is a short absurdist novel seasoned with dark humor. The main character—a
textile salesman—awakens one morning to discover that he has changed into
a giant bug resembling a beetle or cockroach. One of his chief concerns
after making this discovery is that he will be late for work at an office
run by unforgiving overseers.
wrote the work in German in 1912 with the title Die Verwandlung.
Kurt Wolff published it in 1915 in Leipzig, Germany.
action takes place in the early years of the twentieth century in an apartment
in which a textile salesman lives with his father, mother, and sister.
The narrator does not say in what city or country the action takes place.
But Kafka probably had in mind the city of of his birth, Prague, in the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, Prague is in the Czech Republic.
Gregor Samsa: Textile
salesman who inexplicably changes into a giant bug.
Mr., Mrs. Samsa:
Gregor's father and mother.
Grete Samsa: Gregor's
Three Bearded Gentlemen:
Renters of a room in the Samsa apartment.
Chief Clerk: Employee
of the company for which Gregor works.
narrator tells the story in third-person point of view from Gregor's perspective,
revealing his thoughts and feelings.
Summary Based on a Translation
by David Wyllie
awakening one morning, Gregor Samsa discovers that he has changed into
a giant bug. His back is thick and hard. His belly is a layer of stiff,
arch-like sections. He has many spindly legs. Everything else around him
is the same as it was when he went to bed: the room, the picture on the
wall, the textile samples on the table that he carries with him as a traveling
always rides the five o'clock train to work. But when he notices that the
clock says nearly quarter to seven, he realizes that he must have slept
through the alarm and that he has no chance of getting to work on time.
He goes into a panic. The office assistant, who tattles to the boss about
everything, no doubt has already reported Gregor late. Gregor could call
in sick, but the boss would be suspicious. After all, Gregor has not been
sick in fifteen years.
the clock strikes quarter to seven, his mother knocks gently at the door,
which is locked, to remind him of the time.
you want to go somewhere?" she says.
he calls out that he is getting up, his voice is squeaky. Moments later,
his father and sister ask him whether anything is wrong. He assures them
that “I'm ready now."
attributes the squeakiness in his voice to a cold. Yes, he must have caught
a cold. Getting out of bed proves enormously difficult. He does not yet
know how to work his legs properly. He tries rolling but fails to make
progress. The clock strikes seven.
swings his body this way and that and begins rocking. At ten after seven,
he hears the doorbell ring—someone from work, he thinks. After the maid
answers the door, he hears the visitor speak. It is the chief clerk. Why,
he wondered, did he have to work for a company that checked so closely
on its employees? Suddenly, with all his force, he rolls out of bed and
falls to the floor on his back. There is a thump. His sister and father
both call to him, informing him of the presence of the chief clerk. His
father and mother make excuses, saying Gregor is ill. His father makes
it a point to tell the chief clerk that his son is entirely devoted to
his work. That is all he thinks about.
says he will come to the door in a moment. However, when he doesn't appear,
the chief clerk accuses him of failing to carry out his business responsibilities.
Then he insinuates that the reason for his failure to appear at work has
to do with money that the employer entrusted to Gregor. Finally, he says
Gregor's job could be in jeopardy because his sales have not measured up
to expectations. Gregor responds, saying he has had an attack of dizziness
but is all right now and will catch the eight o'clock train to work. He
tells the chief clerk not to wait for him.
manages to rise, then falls back into a chair. He really wants to open
the door; he wants to see the reaction of everyone to his appearance. It
would give him an excuse for not going to work.
everyone outside is shocked at the sound of his voice. His mother and his
sister, Grete, think he is very ill. The chief clerk says, “That was the
voice of an animal." The mother tells Grete to get a doctor. The father
shouts for someone to get a locksmith. Gregor feels a little better now
that the others know something is wrong and want to help.
enormous effort, Gregor rises, holds onto the door, and turns its key with
his jaws (he has no teeth), unlocking the door. The chief clerk shouts
“Oh!" at the sight of him, his mother faints, and his father takes a hostile
stance at first but then covers his eyes with his hands and cries. Gregor
does not leave the room but simply looks out. He sees the cleaned breakfast
dishes, the wall photograph of himself as an army lieutenant, and the open
doors of the entrance hall and the apartment. Gregor says,
"I'll get dressed straight
away now, pack up my samples and set off. Will you please just let
the chief clerk, he says, "You can see that I'm not stubborn and I like
to do my job; being a commercial traveller is arduous but without travelling
I couldn't earn my living."
chief clerk—intimidated by the ghastly creature before him—slowly withdraws,
then makes a dash for the door to the apartment. Gregor now realizes that
his job is in jeopardy and must do something to save it. So he pushes himself
out the door, but falls. However, when he gets up, he has a better feel
for his body. His tiny legs begin to carry him where he wants to go. By
this time, his mother has recovered. When she sees Gregor, she backs all
the way up to the kitchen table and sits down on it. Coffee spills onto
the carpet. Gregor's jaws begin snapping at the coffee uncontrollably.
His mother screams and runs to the arms of her husband.
runs toward the chief clerk, who is holding onto the bannister outside.
Seeing him coming, the chief clerk hurries down the stairs, taking several
steps at a time, and goes out the door. Meanwhile, Gregor's father seizes
the walking stick that the chief clerk left behind and threatens Gregor
with it, forcing him back toward his room. When Gregor gets stuck in the
doorway, his father pushes him inside. The side of Gregor's body scrapes
the door frame, causing him to bleed.
the evening, his sister brings him milk with bits of bread in it. But he
finds the taste of it repulsive. Grete then experiments, bringing him different
kinds of food in order to discover what he likes. No one attempts to communicate
with Gregor; everyone apparently believes that in his present state he
cannot understand human speech. While listening to his family members talking,
Gregor learns that his father had saved some money before his business
failed five years before. At that time, Gregor began supporting the family.
Gregor also learns that the family had put away some of his earnings.
Grete enters his room, Gregor covers his body so she won't have to look
the first two weeks of his confinement, his parents do not enter his room.
They rely on Grete to report on his condition.
a time, Gregor discovers a pleasurable way to pass the time: climbing walls
and hanging from the ceiling. Grete wants to remove furniture to give Gregor
more room to roam. When she asks her mother to help her, the older woman
enters the room. Gregor is hiding under the couch. The mother and daughter
try to move the chest of drawers. After fifteen minutes, they make no progress.
His mother then says,
By taking the furniture
away, won't it seem like we're showing that we've given up all hope of
improvement and we're abandoning him to cope for himself? I think it'd
be best to leave the room exactly the way it was before so that when Gregor
comes back to us again he'll find everything unchanged and he'll be able
to forget the time in between all the easier.
mother's words make Gregor realize that he does, in fact, want to keep
the furniture where it is. It will remind him that he was a human until
recently. He does not want to forget that fact. But Grete insists on hauling
the furniture out and persuades her mother to have another go at the chest
of drawers. This time, they succeed in removing it. Next to go is the writing
desk. Gregor now emerges from hiding to save a picture on the wall. When
his mother catches sight of him and screams, she falls onto the couch in
a faint. Grete shakes her fist at Gregor, then goes out for smelling salts
to revive her mother. Gregor follows to help, but there is nothing for
him to do. After she returns to the room, she closes the door, and refuses
entry to Gregor. .......Anxious,
he starts roaming the dining room, crawling over everything in his way.
Then he climbs the wall, crosses the ceiling, and falls onto the table.
His father arrives home wearing a uniform with gold buttons, “the sort
worn by the employees at the banking institute." Apparently, he had started
working again. Grete comes out and tells him, “Mother's fainted, but she's
all right now. Gregor got out." His father begins chasing Gregor, who is
running from him on the floor. Then he begins bombarding him with apples
from a bowl on the sideboard. Gregor's mother emerges and pleads with her
husband to spare Gregor. Before her husband ceases, an apple lodges in
Gregor's back. .......More
than a month later, while the apple remains lodged in Gregor's back, his
father, mother, and sister realize that he is still a family member and
begin treating him better. The injury from the apple and his cuts and scrapes
turn him into something of an invalid. Every evening, the family opens
the door of his room, enabling him to see everyone at the dinner table
and hear the conversation. But there is little conversation to hear. After
eating, his father falls asleep in a chair, his mother sews underwear for
a shop, and his sister studies French and shorthand to enable her to get
a better job than her present one as a saleswoman. .......Tired
from their jobs, Gregor's father, mother, and sister begin to ignore Gregor.
And, to make their small budget go further, they sell jewelry, fire the
maid, and hire a charwoman to come in the morning and evening to do the
heavy work. Gregor's mother does the rest of the chores. They would like
to move into a smaller apartment, but they say it would be too difficult
to move Gregor. Gregor believes this is not the real reason for staying
where they are. After all, it would be easy to move him “in any suitable
crate with air holes in it." The real reason is that they are simply in
despair over a misfortune unlike any other they had ever encountered. .......Gregor
has difficulty sleeping. And, when he does sleep, he dreams about things
he would rather forget: his boss, the chief clerk, salesmen, apprentices,
“that stupid tea boy." Sometimes he is torn between an urge to help his
family members and anger at them for not paying attention to him. He seldom
eats. Whenever Grete cleans his room, it is a hurry-up job that leaves
parts of the room dirty. .......Oddly,
Gregor does not frighten the charwoman. In fact, every morning and evening,
she opens his door to look in on him, addressing him as an “old dung beetle."
Gregor resents this appellation and one day moves toward her menacingly.
But she stands her ground, raising a chair over her head as if to crash
it down on him. Gregor backs down. .......The
family begins renting a room to three bearded gentlemen who bring their
own furniture and various equipment. Clutter builds up after the family
moves the old furniture out of the gentlemen's room. Piece by piece, it
ends up in Gregor's room. These gentlemen eat in the dining room; the family
dines in the kitchen. One evening, when Grete plays the violin for the
gentlemen, Gregor—covered with dust, hair, and bits of food—creeps into
the living room to listen. No one notices him. Gregor enjoys the music
immensely, proving perhaps that he is not an animal. He crawls forward,
hoping to persuade his sister to come to his room. .......One
of the three men notices him and points him out. The music stops. Gregor's
father blocks their view and attempts to herd them back to their room.
They ask for explanations and slowly move toward their room. The man who
first noticed Gregor then announces that he is moving out because of “the
repugnant conditions that prevail in this flat." He declares that he will
not pay any rent for the days he occupied the house and even says he is
considering suing. The other two renters also decide to move out without
paying rent. .......After
they return to their room, Grete says,
We can't carry on
like this. Maybe you can't see it, but I can. I don't want to call
this monster my brother, all I can say is we have to try and get rid of
it. We've done all that's humanly possible to look after it and be patient,
I don't think anyone could accuse us of doing anything wrong.
giant bug is not Gregor she says. If it were, he would have left the apartment
of his own accord. When Gregor begins to move, Grete—frightened—runs to
her father. But they all realize in a few moments that Gregor is simply
returning to his room. They observe him in silence. With great effort,
he reaches his room and enters it. His sister then closes and bolts the
discovers that he can no longer move at all. But the pain he feels from
the days past begins to subside. Even the decaying apple in his back causes
him less pain. That night, he does not sleep. At dawn, he can no longer
hold up his head—and no longer breathe. He dies. .......When
the charwoman comes in at her appointed time and sees Gregor motionless
on the floor, she thinks he is pretending to be a martyr. She attempts
to tickle him with her broom, then pokes at him. He does not respond. After
further investigation, she realizes what has happened and shouts, “Come
and 'ave a look at this, it's dead, just lying there, stone dead!" .......Grete
and her mother and father respond. When they see Gregor, Mr. Samsa thanks
God and makes the sign of the cross. Grete and her mother also make the
sign of the cross. .......When
the three renters emerge from their rooms asking for breakfast, the charwoman
points them to Gregor's room. They go in and observe the corpse. Mr. Samsa
then orders the men out of the house with a firm command: “Leave my home!"
They go. .......Grete
and her parents decide to take the day off and go out for a walk. After
all, they had been through a lot. While they are writing excuses for their
employers, the charwoman comes in and says, “That thing in there, you needn't
worry about how you're going to get rid of it. That's all been sorted out."
But the Samsas are not interested in hearing her report, and she leaves.
Mr. Samsa says, “Tonight she gets sacked." .......The
Samsas then take a tram into the country and consider their future. They
will move to another home. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, observing the fine specimen
of young womanhood that Grete has become, realize that it is time to find
a good man for her. .
climax occurs after the three men give notice and Greta says, "Father,
Mother, we can't carry on like this. Maybe you can't see it, but I can.
I don't want to call this monster my brother, all I can say is: we have
to try and get rid of it. We've done all that's humanly possible
to look after it and be patient, I don't think anyone could accuse us of
doing anything wrong." This outburst signals that the family has given
up on Gregor. In turn, he gives up on himself. By the next morning, he
tone of the novel is objective and serious. But the attentive reader will
notice that dark, subtle humor creeps into the narrative like a clown tiptoeing
into a funeral.
sometimes confers on a human being an absurd destiny that he is powerless
to escape. Kafka makes this point with a fantasy about a man who wakes
up one morning with the body of a gigantic bug. Preposterous? Of course.
But, as Kafka seems to suggest, many men and women do wake up without knowing
their purpose in life and without any sense of control over the course
of their life.
“condition" alienates him from his family and the rest of the world. So,
too—in many cases—do the particulars of a person in ordinary life: his
religion, his race, his social status, his personality, his stand on political
issues, his mental or physical condition, and so on. When one becomes different
from others, he often becomes isolated from them. Consider the plight of
the deformed, the mentally ill, the leprous.
The Plight of the Workingman
Gregor discovers that he has become a giant bug, one would expect him to
exhibit sheer fright at his condition and to devote all his energies to
finding a way to restore himself. Instead, he worries about being late
for work. When the chief clerk arrives at the Samsa apartment, Gregor—who
is locked in his room—wonders why he has to be
condemned to work
for a company where they immediately became highly suspicious at the slightest
shortcoming? Were all employees, every one of them, louts . . . ? Was it
really not enough to let one of the trainees make enquiries—assuming enquiries
were even necessary? Did the chief clerk have to come himself, and did
they have to show the whole, innocent family that this was so suspicious
that only the chief clerk could be trusted to have the wisdom to investigate
parents tell the chief clerk that their son is apparently unwell. But instead
of exhibiting sympathy, the clerk says (through the door), "I must say
that if we people in commerce ever
become slightly unwell then, fortunately or unfortunately as you like,
we simply have to overcome it because of business considerations." He also
tells Gregor that his job is not secure. Kafka here seems to be calling
attention to unjust treatment of the workingman.
Inherited Sin and Suffering
Adam and Eve fell, they passed to their progeny sin, suffering, and death.
Kafka may be alluding to this religious tenet when he mysteriously "inherits"
the body of an ugly creature (sin) and when his father (an Adam figure)
throws apples at Gregor. One of them lodges in his body and causes painful
festering and ulceration. Eventually, Gregor dies.
Generosity of Spirit
suffers indignities from the chief clerk and his family. Yet he returns
only goodwill. For example, he treats the chief clerk courteously even
though the clerk implies that Gregor has misused company money and hints
that Gregor's job may be in jeopardy. Moreover, Gregor remains faithful
to his family members and even feels guilty that he can no longer provide
for them. He does not complain. And he does not give up on his father,
mother, and sister until they give up on him.
Taking People for Granted
a job he did not like, Gregor supported himself, his parents, and his sister.
Not until he turns into vermin do his parents and Grete lift a hand to
support themselves. They had taken Gregor for granted. After a time, they
neglect Gregor. When he dies, they are relieved.
is ugly on the outside. But the other characters are just as ugly—in fact,
more ugly—on the inside. One can argue that they are the real vermin in
Metamorphosis is at times hilarious in its absurdity. But the humor
is subtle and disciplined, never calling attention to itself. In fact,
the story maintains a deadly serious tone throughout. The humor relies
in part on Gregor's unexpected reaction reaction to his situation. One
would expect him to go into a panic when he wakes up and finds out that
he is a giant bug. Instead, he calmly thinks about going back to sleep.
"How about if I
sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense", he thought, but
that was something he was unable to do because he was used to sleeping
on his right, and in his present state couldn't get into that position.
However hard he threw himself onto his right, he always rolled back to
where he was. He must have tried it a hundred times, shut his eyes so that
he wouldn't have to look at the floundering legs, and only stopped when
he began to feel a mild, dull pain there that he had never felt before.
after realizing that he had overslept, Gregor starts thinking about getting
to work as fast as possible to avoid problems with his boss.
What should he do
now? The next train went at seven; if he were to catch that he would have
to rush like mad and the collection of samples was still not packed, and
he did not at all feel particularly fresh and lively. And even if
he did catch the train he would not avoid his boss's anger as the office
assistant would have been there to see the five o'clock train go, he would
have put in his report about Gregor's not being there a long time ago.
At no time does Gregor seem
to be concerned about boarding a train—or showing up at work—as a gigantic
Is the Creature? .
the original German version of the novel, Kafka never tells readers what
kind of creature Gregor has become. Instead, he uses the generic term Ungeziefer,
which means vermin. Vermin include cockroaches, bedbugs,
centipedes, lice, ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, weevils, and even rats and
mice. The narrator's description indicates that Gregor has the body of
an insect with an antennae. The charwoman refers to him as a dung beetle,
which eats dung and breeds in it.
Kafka was well primed to write a novel about an isolated individual. His
father despised him, he never married, and he was a Jew at a time when
anti-Semitism was gaining sway again in Europe.
was born on July 3, 1883, in Prague (now part of the Czech Republic but
then part of Austria-Hungry). When he was an adolescent, he was a good
student, but he disliked the traditional, hidebound, authoritarian approach
to education at his school, the Altstädter Staatsgymnasium. Although
he later earned a law degree at the Charles University in Prague, he did
not practice law but instead worked in Prague for an insurance company
and then for an insurance institute. He found insurance work tedious. Nevertheless,
he did his job well, earning the respect of colleagues, and remained an
office worker until 1923, when he moved to Berlin to pursue writing. By
then, however, he was suffering from tuberculosis and died the following
his life, he was never close to his parents, Hermann Kafka and Julie Löwy
Kafka. His father, a successful merchant, was a tyrant who bullied Franz
psychologically. Although Kafka had relationships with several women, one
to whom he was engaged, he never married. At the end of his life, Kafka
was almost completely isolated—from his family, from a regular job and
the companionship of co-workers, from the wife that he never had, and from
anti-Semitic Germans whose language he wrote in. He tried desperately to
find God—whom he regarded as an "indestructible" reality—but felt that
God remained distant from him. He did have one close friend, however: Max
Brod, an essay writer, drama critic, and novelist who published Kafka's
works after he died even though Kafka had told him to destroy all of his
Franz Kafka's other works are
In the Penal Colony (1919), "A
Hunger Artist" (1922),
Trial (1925), The Castle (1926), and Amerika (1927).
He died on June 3, 1924, at Kierling, Austria. For a more detailed biography
of Franz Kafka,
Questions and Writing Topics
Do you believe Kafka intended
the story as a portrait of an insane man?
Does Gregor resemble the author
in any way?
Does any character in the novel
besides Gregor undergo a metamorphosis?
Kafka was a Jew. Write an essay
arguing that Kafka intended Gregor to represent Jews, whom many anti-Semites
regarded as vermin.
The author describes Gregor
as vermin. Write an essay arguing that other characters in the story are
the real vermin.
Write an essay that compares
and contrasts Gregor Samsa with Joseph K. in Kafka's