day she will be the victim of her family’s desires, as Gregor was.