The Metamorphosis | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Metamorphosis | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


How does the charwoman in The Metamorphosis contrast with the other women in her treatment of Gregor?

Gregor does not scare the charwoman. In this way she is unlike the previous maid, who hid in the kitchen to avoid an encounter with Gregor, and unlike Gregor's mother, who faints at his appearance. Instead, the charwoman barges right into his bedroom and calls him an "old dung beetle," which is how he may appear to her. Perhaps because she has never known Gregor as a human, the charwoman cannot see him as anything but a bug. In contrast, Grete is able to see human qualities in Gregor until the charwoman arrives and takes over his care. The charwoman is completely unsympathetic toward Gregor, and her treatment of his corpse is rough and unsentimental. .

What is the significance of the three boarders in The Metamorphosis?

The three boarders can be seen as representing the reaction of the outside world to a creature like Gregor. At first they do not seem repulsed by Gregor. Instead, they seem curious, and they ask Mr. Samsa to explain what such an odd-looking creature is doing in the house. Mr. Samsa, however, does not comply. The boarders continue to push for an answer, and only when Mr. Samsa does not provide one does the middle boarder then announce their departure on the grounds that the flat is unclean. When confronted with the unknown, these outsiders take their cues from the behavior of Mr. Samsa, who clearly finds the creature disgusting.

How do Gregor, the boarders, and the charwoman all disrupt the household in The Metamorphosis, and how are their fates similar?

Gregor's transformation disrupts the household's finances, forcing the family to work to fill the void he has created. The boarders, who are there because of the family's financial needs, take over the household, forcing the family to eat in the kitchen and making them feel uncomfortable in their own living room. The charwoman, another sign of their financial straits, is loud and impudent. All these disruptive characters are told to leave the household. Grete says that Gregor has to go, and so he dies. His death, in turn, liberates the family from their inertia. The boarders are told to leave, and Mr. Samsa says of the charwoman, "Tonight she gets sacked." Freed of the burden of Gregor, the family is ready to reclaim the household and live in peace and quiet.

How does Gregor's death in Part 3 of The Metamorphosis show that he is still Gregor?

Grete utters "It's got to go" to her parents after the boarders spot Gregor and give notice that they will no longer live in the Samsa home. This quotation is significant, in part, because it reveals how much Grete's view of Gregor changes over the course of the story. She now calls him "it." His reaction is to become more human. When he realizes he can no longer move, he thinks it's the fact that the "spindly little legs" could carry him at all that was unnatural. He can no longer sense the pain in his insect body, and he thinks of his family with such love he feels "that he must go away even more strongly than his sister [does]." As if to prove to his family that he is still Gregor, he ("it") dies that night.

How does the family in The Metamorphosis avoid feeling any guilt over Gregor's death?

The family acts as if Gregor's death was his own fault. They go to Gregor's room together to view his lifeless body, with Grete remarking how thin "he" (and not "it") looks. She says "He didn't eat anything for so long," as if this was a choice made by her brother. They see this now, partly because he cannot "do anything to make them look away." Clearly they held him responsible for his repulsiveness. It was something he did, and they are grateful for his death: "Now then ... let's give thanks to God for that," Mr. Samsa says. The Samsas make a few ceremonial gestures. They cross themselves. Mr. Samsa dresses in his uniform, and the three lock arms and cry together. However, they feel no remorse, and their mourning seems like merely a ritual.

What is the significance of references to the weather at the beginning and end of The Metamorphosis?

At the beginning of the novella, it is raining, dreary, and cold outside, and though Kafka does not reveal the time of year, chances are it is winter. The story ends, however, in late March, shortly after Gregor takes his last breath: "Although it was still early in the morning the fresh air had something of warmth mixed in with it." The sunshine continues as the Samsas ride the tram (rail transportation intended to move small groups of people over short distances) out to the country. Here, the sunny spring day symbolizes hope for a better life ahead. The Samsas seem to feel, at the end of the story, that they will all have a bright future.

In what ways does Kafka's The Metamorphosis extend Nietzsche's assertion that science replaced God in the 19th century?

In the 19th century Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) argued that a faith in God had been replaced by a faith in science. The idea of an absent god was suggestive of the absence of absolute moral truths. In The Metamorphosis, Kafka extends this idea to God's replacement: science. If moral truth is not absolute, then perhaps natural truth is not absolute. Perhaps nature is not patterned or reliable but arbitrary. If so, then a man can become an insect because evolution may progress in any direction, including backward. By using his story to pose such questions, Kafka ultimately asks readers to question the meaning of the word progress. He wonders whether a blind faith in the goodness of anything, including industrialization, is any kind of positive evolution at all.

What is Gregor's dream for his sister in The Metamorphosis, and what becomes of this dream?

Gregor believes Grete is a gifted violinist with real potential. Prior to his metamorphosis, he had been setting aside money to pay for her to attend music school, something his parents consider just a "beautiful dream." After his transformation, when he hears her violin, he fantasizes about her playing for him alone in his room, where he would tell her "how he had always intended to send her to the conservatory, how he would have told everyone about it last Christmas ... if this misfortune hadn't got in the way." His daydream continues with Grete's response: "His sister would break out in tears of emotion, and Gregor would climb up to her shoulder and kiss her neck." Neither dream ever becomes a reality, of course. Any money Gregor had saved has been spent, and now Grete rarely has time to play anyway. The very night Gregor fantasizes about Grete playing for him, she makes it clear that she sees him as a loathsome creature; soon after, he dies.

What is the significance of this quotation from The Metamorphosis? "Getting up early all the time, it makes you stupid. You've got to get enough sleep."

This quotation occurs in Part 1 of The Metamorphosis, as Gregor reflects on the many challenges of life as a traveling salesman. His comment relates to his exhausting routine and the fact that he awakens at four each morning to catch a five o'clock train. Doing this day after day indeed has taken a toll, making him too "stupid" to be seriously distressed by his hideous transformation. His fatigue also may have blinded him to how much his family has taken advantage of him and how unappreciative they have been. In an example of dramatic irony, Gregor's vermin life allows him to sleep as much as he wants or needs.

What do uniforms represent in The Metamorphosis?

In The Metamorphosis the uniform represents honor, dignity, respect, and pride. In the photograph of Gregor as an army lieutenant, displayed near the Samsa's dining room, Gregor appears in his military uniform holding his sword and sporting "a carefree smile." His image here exudes confidence and demands respect, contrasting sharply with Gregor as an anxious, unhappy traveling salesman or a guilt-ridden, hideous vermin. In Part 2 Mr. Samsa comes home from work wearing "a smart blue uniform with gold buttons, the sort worn by the employees at the banking institute." Gregor hardly recognizes his father, who usually lounges in his sleepwear and moves slowly about the house on those rare occasions when he moves at all. When he appears dressed in his uniform, however, he looks like a different, far more dignified, confident person. This reinvigorated Mr. Samsa drives Gregor back into his room. In both cases, the uniform and the wearer's emotions go hand in hand. Just as Gregor's bug self represents his alienation, external appearances in the text mirror internal feelings.

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