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The Metamorphosis | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Metamorphosis | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


What is the significance of the only word Grete says directly to Gregor in The Metamorphosis?

When Mrs. Samsa faints after seeing her son stretched out across the framed picture of the woman in furs, Grete glowers at her brother and shouts out a single word: "Gregor!" This is the only time Grete speaks directly to her brother in the entire book, and it represents a turning point. Grete calls her brother by his name, even though he is a vermin. There is a chance that Grete accepts her brother, and when she leaves to get smelling salts for her mother, Gregor runs "into the next room as if he could advise his sister like in the old days." But chaos ensues, and Gregor finds himself cut off from his mother and sister, "oppressed with anxiety and self-reproach." From this point forward, Grete's attention to Gregor deteriorates; later in the book, she calls him an "it."

In what ways does Kafka's The Metamorphosis challenge the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin?

Charles Darwin (1809–1882), a British naturalist, developed an evolutionary theory of progress. He suggested that living organisms developed in a natural progression toward more perfect and more highly functioning beings. With The Metamorphosis Kafka attacks this popular assumption. Gregor's transformation is sudden; it does not take place slowly over an extended period of time. More importantly, Gregor's transformation is a de-evolution; he changes not into a more perfect and more highly functioning being, but rather into a more primal, if more natural, creature. It is as if modern man has become so corrupted and so alienated from the natural world that nature intervenes and sends him back to the proverbial drawing board.

In The Metamorphosis how does Mr. Samsa's fury after the furniture-moving incident represent a reassertion of his manhood?

When Mr. Samsa comes home from work to see his wife reclining in a chair, he shouts "as if he were both angry and glad at the same time." Stripped of the ability to explain himself, Gregor can only cower, which seems to make Mr. Samsa even more violent. He goes on to pelt Gregor with apples. Gregor notes how robust his father looks in his new uniform and how large his feet appear. Mr. Samsa now stands up straight. It is as if, having regained the upper hand in the family, he must now reassert his manhood by harming Gregor.

How are physical injuries and psychic injuries related to Gregor's ability to heal himself in The Metamorphosis?

In The Metamorphosis Gregor's first injury as a vermin occurs when his father shoves him. For a while, because of this act, Gregor's leg drags along lifelessly, but then it heals itself—and is as good as new. This differs from the time, shortly before his metamorphosis, that Gregor cut his finger with a knife, an injury that had taken a long time to heal. As an insect-like creature, he can do things he could not do as a human without getting injured, such as falling from the ceiling to the floor. However, eventually his injuries worsen as a result of his father's temper and Grete's neglect—something that would not have happened if his family did not revile his verminous state. His psychic wounds add to his physical ones and eventually contribute to his death.

How can the apple attack in The Metamorphosis be read as a metaphor for human suffering?

When Mr. Samsa bombards his son with apples, one becomes squarely lodged in his flesh. Gregor experiences a great deal of pain, feeling "as if nailed to the spot," a possible allusion to the crucifixion and suffering of Jesus. He is unable to move. The apple stays there for the rest of Gregor's life and prevents him from doing the one thing he enjoyed: crawling about his room and hanging from the ceiling. Instead, he passes his days lying still in severe pain, unable to eat or sleep. Whereas the apple in the story of Genesis leads to suffering for all humanity, the one lodged in Gregor's back forces him to suffer over his family's dismissal of his humanity.

Why can Gregor's family experience a successful transformation in The Metamorphosis when he cannot?

Other members of the Samsa family transform along with Gregor. Grete, for instance, grows from a child who lives a life of relative idleness into a responsible young adult with a sales job and goals of her own. At the end of the novel, after Gregor's death, she has blossomed into a beautiful young woman. Mr. Samsa, likewise, undergoes a transformation when he returns to work after five years in retirement following his business failure. Leaving the house each day and dressing in a uniform brings positive changes in Mr. Samsa, who no longer resembles the "tired man ... entombed in his bed ... and hardly even able to stand up." Even Gregor's frail mother sews "fancy underwear for a fashion shop." These transformations, however, come at Gregor's expense. When he is no longer able to support them, his family members grudgingly assume the role he once had in the family. At the same time, they render him completely useless.

Can the ending of The Metamorphosis be read as hopeful?

After Gregor dies, the narrator presents a different view of the Samsa family as they take a day off work to relax in the country and make optimistic plans for the future. They realize "they all three had jobs which were very good and held particularly good promise for the future." For the first time in the book, Mr. Samsa comes across as happy, asking his wife and daughter for "a bit of attention" and welcoming their hugs and kisses. In particular, Grete's cheeks turn colorful, and her overall demeanor is lively, leading her parents to realize how soon she will be eligible to marry. In the last line of the story she stretches out "her young body." This ending can be read as hopeful if readers are willing to consider that the welfare of the three other family members is more important than Gregor's suffering and death. However, his death is described so poignantly, as he thinks of his family with "emotion and love," that readers must view the ending with mixed emotions. Mr. Samsa heartlessly thanks God for Gregor's death, and then they leave his room without looking back. The family is happy again, but the ending is hardly uplifting.

When and how does the climax of The Metamorphosis occur?

The climax of The Metamorphosis occurs in Part 3 when one of the three boarders spots Gregor lurking in the background, drawn to his sister's violin playing. The boarders demand an explanation and, not getting one, they announce they will be vacating the flat. The Samsas are already near the breaking point, worn down by the stress of working day jobs, caring for boarders, and dealing with Gregor's unusual and upsetting condition. Gregor's sighting pushes them over the edge, with Grete begging her parents to "get rid of it" and Mr. Samsa, for once, not lashing out but sinking into a chair. It is this incident that causes Grete to deny Gregor's humanity, after which Gregor dies.

How is Gregor's internal conflict in The Metamorphosis resolved?

Gregor wants to retain his human feelings and ways of thinking. But the more he is alone, the more he begins to think, feel, and act like a bug. Emotionally painful encounters with his family pull his mind back into the human realm, where he tries to keep it. When he hears Grete's violin music, for instance, he wonders, "Was he an animal if music could captivate him so?" However, his family members reject him, one by one. Though he continues to feel human emotions until the moment he dies, he has no outlet for expressing them. This conflict between his human mind and his insect-like body can only be resolved with his death.

Is Gregor's death in Part 3 of The Metamorphosis a noble sacrifice or a tragic one?

Gregor's death almost instantly relieves his family's suffering. It comes right after he overhears Grete wishing for his demise. His death thereafter reinforces what a dutiful son he is. He does sacrifice himself for the family, yet it is a tragic sacrifice rather than a noble one because his family cannot appreciate it at all. As he weakly crawls away from them for the last time, there is "not a word, not any cry" from the family. Instead, they shut, bolt, and lock his door, suggesting the intention to carry out Grete's determination to "get rid of it." Grete says that if Gregor would simply leave, they could "remember him with respect." Instead, though, he leaves in the only way he can, by dying, and they lose interest in his dead body. Later, they think of him only as the one who chose their impractical flat, underscoring the meaninglessness of his sacrifice.

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