SummaryGregor Samsa awakes one morning to find that he has been inexplicably transformed into a giant insect. He has also slept late. His parents and his sister Grete try to rouse him so he can make it to his dreary job as a traveling salesman.
The family depends on him for its livelihood. Gregor, however, is now a bug. When a clerk from his company comes to demand an explanation for his absence, Gregor makes a great effort to open the bedroom door and show himself. This sends the terrified clerk tearing down the stairwell and Gregor’s family into shock. Grete, more than his father or mother, handles the situation practically.
Gregor is fed, and his room is cleaned. Before long, however, economic reality requires all three to find work, and less attention is paid to Gregor–except when he gets out of his room. No one in the family is fully able to reconcile him- or herself to the insect Gregor, and Gregor is unable to express himself to his family. The fear and disgust his presence inspires (the irrational fear of the mammoth cockroach) is a detriment to his mother’s health and incites his father to brief fits of violence.
One such fit, a bombardment of fruit, deals Gregor a deep and crippling wound. Hobbled and neglected, Gregor begins to waste away in his room. The family takes in three carping lodgers, using Gregor’s room to store excess furniture and other miscellanea–adding insult to injury. Yet the family does leave Gregor’s door slightly open in the evenings, so that he may take part in the household in a small way.
One evening, the lodgers hear Grete practicing her violin. They call her into the parlor for a concert. She obliges, and the music so moves Gregor that he creeps out into the parlor towards her, wanting to convey that he understands her gift and will help it to blossom. The lodgers see Gregor and immediately give notice. This is the breaking point for the family. Grete declares that they must abandon the notion that this hideous bug is their dear Gregor.
All sadly agree. Gregor slinks back into his room. He dies that night. A great weight has been lifted from the family. After a moment of mourning, the father demands that the lodgers leave immediately.
The family takes a trolley out of the city and into the countryside. It is a beautiful, sunny day, and as Grete stretches out her limbs in the trolley car, her parents’ thoughts turn to finding her a husband. CommentaryAs some commentators have noted, The Metamorphosis begins with what should be its climax. The protagonist’s great transformation, often the pivotal moment in a work of fiction, gets plopped unceremoniously on our lap in the story’s first sentence. No buildup, no tension, just boom: Gregor Samsa is now a bug, and we must all deal with the consequences of this fact.
The remainder of the story marks his ineluctable drift into oblivion, with very few surprises along the way. But no other surprises are necessary. That first simple, declarative sentence and the clear prose that follows it have unleashed a truly staggering torrent of criticism. To attempt to wade through the secondary literature is more than likely to drown in it.
The interpretations seem endless, and endlessly possible (if variously plausible). The psychoanalysts, the Marxists, the Symbolists, the New Critics, the biographers–all have thrown their well-worn hats into the ring. The ability of the story to support so many divergent formulations of its "meaning" is clearly one of The Metamorphosis’s most salient features. Some hold Gregor’s transformation to be symbolic, which is to say that his metamorphosis into an insect is a symbolic, not actual, event. It may symbolize the empty, insignificant, and outcast life that Gregor leads as a traveling sales lackey.
Or perhaps it symbolizes the degraded nature of modern existence in general, or bourgeois life in particular, or merely Gregor’s failure in the business world. Or Kafka’s low opinion of himself as imagined through his father’s eyes. A Freudian reader can find many a symbol throughout and, with the wave of a magic cigar, trace each back to Kafka’s subconscious, and eventually to his strained .