The Metamorphosis | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Metamorphosis | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


Immediately following Gregor's transformation in The Metamorphosis, who acts more human—Gregor or his father?

Gregor, although a vermin, acts more human than bug-like, reasoning with the office manager to stay and not damage his reputation at work: "You're well aware that I'm seriously in debt to our employer as well as having to look after my parents and sister, so that I'm trapped in a difficult situation," Gregor says, explaining why the office manager needs to support him. Gregor even resorts to flattery, telling the manager he has a better command over the office than their boss—and arguing persuasively that "it's very easy for a businessman like him to make mistakes about his employees and judge them more harshly than he should." Mr. Samsa acts like an animal, stamping his feet and hissing. While Gregor attempts to calm his father with reason, his father cannot seem to think clearly: "it obviously did not occur to his father to open the other of the double doors so that Gregor would have enough space to get through." He appears to Gregor like a one-man stampede or an angry mob: "it sounded to Gregor as if there was now more than one father behind him." Whether from anger or fear, Mr. Samsa seems more savage than his son.

Why is Gregor's experience with the milk bowl in The Metamorphosis significant?

As a human, Gregor loved sweetened milk, yet as a vermin, he realizes he can no longer stand the taste. The bowl of milk and bread crumbs left by his sister, Grete, smells good to Gregor as he awakens from a long, deep sleep. But when he "dipped his head into the milk, nearly covering his eyes with it," he discovers "the milk did not taste at all nice" and leaves it in the middle of the room, unfinished. Gregor's distaste for sweetened milk indicates that his senses and inner desires are changing along with his outward physical appearance.

In what ways does Grete show compassion toward Gregor in The Metamorphosis?

Grete initially comes across as the most compassionate member of the Samsa family. She brings her brother his favorite meal—sweetened milk—and pays close enough attention to realize he no longer cares for it. As an experiment, she then gives Gregor a range of scraps and leftovers from their meals and pantry, such as bones, rotten vegetables, and bread and cheese. Gregor gobbles these up hungrily, and so begins a routine in which Grete feeds Gregor twice a day, while also cleaning up and maintaining his room. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, however, stay out of Gregor's room for the first 14 days of his transformation, leaving their daughter to tend to his needs. Grete shows other signs of compassion. For example, she wants to arrange Gregor's room to suit his new habit of crawling all around it. However, because the two cannot communicate, she doesn't understand his frustration with the plan and eventually stops cleaning his room.

In The Metamorphosis how does Gregor's relationship with food change after his metamorphosis?

As a traveling salesman, Gregor was on the go so much he rarely had time to eat and missed out on regular meals. His relationship with food changes greatly, however, once he turns into a bug. In this new state, he initially finds himself "sucking greedily" at the array of foods his sister leaves in his room: "Quickly one after another, his eyes watering with pleasure, he consumed the cheese, the vegetables and the sauce," and he spends his day lounging about in a food coma. His new form seems to have reminded him of the pleasures to be had in life's most basic functions. But as he begins to feel more isolated, he stops taking pleasure in his food, perhaps because of his awareness of how the humans—who have teeth, unlike him—enjoy chewing. His rejection of the food that his body once craved reflects the disharmony between his human mind and his monstrous body.

In Part 2 of The Metamorphosis, why is Gregor's discovery about his family's finances significant?

After his transformation Gregor worries that his family's circumstances will soon decline, a fear that is partially confirmed when the maid begs to be let go. He later learns that his father has saved some money from his own investments and from Gregor's salary. Briefly, he wonders why his father did not use that money to pay off his debt, which would have allowed Gregor to leave his stressful job sooner. To the reader it is clear that Mr. Samsa has not been as devoted to Gregor's well-being as Gregor has been to his father's. The discovery of his father's nest egg also undermines the image of Gregor as his family's savior.

The Czech word samja means "being alone." Does the similarity between samja and Samsa suit Gregor in The Metamorphosis?

The similarity between Gregor's surname and the Czech word for alone is fitting. Even before he becomes isolated in his room, Gregor leads a lonely life as a traveling salesman. He complains of never getting to know people well. Although he has dedicated his life to his family, they take him for granted—and may even be better off without him. He struggles along unappreciated. As a vermin, although he can still think clearly, he loses his ability to communicate his thoughts with others, making his solitude even more pronounced. Long stretches of solitude lead him to forget his humanity and to take more pleasure in his insect-ness. But he struggles to retain his human sensibilities, dooming himself to feel his family's rejection acutely.

How does Gregor in The Metamorphosis show the dehumanizing effect of work that is not meaningful?

Gregor seems to hate everything about his job: the "curse" of traveling, the lack of consistent contact with other people, the suspicious nature of his employers. The job dehumanizes him in two ways. In a literal sense, readers can see Gregor's stress over his job as the tipping point causing his metamorphosis. Work so consumes him that at first, he can only see the transformation in terms of its effect on his work. Gregor's job also leads to his dehumanization within the family. They value him only as a provider, so this is the only role he plays. He has no hobbies except studying timetables and working with a saw. He is ripe for a transformation.

In Part 2 of The Metamorphosis, how are Gregor's and Grete's roles in the family reversed?

Grete lives a carefree, "enviable" life until Gregor awakens one morning to find himself transformed. She wears nice clothes, sleeps late, and plays the violin. She seems to have few real responsibilities. All of that changes, however, when Gregor can no longer go to work. For two weeks Grete is the only one to set foot in Gregor's room, and during that time she becomes indispensable to her parents. She takes care of Gregor and reports his condition to her parents. Her life at this point seems to strike envy in Gregor, as their roles are reversed. Whereas he had once been his parents' savior, she is now the one they depend on, and Gregor is totally dependent on her. After Grete goes to work, she seems to care less and less about Gregor. She takes on the role of breadwinner, as Gregor had previously done, and matures as Gregor's health diminishes.

In Part 2 of The Metamorphosis, how does Gregor's acceptance of his transformation affect the other family members?

In Part 2 Gregor begins to learn what he enjoys doing as a bug. For instance, he discovers what foods he likes to eat and that he takes pleasure in crawling up and down the walls and hanging from the ceiling. In contrast, the more comfortable Gregor becomes as a bug, the less accepting his family is of him. For example, he starts to realize that Grete is disgusted by his appearance; he tests his theory by crawling under a sheet, reasoning, "If she did not think this sheet was necessary then all she had to do was take it off again, as it was clear enough that it was no pleasure for Gregor to cut himself off so completely." Grete, however, leaves the sheet in place, confirming Gregor's suspicion. His mother screams and faints at the sight of him, whereas his father physically abuses him. He still has some traces of humanity, yet they can't see past his appearance and his bug-like behavior.

What is the narrative point of view in most of The Metamorphosis, and why does it change in Part 3?

In The Metamorphosis the third-person narrator focuses nearly the entire story on the perspective of the protagonist, Gregor Samsa. As a result, most of the narrative is skewed by Gregor's point of view, including his family's reactions to his transformation. Throughout the novel he assigns motives to his family's actions that may or may not be accurate. For example, in Part 2, he assumes his sister leaves him alone to eat out of consideration, when in fact she leaves because she finds him repulsive. Gregor's assessment of his own situation is also skewed; it takes him quite a long time to realize that he will not be getting dressed for work. After Gregor's death in Part 3, the narrator focuses on the viewpoint of the remaining Samsas, who seem to act almost as one unit. "They" decide to go for a walk; they all write notes to their employers; and none of them want to hear how the charwoman disposed of Gregor's body. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa are "struck, almost simultaneously" by their daughter's loveliness. The shift shows the contrast between the family's unity at the end of the novel and Gregor's solitary, and often mistaken, perspective.

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