Franz Kafka’s « The Metamorphosis » : A case study


After reviewing the central strategies of psychoanalytic literary criticism, this paper engages in a detailed textual analysis of the German language of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," showing how the language of the story reveals unconscious fantasies about the body and about family relationships based on identifications. The true depth of Kafka's vision emerges from the analysis.


One cannot say, at least at first, why one does what one does, but it seems to me that what attracted me at the beginning in Kafka’s story «The Metamorphosis» was its title, the idea of a transformation. Originally, then, my intention was to show how the structure of the metaphor which, as we know, is the structure of discourse, also corresponded to what happens when we imagine a story, exactly, by the way, as when we dream. Such was one aspect of my «response» and it is not at all impossible that what I called my original intention to deal with structure was only an excuse, a defence, in front of this tale of horror, something like a screen which would provide me with a reason to remain at a safe distance from what I was reading.

That there were other, more secret, reasons for my choice is possible, but this can only come to light as I proceed with my analysis—pun intended—of Kafka’s tale of imagination. This is how psychoanalytical research into discourse always proceeds : from the desire of the analyst to a possible corroboration of his or her insights. Hypothesis and verification in fact, and this story of the transformation of a man into an insect turned out to be so rich in symbolism—and even in what we can call «elementary symbolism» --that hypotheses were not too difficult to make. Thus did I feel I must delay my demonstration about structure and concentrate on contents instead. That this may have been a second line of defence is possible—the «clinical» study of signs being another way of detaching oneself from the original impression the text had had on me when first read—but it also constituted the necessary condition of a psychoanalytical study of the story.

At this point, clearly, a debate on what differentiates analysis from reading is in order. One of the tasks of the analyst—who knows, naturally, that reading, his first encounter with the text, precedes analysis—is to insist on this distinction, and this quite simply because the very function of discourse is to make us forget its hallucinatory nature. It follows that it cannot be said that the analytic enterprise is oblivious of the literary dimension of Kafka’s writing precisely because reading and analysis do not have the same object ; whereas literature cannot «function» without a «suspension of disbelief,» the aim of psychoanalysis is to look into, or even beyond, the hallucinatory nature of discourse. The enterprise may seem to disregard the literary dimension of Kakfa’s writing and appear to amount to a reduction of its status to that of a clinical case but, again, psychoanalytic criticism does not deprive the reader of the emotions that go with reading and in no way ignores the emotional potential of the text (which by the way depends on the reader’s ability to be moved), because an emotion can only take place if, as a reader, I remain unaware of what precisely constitutes it. Whatever the complexity of the object considered and my involvement in it, I should be careful to distinguish, at least theoretically, what happens when I read, or dream, and what takes place, afterwards, when I analyse my response or my dream. Only at the price of such a distinction shall Freud’s teachings make sense at all. The «objectivity» of psychoanalytic discourse is never more than relative, we know this, but it does nevertheless represent a progress in knowledge if always asymptotic.

Keeping in mind Freud’s initial invention of the concept of «unconscious,» therefore, his discovery of the simple Cs/Ucs structure (which leads to the structure of the metaphor), I shall however begin by looking at the symbolical dimension—dimensions—of Kafka’s tale. Such a deferment of intention, from an interest in structure to a concentration on fantasy, is meaningful : it corresponds to an interrogation about what makes a «subject» and may eventually lead us to the actual discovery of what determines a human subject. Naturally, it would be simpler to say that psychoanalysis has no need of such a justification in order to lend an attentive ear to the discourse of Franz Kafka : he had read some Freud--and particularly The Interpretation of Dreams--, and his stories are so full of evident symbols, a sign of the time, no doubt, that we can consider them as an invitation to provide an interpretation.

The words, then, for I think there is a good chance the reader might follow me in my interpretation once his or her attention has been drawn to the passages that I find particularly significant for the psychoanalytic critic..

The first two pages, already, have a lot to offer and the first thing that strikes me is the difficulty Gregor has of getting out of bed. Here are a few sentences which «speak» to me:

Er lag auf seinem […] Rücken and sah , wenn er den Kopf ein wenig hob, seinen
gewölbten, braunen […] Bauch, auf dessen Höhe sich die Bettdecke, zum gänzlichen
Niedergleiten bereit, kaum noch erhalten konnte.

He was lying on his back […] and when he lifted his head a little he could see a dome-
like brown belly […] on top of which the bed-quilt could hardly keep in position and
was about to slide off completely.

[Er] konnte sich aber in seinem gegenwärtigen Zustand nicht in deise Lage bringen
[…] immer schaukelte er in die Rückenlage zurück

[…] in his present condition he could not turn himself over […] he always rolled on to
his back again.

In passing, we can also notice in what manner Gregor finds his legs «pitifully thin.»

In the next few pages, we learn of his difficulty to move, and also of a distinction between the top of his body and its lower part. He would like to get up, but can’t:

[…] er machte sich nun daran, den Körper in seiner ganzen Länge vollständig
gleichmässig aus dem Bett hinauszuschaukeln

[…] he set himself to rocking his whole body at once in a regular rythm, with the idea
of swinging it out of bed.

And his biggest worry, of course, is that he might crash on the floor, and also that the noise of his fall would cause anxiety or terror to his family. All the same, it would be nice if he could get up:

[…] fiel ihm ein, wie einfach alles wäre, wenn man ihm zu Hilfe käme. Zwei starke
Leute—er dachte an seinen Vater and das Dienstmädchen—hätten vollständig genügt;

[…] it struck him how simple it would be if he could get help. Two strong people—
he thought of his father and the servant girl—would be amply sufficient;

In any case, should he succeed in his attempt, in any case, he still had to hope that « his legs would find their proper function. » In the end, «with all this strength,» Gregor manages to swing himself out of bed without too much damage: there is a thump but no crash.

You probably have by now an idea of what I have in mind. Another three short quotations will help me to conclude on this first point:

Gregor schob sich langsam mit del Sessel zur Tür hin […]

Slowly Gregor pushed the chair towards the door[…]

Oder er scheute nicht dit grosse Mühe, einen Sessel zum Fenster zu schieben […]

Or he nerved himself to the great effort of pushing a chair to the window […]

[…] denn da er nicht verstanden wurde, dachte niemand daran, auch die
Schwester nicht, dass er die anderen verstehen könnte

[…] for since what he said was not understood by the others it never struck any of
them, not even his sister, that he could understand what they said,

If we now carefully examine Kafka’s vocabulary in «The Metamorphosis» we shall be able to form a solid opinion as to the nature of one of the fantasies which concurred to the composition of the tale. A verb, often recurring, seems to me a good indication of what must have been (unconsciously) represented by the writer and tend to « verify » the hypothesis we may already have formed as to the symbolical meaning of the above quotations : kriechen, to crawl. Whenever Gregor moves through his room and through the apartment, he crawls (and a few times creeps).

[…] kriechen konnte er aber auf den paar Quadratmetern des Fussbodens auch nicht viel.

[…] he could not crawl very far around the few square yards of floor-space he had,

I interpret the frequent use of this verb as an indication that what is fanticized in the tale—among other things--is a regression to infancy. Gregor moves on the floor like a baby on all fours, and this may help to explain the numerous passages where the narrator reports Gregor’s complaints about the weakness of his little legs, hilflos, «struggling legs» which « he could not control in the least.» That there is more to legs (Beine) than this makes no doubt and we shall in due time discuss the word in relation to castration, but for the time being this is a strong sign in favor of the thesis which sees in the story a fanticized return to infancy. It is therefore not at all surprising that we should find many allusions to the sensations of a baby in the text. Like an infant, Gregor «overhears a lot in the neighbouring rooms», and on several occasions he can be seen watching what is happening on the other side of his closed door: «He could see through the crack of the door […]»

Taste and smell are also mentioned, and music, at one instance, convinces him that he is no animal. One thinks of Caliban, of course:

War er ein Tier, da ihn Musik so regriff?

Was he an animal, when music had such an effect upon him?

The picture is quite complete indeed : filth and dirt - realistic details in this portrait of a baby—are not forgotten, and there is a passage about teeth I find particularly significant:

Sonderbar schien es Gregor, dass man aus allen mannigfachen Gerräuschen des
Essens immer wieder ihre kauenden Zähne heraushörte , als ob damit Gregor
gezeigt werden sollte, dass man Zähne brauche, um zu essen, and dass man auch mit
den schönsten zahnlosen Kiefern nichts ausrichten könne

It seemed remarkable to Gregor that among the various noises coming from the table he
could always distinguish the sound of their masticating teeth, as if this were a sign to Gregor
that one needed teeth, in order to eat, and that with toothless jaws even the finest maxillae could do nothing.

Not a beast, Gregor is nevertheless helpless, like an infant (who has no teeth), and I cannot help reading also a discreet allusion to castration in this absence of teeth.

Which seems a good introduction to a commentary on what is very likely one of the words most frequently used in «The Metamorphosis».

Indeed, rare are the pages in which the word door, Tür, does not appear. In the fifty-one pages of the Vintage Classic edition (2005) I am using, only ten do not have the word «door.» Gregor crawls to the door of his room, runs or flees to it, and it is often closed or even violently shut on him.

Die Tür wurde noch mit dem Stock zugeschlagen […]

The door was slammed behind him with the Stick.

[…] blieb die Wohnzimmertür an manchen Abendessen geschlossen,

[…] the living-room door stayed shut many an evening.

An opening for entrance and exit, the door in our tale organizes the narrator’s relationships with his parents and with his sister. It is in fact a perfect symbol of what structures Gregor’s relationship to the world. It delimitates two different entities : the world of Gregor-the-infant (and Gregor the monstrous creature) and the world outside, the world of others. Without stretching things too far, one could even see in the doors of Kafka’s story a good representation of the Freudian « bar » between Cs and Ucs and therefore also the distance phenomenology sees in what separates the subject from the world out there. As such, it is the barrier through which communication must pass : gazing through a crack in the door, or overhearing what is being said on the other side, Gregor-the-infant thus gets acquainted with his family. And it is of course significant that the door of his room is so often kept shut. It is here that we best understand in what manner « The Metamorphosis » is an overall representation of the structure of the metaphor. Clearly, Gregor’s fate depends on the way his family accepts to communicate with him.

At first, it is true, Gregor is the one who is responsible for the lack of communication between himself and his family:

Gregor aber dachte gar nicht daran aufzumachen, sondern lobte die vom Reisen
Her übernommene Vorsicht, auch zu Hause alle Türen während der Nacht zu Versperren.

However, he was not thinking of opening the door, and felt thankful for the prudent habit
he had acquired in travelling of looking all doors during the night, even at home.

But we soon realize that communication is not the only problem we are confronted with here. If Gregor, at this point of the narrative, hesitates so, or even refuses to open his bed-room door, it is because he can hide behind it : the door is a convenient screen, or veil, as we shall see. And as a consequence, I come to the conclusion that the fanticized regression with which I began my interpretation is only a small part of a larger and more complex fantasy.

For indeed it is not possible to forget that the desire to become a baby again—should this first part of my interpretation be correct—is accompanied by a metamorphosis into a repulsive creature, an Untier:

Er erkannte daraus, dass ihr sein Anblick noch immer unerträglich war […]

This made him realize how repulsive the sight of him was to her [his mother]

[die Mutter] erblickte den riesigen braunen Fleck auf den geblümten Tapete, rief,
[…] mit schreiender, rauher Stimme: « Ach Gott, ach Gott ! »[…]

She caught sight of a huge brown mass on the flowered wallpaper and […]
she screamed in a loud hoarse voice: « Oh God, oh God » […]

And yet, when we come to think of it and make a list of the passages where Gregor’s monstrosity is alluded to, we realize that they are rather scarce in the fifty-one pages of the tale. Indeed, once the narration is under way and has established the nature of Gregor’s metamorphosis, we mostly come across short phrases reminding us briefly of the transformation he has suffered, and—this is worth noticing—referring to parts of his body only. In fact, «The Metamorphosis» is mainly about the difficult life of a « monster », the word being taken in all its possible acceptations, physical or mental. And at this point one cannot help wondering to what an extent the source of Kafka’s literary invention did not lie in the fact that he thought he was « a monster » for his own parents. Only a thorough analysis of the writer’s complete works could enable us to sustain such a thesis, but it certainly constitutes an interesting line of investigation. And thus, having read « The Metamorphosis, » one may well ask the question : what does it mean to be a monster?

What is striking, however, and this is a tribute to the talent of the writer, what is striking is that «The Metamorphosis» not only provides us with a representation of what it is to be an infant (its sensations) , but also of what it is to be «abnormal.» And, more specifically, to be abnormal in the eyes of others. It seems that what was fanticized in Kafka’s tale—« I am a monster »--concurred to the representation of a realistic situation:

In der ersten vierzhen Tagen konnten es die Eltern nicht über sich bringen, zu ihm Hereinzukommen […]

For the first fortnight his parents could not bring themselves to the point of entering his room[…]

This may be one of the reasons why the word « door » is the substantive most used in the text: as we saw, doors are often shut on Gregor, and his family wants him to stay away from them in his room, even to the end:

Kaum war er innerhalb seines Zimmers, wurde die Tür eiligst zugedrückt, festgeriegelt
und versperrt. […] Es war die Schwester, die sich so beeilt hatte. […] «Endlich!» rief
sie den Eltern zu, wärhend sie den Schlüssel im Schloss umdrehte.

Hardly was he well inside his room when the door was hastily pushed shut, bolted
and locked […] It was his sister who had shown such haste.[…] she cried «At last»
to her parents as she turned the key on the lock.

A most appropriate way of speaking of the estrangement of the forlorn child, kept on the other side of the « door, » the passage can also symbolize the obstacle the child wishes to surmount.

At this point, one cannot help thinking that the representation of a physical abnormality is so disturbing because it is in fact the sign of a trait that goes beyond the physical appearance of the narrator : this, we can call the symbolical dimension of the unconscious subject.

For a close scrutiny of Kafka’s text reveals yet another type of fantasy, a deep-rooted fantasy which may help us to articulate more satisfactorily the fantasy of a return to infancy and the representation of the abnormality we have already noticed.

If we go back to the opening of the tale and carefully re-read its very first paragraph, an interesting detail calls our attention : «the bed-quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely.» Then, as we go on reading, we find, in the second paragraph, the picture of the lady which Gregor «had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine» (italics mine) and this detail makes us think that we may have found what explains the sliding bed-quilt. Here is the passage:

Es stellte eine Dame dar, die, mit einem Pelzhut und einer Pelzboa verstehen, aufrecht
dasass und einen schweren Pelzmuff, in dem ihr ganzen Unterarm verschwunden war, dem Beschauer entgegenhob.

It showed a lady, with a fur cap on and a fur stole, sitting upright and holding out to
the spectator a huge fur muff into which the whole of her forearm had vanished.

I find the insistence on vision interesting. Isn’t it as if Kafka were « holding out to the spectator » something he wished him or her to notice, something that mattered to him as author in any case? And of course he could well have been the spectator of the scene he had himself imagined. The bed-quilt about to slide off has been replaced by the huge fur muff : in spite of the «sitting upright»--which can be read «erect»--there is nothing to see. We shall never know what is really inside the fur muff or behind the bed-quilt : the forearm or its absence. Obviously, this «Vénus à la fourrure» introduces an essential theme into the story. In a few moments, it is true, the bed-quilt will eventually fall to the ground, but this is another part, another act of this complex fantasmatic drama.[...]

Robert Silhol

— PsyArt Journal

Vladimir Nabokov's Lecture on "The Metamorphosis"

Of course, no matter how keenly, how admirably, a story, a piece of music, a picture is discussed and analyzed, there will be minds that remain blank and spines that remain unkindled. "To take upon us the mystery of things"—what King Lear so wistfully says for himself and for Cordelia—this is also my suggestion for everyone who takes art seriously. A poor man is robbed of his overcoat (Gogol's "The Greatcoat," or more correctly "The Carrick"); another poor fellow is turned into a beetle (Kafka's "The Metamorphosis)—so what? There is no rational answer to "so what." We can take the story apart, we can find out how the bits fit, how one part of the pattern responds to the other; but you have to have in you some cell, some gene, some germ that will vibrate in answer to sensations that you can neither define, nor dismiss. Beauty plus pity—that is the closest we can get to a definition of art. Where there is beauty there is pity for the simple reason that beauty must die: beauty always dies, the manner dies with the matter, the world dies with the individual. If Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" strikes anyone as something more than an entomological fantasy, then I congratulate him on having joined the ranks of good and great readers.

I want to discuss fantasy and reality, and their mutual relationship. If we consider the "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" story as an allegory—the struggle between Good and Evil within every man—then this allegory is tasteless and childish. To the type of mind that would see an allegory here, its shadow play would also postulate physical happenings which common sense knows to be impossible; but actually in the setting of the story, as viewed by a commonsensical mind, nothing at first sight seems to run counter to general human experience. I want to suggest, however, that a second look shows that the setting of the story does run counter to general human experience, and that Utterson and the other men around Jekyll are, in a sense, as fantastic as Mr. Hyde. Unless we see them in a fantastic light, there is no enchantment. And if the enchanter leaves and the storyteller and the teacher remain alone together, they make poor company.

The story of Jekyll and Hyde is beautifully constructed, but it is an old one. Its moral is preposterous since neither good nor evil is actually depicted: on the whole, they are taken for granted, and the struggle goes on between two empty outlines. The enchantment lies in the art of Stevenson's fancywork; but I want to suggest that since art and thought, manner and matter, are inseparable, there must be something of the same kind about the structure of the story, too. Let us be cautious, however. I still think that there is a flaw in the artistic realization of the story—if we consider form and content separately—a flaw which is missing in Gogol's "The Carrick" and in Kafka's "The Metamorphosis." The fantastic side of the setting—Utterson, Enfield, Poole, Lanyon, and their London—is not of the same quality as the fantastic side of Jekyll's hydization. There is a crack in the picture, a lack of unity.

"The Carrick," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," and "The Metamorphosis": all three are commonly called fantasies. From my point of view, any outstanding work of art is a fantasy insofar as it reflects the unique world of a unique individual. But when people call these three stories fantasies, they merely imply that the stories depart in their subject matter from what is commonly called reality. Let us therefore examine what reality is, in order to discover in what manner and to what extent so-called fantasies depart from so-called reality.

Let us take three types of men walking through the same landscape. Number One is a city man on a well-deserved vacation. Number Two is a professional botanist. Number Three is a local farmer. Number One, the city man, is what is called a realistic, commonsensical, matter-of-fact type: he sees trees as trees and knows from his map that the road he is following is a nice new road leading to Newton, where there is a nice eating place recommended to him by a friend in his office. The botanist looks around and sees his environment in the very exact terms of plant life, precise biological and classified units such as specific trees and grasses, flowers and ferns, and for him, this is reality; to him the world of the stolid tourist (who cannot distinguish an oak from an elm) seems a fantastic, vague, dreamy, never-never world. Finally the world of the local farmer differs from the two others in that his world is intensely emotional and personal since he has been born and bred there, and knows every trail and individual tree, and every shadow from every tree across every trail, all in warm connection with his everyday work, and his childhood, and a thousand small things and patterns which the other two—the humdrum tourist and the botanical taxonomist—simply cannot know in the given place at the given time. Our farmer will not know the relation of the surrounding vegetation to a botanical conception of the world, and the botanist will know nothing of any importance to him about that barn or that old field or that old house under its cottonwoods, which are afloat, as it were, in a medium of personal memories for one who was born there.

So here we have three different worlds—three men, ordinary men who have different realities—and, of course, we could bring in a number of other beings: a blind man with a dog, a hunter with a dog, a dog with his man, a painter cruising in quest of a sunset, a girl out of gas— In every case it would be a world completely different from the rest since the most objective words tree, road, flower, sky, barn, thumb, rain have, in each, totally different subjective connotations. Indeed, this subjective life is so strong that it makes an empty and broken shell of the so-called objective existence. The only way back to objective reality is the following one: we can take these several individual worlds, mix them thoroughly together, scoop up a drop of that mixture, and call it objective reality. We may taste in it a particle of madness if a lunatic passed through that locality, or a particle of complete and beautiful nonsense if a man has been looking at a lovely field and imagining upon it a lovely factory producing buttons or bombs; but on the whole these mad particles would be diluted in the drop of objective reality that we hold up to the light in our test tube. Moreover, this objective reality will contain something that transcends optical illusions and laboratory tests. It will have elements of poetry, of lofty emotion, of energy and endeavor (and even here the button king may find his rightful place), of pity, pride, passion—and the craving for a thick steak at the recommended roadside eating place.

So when we say reality, we are really thinking of all this—in one drop—an average sample of a mixture of a million individual realities. And it is in this sense (of human reality) that I use the term reality when placing it against a backdrop, such as the worlds of "The Carrick," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," and "The Metamorphosis," which are specific fantasies.

In "The Carrick" and in "The Metamorphosis" there is a central figure endowed with a certain amount of human pathos among grotesque, heartless characters, figures of fun or figures of horror, asses parading as zebras, or hybrids between rabbits and rats. In "The Carrick" the human quality of the central figure is of a different type from Gregor in Kafka's story, but this human pathetic quality is present in both. In "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" there is no such human pathos, no throb in the throat of the story, none of that intonation of "'I cannot get out, I cannot get out,' said the starling" (so heartrending in Sterne's fantasy A Sentimental Journey). True, Stevenson devotes many pages to the horror of Jekyll's plight, but the thing, after all, is only a superb Punch-and-Judy show. The beauty of Kafka's and Gogol's private nightmares is that their central human characters belong to the same private fantastic world as the inhuman characters around them, but the central one tries to get out of that world, to cast off the mask, to transcend the cloak or the carapace. But in Stevenson's story there is none of that unity and none of that contrast. The Uttersons, and Pooles, and Enfields are meant to be commonplace, everyday characters; actually they are characters derived from Dickens, and thus they constitute phantasms that do not quite belong to Stevenson's own artistic reality, just as Stevenson's fog comes from a Dickensian studio to envelop a conventional London. I suggest, in fact, that Jekyll's magic drug is more real than Utterson's life. The fantastic Jekyll-and-Hyde theme, on the other hand, is supposed to be in contrast to this conventional London, but it is really the difference between a Gothic medieval theme and a Dickensian one. It is not the same kind of difference as that between an absurd world and pathetically absurd Bashmachkin, or between an absurd world and tragically absurd Gregor.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde theme does not quite form a unity with its setting because its fantasy is of a different type from the fantasy of the setting. There is really nothing especially pathetic or tragic about Jekyll. We enjoy every detail of the marvelous juggling, of the beautiful trick, but there is no artistic emotional throb involved, and whether it is Jekyll or Hyde who gets the upper hand remains of supreme indifference to the good reader. I am speaking of rather nice distinctions, and it is difficult to put them in simple form. When a certain clear-thinking but somewhat superficial French philosopher asked the profound but obscure German philosopher Hegel to state his views in a concise form, Hegel answered him harshly, "These things can be discussed neither concisely nor in French." We shall ignore the question whether Hegel was right or not, and still try to put into a nutshell the difference between the Gogol-Kafka kind of story and Stevenson's kind.

In Gogol and Kafka the absurd central character belongs to the absurd world around him but, pathetically and tragically, attempts to struggle out of it into the world of humans—and dies in despair. In Stevenson the unreal central character belongs to a brand of unreality different from that of the world around him. He is a Gothic character in a Dickensian setting, and when he struggles and then dies, his fate possesses only conventional pathos. I do not at all mean that Stevenson's story is a failure. No, it is a minor masterpiece in its own conventional terms, but it has only two dimensions, whereas the Gogol-Kafka stories have five or six.[...]


Revisiting a Kafka classic: The Metamorphosis

To my dismay, I recently came across some reviews on Amazon that depicted Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as a horror story. It’s also listed in Project Gutenberg with related books in ‘horror.’

I can kinda sorta see how someone might walk away with the horror impression but that’s not at all how the book should be classified.

It’s really not that scary.

To help all of you who may be new to Kafka (and I wholeheartedly encourage you to read this classic author’s writing) here’s a quick summary and a few notes on The Metamorphosis, one of his most celebrated works.

A summary of The Metamorphosis

First off, about the horror. Kafka is no Stephen King. That much is certain. He’d probably faint from all the blood. Instead, I want you to get into a ‘Twilight Zone’ state of mind.

The Metamorphosis is actually quite short (less than 100 pages in most editions) and it’s broken up into three chapters.

Our story opens with the main character, Gregor Samsa, waking up to find the he’s late for work. That actually seems to be the problem foremost in his mind even though Gregor has had an even more disturbing change overnight: his body has been transformed into some sort of oversized vermin or cockroach.

For much of the first chapter, Gregor is locked in his room and he’s having trouble getting out of bed. As a travelling salesman, he’d picked up the habit of locking his room every night no matter whether he was on the road or at home with his parents.

Because he didn’t get out of bed at his usual time, his parents and sister begin knocking on his bedroom doors asking if everything’s alright. To Gregor’s dismay, the chief clerk from his work also turns up at the house that morning asking about Gregor’s absence.

Gregor answers their questions from inside his room and while he hears his voice as he normally does, the responses from his parents and the chief clerk indicate that can only hear a strange insect sound emanating from Gregor.

Needless to say, everyone in the house is very confused and extremely concerned (Gregor is the sole breadwinner for the family) . For his part, Gregor is frustrated by the clerk’s inquiries and wonders why he can’t simply take a day to ‘recuperate.’

Eventually, Gregor manages to open the door by holding the key in his jaw and turning the lock. When his parents and the chief clerk see Gregor, they are stunned. The chief clerk backs his way out of the apartment and begins to descend the stairs. Gregor tries to pursue him in order to explain and ask that he not make a big deal of his condition when the chief clerk returns to the office. Before he gets to the clerk, however, Gregor’s father stops him and forces him back into his room by shouting and stomping his foot.

In the second chapter, we’re about two months into the metamorphosis and the Samsa household has begun to adopt to life with Gregor the vermin. His younger sister Grete brings him his meals (typically rotten leftovers) and Gregor has learned to crawl on the walls and ceiling. They have an unspoken understanding that Gregor should hide under the couch and behind a bedsheet before Grete comes into the room.

They continue living in this manner until one day Grete thinks it would be a good idea to remove the furniture from Gregor’s room so that he can crawl around more freely. She enlists the help of her mother to move some of the larger pieces. The mother, however, is torn by the idea because she believes that moving the furniture out means Gregor will never return to his old, human self. Gregor himself is unnerved by that prospect even though he hadn’t thought out his old self in quite some time. He decides that he should keep some things in his room as mementos and the first thing that catches his eye is a photograph of ‘the lady in copious fur.’ He crawls up the wall and covers the picture with his body, assuming no one will take it with him in the way.

Unfortunately, when his mother returns to the room, she sees him and faints. In all the ensuing anxiety and confusion, Gregor begins scurrying about in the apartment while Grete tends to his mother. Gregor eventually falls down in the middle of the dinner table.

When the father arrives home, he’s not happy. He begins chasing Gregor around the apartment, throwing apples at him. One hits Gregor squarely and lodges into his back.

Gregor never really recovers from the blow.

In the third and final chapter, we discover that the family has decided to make some extra money by renting out a room to three gentlemen.

The three gentlemen do not know about Gregor until one fateful evening. Grete begins playing violin in the living room for her parents and the three gentlemen but the three guests do not seem to enjoy the music.

Gregor comes into the room and he’s not noticed at first. Gregor wants to move closer so he can tug on his sister’s skirt as a sign that she should come play violin in his room because no one seems to appreciate her playing in the living room.

But, before that happens, one of the three gentlemen sees him and shouts “Mr. Samsa” to Gregor’s father while pointing his forefinger at Gregor himself.

For some reason, the father believes it is more important to calm the three gentlemen down than to send Gregor back into his room.

All three gentlemen immediately give notice of their intention to abandon their room and say they will not pay for the time that they had already stayed there. Instead, they say that they will consider pursuing damages against the Samsa family for the ‘repugnant’ condition of the flat.

Afterward, Grete tells her parents that something must be done about Gregor. He’s ruining their lives and scaring away tenants. Her father agrees but the mother seems overcome with emotion and unable to communicate.

Gregor turns around and goes back into his room. Once inside, the door quickly shuts, bolts and locks. As the key turned, Gregor heard his sister say loudly to her parents, “At last!”

Gregor found that he was unable to move anymore. He was aching but he felt like the pain had begun to subside. Soon, he was overcome with a desire to leave the family. He wanted to go even more than his sister wanted.

Around three in the morning, he takes his last breath and dies.

The next morning, after discovering Gregor’s dead vermin body, the father kicks the three gentlemen out of the house. They put up a minor fuss but leave relatively quickly.

After that, the father, mother and Grete then decide to spend the day relaxing in the country.

The book ends with the three of them arriving at their destination via the tram. At the end of this trip, the mother and father are thinking about finding a good man for Grete to marry.

Steve Pollak

— Jewish Literatury Review

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