The Metamorphosis Summary

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka's

Franz Kafka's 1915 novella The Metamorphosis is arguably the best-known work of surrealism in the western literary canon. The story does not even have a prelude to normalcy. The novel introduces us to Gregor Samsa, who in the first part of the first sentence is doing a very normal thing: having a bad dream. However, by the second half of that first sentence he becomes an unspecified insect. What is perhaps even more bizarre than the fact that Gregor has become an insect is the fact that he does not react very strongly to his situation. Gregor gives his transformation only cursory thought before beginning to panic over what ought to be a minor problem: he's late for work.

As Gregor lies in bed, encumbered by his insect body he thinks about his job as traveling salesmen. He is disenchanted by the constant traveling, by the tyrannical behavior of his boss. He wants to quit, but realizes he can't until he has paid off an unknown debt his parents have incurred. Eventually, he looks over at his alarm clock and realizes he has missed his train and is extremely late for work. His mother knocks on his door, and her concern that he is not yet up is evident. Her worry, in turn, attracts the rest of his family, his sister Grete, and his father, who also plead for him to come out of his room. Shortly after his family notices that he is still home, the clerk from his office arrives, and stands at Gregor's door demanding to know why he is not at work.

Annoyed, Gregor attempts to give an explanation, but when he speaks his voice is high-pitched and abnormal. When they hear him, the office clerk, and his family all become extremely concerned for his wellbeing and talk about calling a locksmith and doctor to assist him. Gregor doesn't see what all the fuss is about, and continues his efforts to get out of bed and open the door to his bedroom. When he is finally able to manipulate the lock with his mouth, and open the door everyone in the apartment is utterly shocked that the man they know has become an insect. The clerk backs himself against a wall, his mother swoons, and his father wails. Unperturbed by their reaction, Gregor stands in the doorway and delivers an impassioned speech about why he is late for work, and tells the clerk that he was just feeling a bit ill, but he will be at the office as soon as possible. Finally, the clerk runs out the door, and Gregor's father takes up a cane and newspaper, and chases his son back in his room.

When Gregor wakes up he finds a bowl of one of his favorite meals: milk and bread on the floor of his bedroom. He attempts to eat it, but finds the flavor utterly unappealing. Gregor notices that his apartment is much quieter than normal, and he longs for some human interaction, but nobody comes. He worries about the affect his condition will have on his family, and decides that he needs to make the situation as easy as he possibly can for them. Eventually, he falls asleep under the sofa.

As Gregor becomes more comfortable with his condition his sister and primary caretaker does as well. She brings him a variety of food to see what he will eat, but Gregor sees the disgust on her face when she comes in the room, so he always hides himself away from her sight. The family evidently does not realize that even though Gregor is an insect, his cognitive and emotional self is still very much intact, so they do not interact with him beyond basic caretaking.

Soon after Gregor turns into a bug, the family begins experiencing financial hardships absent his income. His mother and sister begin selling their jewelry, and both his sister and father take jobs. The young housekeeper is fired and replaced by a more affordable elderly woman. Gregor learns about all of this from standing at his bedroom door and listening to their conversations. He is sad and embarrassed that he can no longer provide for his family.

When Grete notices that her brother seems to enjoy climbing the walls and ceiling of his room she determines to remove all of the furniture to give him more surface area. She enlists her mother to help her do the heavy lifting. Despite their good intentions, Gregor is upset that they are removing the last vestiges of his human life. He attempts to save his favorite print from being removed by climbing up the wall and standing over it. When Gregor's mother -- who hasn't seen him since he first turned into an insect -- enters the room she faints at the sight of him. Grete is angry that he scared their mother and screams at him, which drives him into the living room. When their father returns and finds Gregor in the living room, and his wife in obvious distress he believes that Gregor intentionally attacked her. Out raged, he chases Gregor around the apartment throwing apples at him. One piece of fruit hits him so hard that it becomes logged in his back. Upset, Gregor's mother begs him to stop assaulting her son, and he does. Heavily injured, Gregor returns to his room.

After his injury the family becomes more sympathetic to Gregor. They leave his door open at night so he can watch them. Soon, however, the financial strain on the family causes them to start neglecting him. Given his five years of effort to support them, Gregor is understandably dismayed by their abuse of him. By this time the family has a new maid, an old woman who sometimes talks to Gregor, which he doesn't particularly like. The family also takes in three boarders in an effort to improve their financial situation.

One night, as Grete is playing violin for the boarders, Gregor wanders down the hall and into the parlor as if in a trance. When the men see him they are disgusted, and they tell Gregor's father that they are going to move out in the morning. Grete is particularly upset, and blames the entire situation on Gregor. She insists that they need to somehow get rid of him, because he is just a bug, and not their brother and son, and is causing too many hardships. Reluctantly, everyone in the family agrees.

Gregor returns to his room, and feeling extreme guilt decides he must find some way to leave in the morning. By morning, he is gone, but not in the way the reader expects. Gregor dies in the night, and the housekeeper finds him in the morning. When she calls out that he is dead the whole family stand around his body. They seem relieved, rather than upset by his death, and quickly return to their normal lives.

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