The Metamorphosis | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Metamorphosis | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In what ways do Mr. and Mrs. Samsa of The Metamorphosis differ in their treatment of Gregor?

In many ways, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa are polar opposites. Mr. Samsa, upon seeing his son for the first time as an insect-like creature, reacts with anger and rage. Quick-tempered and unhappy, Mr. Samsa takes out his frustration on Gregor. Mrs. Samsa, on the other hand, loves her son. Although she can't handle the sight of him as a bizarre, bug-like creature, she can still accept his humanity at first. It is she who realizes that Gregor might be upset at having his furniture removed, because it will seem as if the family has "given up all hope of improvement." Although Mr. Samsa does, indeed, break down and cry when he first sees his son, his tears stop there. He may love his son, but the situation causes his emotions to give way to anger. Mr. Samsa cannot control his temper around Gregor and injures him severely, first by shoving him and later by throwing the apples.

How does Mrs. Samsa of The Metamorphosis show both frailty and strength?

Mrs. Samsa seems physically fragile, as the narrator describes her: "She suffered from asthma and it was a strain for her just to move about the home." Every other day, Mrs. Samsa struggles for breath and has to sit by a window. Gregor wonders how could she possibly go out and earn money, given her weak constitution. Mrs. Samsa's physical health is not her only weakness. She lets 14 days pass before she sees her son, never checking in on him to see how he is doing and letting her youngest child, Grete, tend to his needs. Though she claims to want and need to see her son, she never stands up to her daughter and husband, who determine her too weak to handle being in Gregor's presence. Though weak in many ways, Mrs. Samsa begins to show strength as the story progresses. She sews fancy underwear to earn money and cooks for her family and the boarders. She is also the only member of the family whom the sturdy charwoman respects.

In The Metamorphosis what makes Gregor feel guilt-ridden, and how does he respond to his guilt?

Gregor's guilt stems from his inability to work and provide for his family after he turns into an insect-like creature. He knows how much they rely on his income to survive and to maintain their standard of living, and he desperately wants to fund his sister's conservatory training so she can pursue her passion and talent for violin. In his current state, he can no longer do any of that. And although he looks like an insect on the outside, the human emotions of guilt and shame consume him on the inside. Gregor comes up with a few ways to handle the guilt and shame, which make his body temperature rise. As the narrator explains, "Whenever [his family] began to talk of the need to earn money, Gregor would always first let go of the door and then throw himself onto the cool, leather sofa next to it, as he became quite hot with shame and regret." At another point he cools off by pressing against the glass pane of the framed illustration of the woman in furs. He also handles his guilt by hiding beneath the sofa, so no one can see him when they enter his bedroom.

In The Metamorphosis why does Grete interfere with Gregor's relationship with their mother?

At first Grete keeps her mother out of Gregor's room because she fears her fragile mother will not be able to handle being in Gregor's presence. As time passes, however, Grete either interferes with or limits her mother's interaction with Gregor. For the first two weeks, she keeps her mother out of his room. Then, when her mother finally enters—and faints upon seeing Gregor stretched across his framed illustration—Grete glowers at her brother and ushers her mother promptly from his bedroom. Another time, when Gregor's mother cleans Gregor's long-neglected room, Grete becomes overcome with rage and insists that her mother never set foot in the room again. After that, she never does. Gregor attributes Grete's refusal to let her mother in his room to "childish perversity." However, Grete also gets praise from her parents for taking care of Gregor—praise that for a brief period had been lavished on Gregor. By interfering with his relationship with Mrs. Samsa, Grete usurps Gregor's role in the family.

How does Grete's approach to work in The Metamorphosis suggest that Gregor has created his own paralyzing work situation?

Gregor stays in a job he dislikes so he can provide for his family, who rely on his income to maintain their standard of living. He suffers but has no plan or intention to improve his situation. On the other hand, when Grete starts working outside of the home in a sales position, she studies French and learns shorthand so that someday she can get a better job. In this sense she's proactive in carving out a better life for herself. The contrast between the siblings shows that Gregor's failure to improve his life, though partly due to his sense of responsibility to his family, is also due to his own inertia.

In what ways does The Metamorphosis help to define the term Kafkaesque?

The term Kafkaesque is used to describe something that resembles a nightmare due to its complicated, bizarre, or illogical qualities. The Metamorphosis is nightmarish and illogical in that Gregor transforms inexplicably into a terrible insect. It is also bizarre and illogical that Gregor's family members accept the transformation and change their lives to adapt to the new Gregor, albeit grudgingly. The story delves into the complications of the new situation. Where will Gregor live, and how and what will he eat? How will the family avoid his horrid presence? How will the family rid themselves of Gregor when his presence becomes too oppressive? There is an absurdity to the situation that comes from the characters' willingness to engage in these events regardless of their horror and ridiculousness.

In The Metamorphosis how does Gregor's reaction to having his furniture removed show his insect and human sides clashing?

Grete wants to remove the furniture from Gregor's room because he does not use most of it, and he will have more room to crawl around. Initially, Gregor likes the idea. Scaling the walls has become his main source of entertainment. But his mother's objection, that removing the furniture is like abandoning him, leads him to realize that "everything had to stay." As Gregor acclimates to being a vermin, his human side rebels. Gregor becomes distressed, believing Grete's motive is possessiveness, as she might possess an inhuman animal: "Grete would probably be the only one who would dare enter a room dominated by Gregor crawling about the bare walls by himself." In response, he stages his passionate defense of the picture of the woman in furs, one of the reminders of his humanity.

Is it plausible to read The Metamorphosis as the story of a character suffering from mental illness?

It is somewhat plausible to read the novel as the story of a character suffering from mental illness, if only because in real life nobody could be transformed into a "horrible vermin." The family members react to Gregor as some families might react to a mentally ill member, in particular failing to accept the person's illness and thinking, as Mrs. Samsa does, that the person will "[come] back to [them] again." At the same time Kafka's narrative choices do not support this view. The story is told by an objective narrator who describes fantastic details in a straightforward way, as if readers are meant to accept them as real. The narration also continues after Gregor's death. If Gregor's insanity were causing him to view himself as an insect, the family would no longer react to him as such after he died.

In The Metamorphosis what does the writing desk represent?

The writing desk represents Gregor's human intelligence and industriousness. It has a place "clearly worn into the floor"; it is "the desk where he had done his homework as a business trainee, at high school, even while he had been at infant school." When his sister and mother threaten to remove the desk, Gregor becomes desperate to hang on to it. Otherwise, he risks forgetting his own humanity. Interpreted through the lens of the author's biography, the intent of Gregor's mother and sister to remove the writing desk is telling. Kafka himself longed to have more time to write, but his family pushed him into a business-related field, and he ended up working as a lawyer by day and a writer by night. Gregor's desire to keep the writing desk is a poignant touch from a writer who desperately wanted more time for his craft.

In The Metamorphosis how does the picture of the woman in furs help to illuminate both Gregor's humanity and his insect nature?

Gregor clings to the framed illustration of the woman in furs primarily because it is the only thing left from his former life, his existence as a sexual being. He desperately wants to hold on to some part of this life and thus some part of his humanity: "The picture at least, now totally covered by Gregor, would certainly be taken away by noone," the narrator explains. The story provides glimpses of Gregor's interest in women: he remembers "one of the chambermaids from a provincial hotel" in a "tender memory" and a cashier from a hat shop. At the same time, Gregor is now an insect, not a human. Where a picture of a woman in furs might make an ordinary man feel hot with desire, the glass pane of the frame instead cools his belly, which is hot from his frustration over watching his mother and sister remove his belongings. In addition, the woman's "copious furs" suggest the world of wealth and glamour, which contrast starkly with Gregor's vermin life alone in his room.

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