Literature: The Metamorphosis
"One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug."The Metamorphosis
— Opening line
(German: Die Verwandlung
) is a 1915 novella by Franz Kafka
, about the salesman Gregor Samsa who wakes up one day to find he has been inexplicably transformed
into a gigantic cockroach-insect... thing, focusing primarily on his attempts to cope with this situation and his family's attempts to continue their life, of which Gregor was the breadwinner.
Not to be confused with The Metamorphoses
, an epic poem by the Roman author Ovid.
The Metamorphosis provides examples of the following:
- Abusive Parents: Though not outwardly abusive to Gregor, it's pretty obvious that Gregor's parents (and his sister to a lesser degree) are just exploiting him and his well-paying job. The way they treat Gregor after his transformation makes it clear to the reader that they probably didn't deserve the love and care that Gregor gave them. The ending strongly implies that they're going to move on to exploiting Grete now that Gregor is gone, which suggests that they just keep their kids around to leech off them.
- The father especially given how he beats up Gregor twice, bellows at his son for not going to work without looking to see if he is ill claiming everyone is tired despite sleeping in everyday and keeps money from his collapsed company (Gregor is working to pay off the debts) as well as some of Gregor's income. When called out on the last point claims that he did the right thing despite one of the main reasons for Gregor's state was the extreme pressure and working conditions.
- Author Avatar: Literary critics note that "Samsa" and "Kafka" share strong phonetic similarities, with identical vowel sounds and identical placement of consonant sounds, and Kafka wrote the story out of his fears that his insomnia was a massive burden to his family. There's also the critics who believe the metamorphosis into the vermin is him becoming a writer, instead of the more profitable and normal job he had.
- Big Brother Instinct: Gregor is determined to save the money to send Grete to the conservatory to refine her violin, despite their parents' constant rebukes.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: What poor Gregor turns into, if you take his transformation literally.
- Body Horror
- Book Ends: The story opens with Gregor's transformation and ends with imagery lending Grete a transformation of her own.
- Creepy Cockroach: Well, Gregor's never explicitly said to be a cockroach, but the descriptions seem pretty close.
- Driven to Suicide: Gregor dies so that his family can move on.
- Heroic Suicide: In his opinion. His family is grateful, but not to him.
- Elegant Classical Musician: Grete, though she's not a professional violinist.
- Failed a Spot Check: Vladimir Nabokov, an amateur entomologist, studied the descriptions of Gregor and concluded that he's not a cockroach but a beetle - and as such, had wings and could have flown away at any time. Then again, he had nowhere to go.
This is a very nice observation on my part to be treasured all your lives. Some Gregors, some Joes and Janes, do not know that they have wings
- Incest Subtext: Gregor gets creepily possessive of Grete and imagines kissing her neck, among other things.
- Informed Deformity: In its Theater adaptation, for obvious reasons.
- Jerk Ass: The three boarders Gregor's family take in by the latter portion of the story, going by the implication that they mucked up everyone's usual schedules out of sheer stubbornness. Scowling while they watch Grete play the violin for them because she apparently doesn't fit their standards (when they asked her to play the first place) doesn't get them any Nice Guy points either.
- Just Woke Up That Way
- Life Embellished: What with the overbearing father, questionable affections for a sister, and self-deprecating protagonist, the semi-autobiography angle is difficult to completely deny.
- Lost in Translation: Kafka's original German manuscript used a peculiar grammar structure for dramatic effect, which could not be translated into English. The German word was not technically "insect", either but a colloquial term analogous to a child using the English word "bug".
- Madwoman in the Attic: Gregor, after being turned into a bug, is kept locked in his room for the remainder of the novel, and every time he tries to exit his room, he's chased back in.
- The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Gregor is technically able to talk to his family at first, but begins to acquire more insect-like behaviors over time.
- Mind Screw
- Mundane Fantastic: Gregor's family, not to mention himself, treat his transformation as bothersome and disgusting, but not as unnatural. Gregor is not at all surprised by it, and never thinks about why it happened.
- No Sympathy: Gradually, but inevitable. Only Greta and Gregor's mother give Gregor any sympathy as a bug, but never in his presence. Gradually, they, too, grow tired of him.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Gregor dies as a giant insect, while his family moves on to a better life without him. And it's implied that the family will go on to start abusing his sister the same way they abused him, basically meaning that she's about due for a transformation of her own...
- The Sound of Martial Music: The story takes place in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
- Take Our Word for It: Kafka was adamant about Gregor as a bug never actually being depicted visually.
- That Thing Is Not My Child!: Gregor Samsa's family slowly stops believing the bug was ever their son to begin with, and eventually just leave him to die alone in his room.
- Transformation Fiction
- Ungrateful Bastard: Gregor's entire family. They live off the fruits of his hard work, do little else to help him, and the very second he turns into a bug, they're quick to discard him.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The characters have a fairly dull reaction to Gregor's inexplicable transformation into a giant bug, all things considered. It's treated as a burden rather than a horrific and traumatizing sight that forces them to question reality.— The family's relative lack of reaction has led some people to interpret the story as Gregor only thinking he has become an insect. His family is reacting to his bizarre behavior and insect-like sounds, not his appearance.
- Was Once a Man
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Gregor's feelings towards his father, who violently disowns him after his transformation.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?
- World of Symbolism: One theory (among many, many, many) is that turning into a bug represents mental disease — Gregor can't care for his family anymore because of his illness, no one understands him, and his family must look after him because he is rejected by society.
- Youngest Child Wins: Grete, the little sister who works as a salesgirl, moves on to a better life in the end... to a degree. It's heavily implied that her parents will move on to exploiting her with Gregor dead and gone.