Ripples of Metamorphoses Butterflies are not the only creatures that are subject to experience metamorphosis. All beings, including humans, experience certain changes throughout their lives. Interconnectedness between individuals reveals even a single change cannot go undetected. Metamorphosis is an important motif in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, which symbolizes not only Gregor’s transformation, but also the change in the Samsa family as a whole, as well as Grete in particular. Gregor’s metamorphosis is the main symbol of metamorphosis in the story.
His transfiguration into a bug changes him not only physically, but also mentally. At first, he is hopeful his physical state is only a momentary medical condition. The concern Gregor’s family initially portray supports Gregor’s belief that he is only temporarily a bug. Kafka describes Gregor’s confidence, “The positive certainty with which these first measures had been taken comforted him. He felt himself drawn once more into the human circle and hoped for great and remarkable results…”(Kafka 155).
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At this point Gregor is still hopeful and optimistic. He asserts to the chief clerk, “I have to provide for my parents and my sister. I’m in great difficulties, but I’ll get out of them again” (156). Although Gregor is in no condition to work he exclaims, “But what’s the use of lying idle in bed” (149). By supporting his family financially, Gregor is essential to the Samsas and feels needed. Without the ability to provide for his family, Gregor is no longer a valuable asset to the Samsas. As time progresses, Gregor’s optimism and high spirits dwindle.
He loses interest in things that once brought him joy, staring out of the window in “some recollection of the sense of freedom that looking out of a window always used to give him” (166). Formerly having a strong appetite, Gregor begins to lose “any interest he had ever taken in food, so that for mere recreation he had formed the habit of crawling crisscross over the walls and ceiling” (168). Grete notices how Gregor likes to crawl on the walls and has the idea that Gregor would appreciate a more spacious room.
She decides to clear everything our of Gregor’s room to allow him more crawling space. Gregor is happy about the idea at first until he realizes his possessions are the last indicators of his humanity: Gregor realized that the lack of all direct human speech for the past two months together with the monotony of family life must have confused his mind, otherwise he could not account for the fact that he had quite earnestly looked forward to having his room emptied of furnishing.
Did he really want his warm room, so comfortably fitted with old family furniture, to be turned into a naked den in which he would certainly be able to crawl unhampered in all directions but at the price of shedding simultaneously all recollection of his human background (170)? Gregor realizes the extent to which his transformation has altered his mentality, and wants to resist any further change. Grete, however, disregards this insight and Gregor’s belongings are cleared out.
Gregor observes as pieces of his furniture are carried out one by one, stripping the room of all of Gregor’s human possessions. He decides if anything is to stay, it must be his beloved picture. “He clung to his picture and would not give it up. He would rather fly in Grete’s face” (172). This is the first instance Gregor displays thoughts of aggressive behavior, contrasting his submissive nature at the beginning of his transformation. Gregor’s change in emotion illustrates Kafka’s notion that people’s experiences cause their attitudes to change.
Metamorphosis is a symbol of change. Gregor’s condition now leaves him feeling restless; he “hardly slept at all by night or by day” (177). He feels alienated, expressing how he feels not “in the mood to bother about his family, he was only filled with rage at the way they were neglecting him” (177). As Gregor’s room gets dirtier from lack of attention, he loses the need to convey his complaints. “At first Gregor used to station himself in some particularly filthy corner when his sister arrived, in order to reproach her with it, so to speak…” (178).
Gregor does not have the same concern for his hygiene. “His indifference to everything was much too great for him to turn on his back and scrape himself clean on the carpet, as once he had done several times a day” (181). Gregor is now depressed, “eating hardly anything” (179). He does not feel the same concern about himself or his family. “He felt hardly any surprise at his growing lack of consideration for the others; there had been a time when he prided himself on being considerate” (181).
Gregor then reaches the lowest point of his metamorphosis. The lodgers living in his house become aware of his presence and claim they will not pay the Samsa’s any rent. The family decides they must get rid of Gregor, and he concedes leaving would be the best choice for everyone. “He thought of his family with tenderness and love. The decision that he must disappear was one that he held to even more strongly than his sister, if that were possible” (186). That night, he dies in “a state of vacant and peaceful meditation” (186).
This is the end of Gregor’s metamorphosis, and he is at last at peace. While Gregor underwent his individual metamorphosis, the Samsa family underwent a metamorphosis of their own. They were forced to deal with an essential loss of a family member, who they relied on financially. The Samsa family shows the most concern for Gregor during the initial days following his transformation. “In the first few days especially there was no conversation that did not refer to him somehow, even if only indirectly.
For two whole days there were family consultations at every mealtime about what should be done; but also between meals the same subject was discussed…” (164). They are still hopeful for Gregor, and appear to think his transformation is only temporary. Gregor’s mother urges Gregor’s room not to be altered, for she thinks “it would be best to keep his room exactly as it has always been, so that when he comes back to us he will find everything unchanged and be able all the more easily to forget what has happened in between” (169).
Grete assumes caretaker for Gregor, feeding and cleaning his room, but as time passes her persistence diminishes: His sister no longer took thought to bring him what might especially please him, but in the morning and at noon before she went to business hurriedly pushed into his room with her foot any food that was available, and in the evening cleared it out again with one sweep of the broom, heedless of whether it had been merely tasted, or-as most frequently happened-left untouched. The cleaning of his room, which she now did always in the evenings, could not have been more hastily done.
Streaks of dirt stretched along the walls, here and there lay balls of dust and filth (177). The family even uses Gregor’s room as a storage area. Items “found their way into Gregor’s room. The ash can likewise and the kitchen garbage can. Anything that was not needed for the moment was simply flung into Gregor’s room…” (179). The family is less and less attentive to Gregor. Gregor’s father, mother, and sister each are forced to get jobs to pay for their flat “which was much too big for their present circumstances” (176). For five years Gregor’s family relied on him for financial support.
As Gregor lies in bed unable to move he wonders why Grete is crying, “…because he was in danger of losing his job, and because the chief would begin dunning his parents for the old debts? ” (152). The family is in debt but Gregor is the only person working. “Gregor had earned so much money that he was able to meet the expenses of the whole household and did so. They had simply gotten used to it” (165). However, he is working only to support his family and thinks to himself if it weren’t for his parents, “I’d have quit ages ago” (147).
Gregor was unhappy with his job, but he sacrificed his happiness for the sake of supporting his family. To afford their large and expensive flat, each of the Samsas acquire a job. The family has to cope with Gregor’s transformation indirectly, marking their own metamorphoses’ into a functioning household. Grete, in particular picks up a lot of slack. She not only cares for Gregor, but “had taken a job as a salesgirl, was learning shorthand and French in the evenings on the chance of bettering herself” (175).
Her job surely detracts from her care for Gregor, which attributes to his depressed state before dying. Grete was only seventeen at the time of Gregor’s initial metamorphosis. He admits his sister “was only a child despite the efforts she was making and had perhaps taken on so difficult a task merely out of childish thoughtlessness” (168). However, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa appreciate Grete’s initiative, “whereas formerly they had frequently scolded her for being as they thought a somewhat useless daughter” (168).
As Grete gets busier with her job, her life revolves less and less around Gregor. She does not bring him food and rather starves him. An incident with the Samsa’s lodgers causes Grete to realize how Gregor is hurting their family. She exclaims to her parents, “it will be the death of both of you, I can see that coming. When one has to work as hard as we do, all of us, one can’t stand this continual torment at home on top of it. At least I can’t stand it any longer” (184). Grete finally realizes what her parents knew all along; Gregor was not fit to be a part of the family any more.
On the day of Gregor’s death Mr. and Mrs. Samsa notice Grete’s maturity. She had an “increasing vivacity, that in spite of all the sorrow of recent times, which had made her cheeks pale, she had bloomed into a pretty girl with a good figure… it would soon be time to find a good husband for her” (189). Having to cope with Gregor’s metamorphosis initiated a metamorphosis in Grete. Gregor’s metamorphosis affects all the main characters in the story. Franz Kafka uses metamorphosis as a symbol of the changes people experience throughout their lives.
What affects one person can inevitably affect those around them. In this case Gregor’s change forced his family to become financially independent, and caused his sister to mature into a woman. Gregor’s metamorphosis instigated an interconnection of events that caused those around him to have to adapt to his change. Like ripples in a lake, metamorphosis has the power to touch even the waters of the farthest shore. Works Cited Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Kennedy and Gioia. 146-89. Print.