Literature Study GuidesThe MetamorphosisPart 1 Gregor Wakes Up Summary

The Metamorphosis | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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The Metamorphosis | Part 1 (Gregor Wakes Up) | Summary

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Kafka divided The Metamorphosis into three parts. This study guide breaks each of those parts into sections for further analysis.

Summary

Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, awakens one morning from a troubling dream to discover he is a hideous, insect-like creature. He notices his "brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches." He tries to fall back to sleep to "forget all this nonsense."

Lying in bed, Gregor contemplates the many disadvantages of his career. He not only wakes up each morning at the crack of dawn but also suffers through terrible meals and a lack of close relationships—all due to constant travel. On top of that his boss is unreasonable, and the only reason Gregor does not tell him off is because he is supporting his parents and sister and needs the steady income.

Glancing at his alarm clock, Gregor panics when he realizes he is late. The clock reads 6:30 a.m., which means his train left an hour and a half ago, at 5 a.m. He ruminates over how his boss will react, fearing the worst: "His boss would certainly come round with the doctor from the medical insurance company, accuse his parents of having a lazy son, and accept the doctor's recommendation not to make any claim as the doctor believes that no one was ever ill but many were work-shy," Gregor thinks.

Gregor's mother knocks on the door to check on her son, and when Gregor replies, his voice sounds deep and squeaks as he tries to reassure her that he is getting up. His father pounds on his door, demanding to know what is wrong—and why he is not at work. Experimenting with his new limbs, Gregor tries to maneuver himself out of bed. He considers calling for help but then decides against it.

Analysis

In Part 1 of the book the third-person narrator provides a window into Gregor's innermost thoughts as he comes to terms with his transformation and handles inquiries from his family. The narration flows from one thought to another, providing important background information on Gregor's life as a traveling salesman, in which he works long hours, never gets enough sleep, does not eat well, and commutes by train. His primary concern is not what will become of him, now that he is a monstrous vermin. Instead he worries about how he will get to work and how he will take care of his family.

Here, Kafka uses his protagonist to introduce a running theme of the story: the changing nature of work in the early 20th century, in which advances in technology give way to less human interaction and a more work-focused life. This view of the modern world is anything but positive and explains why Gregor longs for the day he can quit and find a better existence. In the meantime, however, Gregor seems uncommonly committed to his work.

In this section readers also learn how much Gregor's life centers on taking care of his family—another theme that plays out through the entire story. Gregor has not missed his train a single day in his life, much less missed a day of work. He cares for his family and wants to do right by them. His family, too, depends on the income he earns, and they check in on him not only because they are concerned for his well-being but also because they want and need him to make it to work.

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