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Literature / The Metamorphosis

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"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."
Opening line

The Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung) is a 1915 novelette 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 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, claims everyone is tired despite sleeping in every day, 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, he claims that he did the right thing, despite one of the main reasons for Gregor's state being the extreme pressure and working conditions.
  • Animorphism: As noted in the description, the story begins with a character transformed into an insect.
  • 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.
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  • Big Brother Instinct: Gregor is determined to save the money to send Grete to the conservatory to encourage her passion for the violin, despite their parents' constant rebukes.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: What poor Gregor turns into, if you take his transformation literally.
  • Bookends: The story opens with Gregor's transformation and ends with imagery lending Grete a transformation of her own.
  • Butt-Monkey: Gregor. Poor Gregor. And he was this even before the aforementioned transformation.
  • Creepy Cockroach: Well, Gregor's never explicitly said to be a cockroach, but the descriptions seem pretty close.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Aging / disability, and regretting not taking a chance in your life as well as the horrifically callous way people with mental illness are treated.
  • Downer Ending: Gregor dies, Greta will not become a musician, and their parents don't really care. Worse, literary critics note that Greta has become pregnant, implying the cycle of abuse will start anew for a different victim.
  • Driven to Suicide: Gregor dies so that his family can move on.
  • Elegant Classical Musician: Grete, though she's not a professional violinist.
  • Extreme Doormat: Gregor to his bosses at work and family at home. No wonder he turned into a bug.
  • 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.
    Vladimir Nabokov: 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.
  • Forced Transformation: Being involuntarily transformed into an insect causes problems for Gregor and his family.
  • Heroic Suicide: In his opinion. His family is grateful... that he's finally dying.
  • Informed Deformity: In its Theater adaptation, for obvious reasons.
  • Jerkass: 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:
    One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible verminous bug.
  • Lack of Empathy: Gregor's parents never show even the slightest concern or compassion to their son and make clear they see taking care of him as a horrible burden, even after all he's done for them. They actively celebrate when he finally dies and they no longer feel burdened by him.
  • Lazy Bum: Gregor's parents, who putter around the house all day, every day, while he works himself to the bone all day, every day, to pay off their debts and provide for them. Rather than seeing his transformation as an opportunity to pay him back for years of taking care of them, they're annoyed by what a burden it is to take care of him.
  • Life Embellished: What with the overbearing father and self-deprecating protagonist, the semi-autobiography angle is difficult to completely deny.
  • Lost in Translation: The German word was not technically "insect," but a term analogous to a child using the English word "bug."
  • Low-Speed Chase: The chase at the end of part II didn't look like an actual chase, with Gregor scurring away when the father just takes a few steps. It ends when the father decides to throw apples, one of which gets lodged in the back (eventually becoming a fatal injury).
  • 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.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: This is arguably the main theme of the story. Just look at the tropes on this page and it’s pretty clear why.
  • 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.
    • One of countless interpretations of the story is that Gregor turned into a bug because he'd been treated like a lowly, verminous insect by his family and employers for so long that his body eventually reflected his self-image.
  • 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: From his father and manager. Only Grete and Gregor's mother give him any sympathy as a bug, but never in his presence. Gradually, they, too, grow tired of him.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Gregor dies while his parents are still alive. They don't seem too broken up about it either.
  • Pop Culture Osmosis: How many people know more about this play than it simply being the one where the guy turns into a cockroach? It doesn't help is the only consistently known work of the author due to being one of the very few which is actually complete.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Why did Gregor turn into an insect? The story gives no explanation, and the characters, including Gregor himself don't even try to find one.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Gregor dies as a giant insect, while his family moves on to a better life without him.
  • 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: Possibly the most famous example in history.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Gregor's 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, though Grete does care of him for a while.
  • 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: Poor Gregor.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Gregor's feelings towards his father, who violently disowns him after his transformation.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Gregor is on the receiving end of this the second he turns into an insect.
  • 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. Although the final lines indicate that the parents are seeing how they can use her in the same way they did Gregor.