The Metamorphosis: An Analysis – Part Two
An exploration of personal and family estrangement in Franz Kafka’s novella.
Alienated from your Family
Arguably the most important element of the book is Gregor’s relationships with his family.
As suggested in part one, Gregor sees himself in the role of provider. His drive is twofold – earn enough to eradicate his father’s debts, while simultaneously putting food on the table. And, to give his younger sister, Grete, an opportunity to go to a prestigious music school so she can realise her dream of playing the violin.
During the course of the final two chapters, both of these goals are reduced to arid, unfulfilled aspirations with Gregor on the floor of his room; his family seemingly unaware or ungrateful for his efforts.
But it wasn’t always this way – his sister Grete spends much of the story trying to take care of her now grotesque brother.
Gregor reveals a deep affection for Grete during the story. She is arguably the most sympathetic to his new mode of existence and is the only one brave enough to venture into his room. She, without prompting, takes on the role of caretaker; attempting to help Gregor by discovering what might suit his new tastes and habits.
“To gauge his tastes, she brought him an entire assortment of foodstuffs, all spread out on an old newspaper.”
However, as time begins to pass, higher expectations are required of Grete. One can imagine her needing to fulfil the position of her mother’s emotional support, and when the maid is let go due to the circumstances, she would also be required to take on more responsibilities around the house.
“Now Gregor’s sister was forced to do the cooking in concert with his mother.”
As a seventeen-year-old, Grete might grow to resent the new level of accountability. This is not evident straight away, but there is a growing acknowledgement that Grete can no longer accept Gregor, with his peculiar insect-like features, as her true brother. One early sign of this comes in the form of her revulsion towards finding him latched to the window of his room.
“She didn’t just not enter: she started in alarm and shut the door; a stranger might have thought Gregor had been lying in wait, meaning to bite her.”
Later in chapter two, Grete also decides that it is best to remove Gregor’s furniture in an attempt to create the freedom his new form demands. And while she might have good intentions, it also indicates that Grete is slowly giving up on the notion that the insect will ever revert back to her once beloved sibling.
This sentiment reaches a crescendo in part three when, having drifted towards the sounds of Grete’s violin as she plays for the lodger’s in the living-room, Gregor is spotted. Panic ensues, resulting in the lodger’s declaring that they expect their money back and that they’ll be leaving imminently.
Shortly after, the family begin to discuss what can be done now. It is here when Grete finally declares:
“I am unwilling to utter my brother’s name before this creature… we have to try and get rid of it.” – Grete Samsa.
Grete has reached the point where her brother is now an “it”. Gregor has become entirely “other”, and has become a liability which the family has the misfortune of having to keep.
Gregor left his room in admiration of his sister’s violin, conceivably connecting back to his humanity and the memory of his dream for Grete. In return, as a result of the growing resentment, he is misunderstood and rejected.
The question lies in whether we can be too critical of Grete. She does the most out of all of the characters to try and help Gregor, and since she is younger, it must have been difficult to adapt to the new situation. Someone she used to admire is now unrecognisable and, at times, appears to be threatening.
The end of the novella focusses on Grete’s own metamorphosis after the ordeal with Gregor.
“Despite all of the torments that had made her cheeks grow pale, she had recently blossomed into a beautiful, voluptuous girl.”
From the perspective of the parents, they have noticed how Grete has matured, potentially as a result of dealing with Gregor. There is a strong sense of optimism for her future; one of Gregor's dreams. However, instead of being a product of his labour, it appears he needed to leave for it to be realised.
Whether this is mostly the fault of Gregor or of his family is for you to decide.
Mother and Father
Gregor’s mother and father take on very different roles after his metamorphosis.
His mother is a passive character who largely appears in denial over his situation, while his father becomes highly defensive and takes an active role in physically attacking him. Either way, they both register a level of shame towards their own son. If they didn’t, they would have surely done everything in their power to find help, instead of leaving him to cower under the couch in trepidation.
Starting with his mother, we established in part one how she is apologetic about Gregor’s lateness to the Cheif Clerk. She defends his work ethic and clearly believes her son is simply having an off day. Yet, when Gregor opens the door, she reacts with the most fear.
She ends up retreating back to the breakfast table where she knocks the coffeepot onto the floor, adding to the escalating chaos.
After this event, it is clear she must have calmed down because it states how she is persuaded by her husband and daughter not to see Gregor. Eventually though, she has enough and demands to see him.
“Let me go to Gregor, he is my unhappy son! Can’t you understand that I must go to him?” – Gregor’s mother.
It is also his mother who suggests to Grete that it might not be in Gregor’s best interest to move all of his furniture; suggesting that it could be taken as a sign of abandonment. Whether in blind faith or true conviction, Gregor’s mother believes (in that moment) that there is a real possibility that he will get better.
But that confidence does not appear to hold when she is confronted with his new appearance for the second time, as he clings to his picture on the wall. Once again she shrieks — maybe she can cope with the idea of her son but not the harshness of the real situation.
The last significant action Gregor’s mother takes is when she fears for his life after his father returns home to the commotion. It is apparent that in his anger he is capable of killing Gregor, and it is only through the pleas of his mother that he stops.
“She clasped her hands at the back of his father’s head and pleaded to him to stop.”
After this, she takes a reduced role in the story and, if anything, shows a sign of relief when Gregor finally retreats to his room to die at the end. Similarly to Grete, she has somewhat good intentions throughout the book, she just can’t accept him for who he is.
As previously stated, Gregor's father takes a far more hostile position than the rest of the family. At the end of both chapter one and two, he inflicts serious bodily harm onto Gregor. Particularly in part two, it appears that he is almost relishing the chance to enact revenge on his own son. He barely listens to Grete’s account and assumes Gregor to be guilty of attacking his family. He chases Gregor back to the room pelts him with apples.
“Gregor stopped in his tracks; there was no point continuing to run now his father had decided to bombard him.”
The wounds inflicted (both physical and emotional) continue to plague Gregor until his death.
After the attack, he becomes tirelessly defensive; staying in the living room in his work uniform. He is agitated and resentful about what Gregor is doing to the family and his own retirement.
He at no point appears to apologise for what he has done to Gregor, prioritising his own interests and the interests of the family above all else. It is not even clear if he showed much gratitude for Gregor’s working efforts before the change; he was just happy to allow Gregor to pay off the remaining debts.
One interesting revelation in the second chapter concerning the debt comes when Gregor discovers his father has stored away some extra money from his business.
While Gregor is thrilled that the family have money to fall back on, it does raise the question of whether his father could have helped reduce the debt with his own funds. This might, in turn, have allowed Gregor to find other, more fulfilling work.
Out of all the characters, Gregor’s father seemed the most content on having him provide for the family when he was fit to and is also the most hostile towards his metamorphosis. His only redeeming moment comes towards the end when he suggests that they might be able to come to an agreement with Gregor if only they could communicate with him.
That leaves us to wonder, how different things could have been, if only he had taken this approach from the very beginning.
The Conclusion to Part Two
This part has aimed to highlight how each of the family members dealt with Gregor’s change. Sadly, while Grete and his mother show certain amounts of sympathy, it is ultimately not enough to encourage them to confront his new identity without disgust. His father never really reveals an understanding of his son and plays a large part in his inevitable demise.
Potentially the most heart-breaking part of all of this comes when Gregor struggles back to his room to die — reflecting on the love he still has for his family, despite what was unfolded.
“He thought back on his family with tenderness and love. His opinion that he must by all means disappear was possibly even more empathetic than his sister. He remained in this state of empty, peaceful reflection until the clocktower struck the third hour of morning. He watched as everything began to lighten outside his window. Then his head sank all the way to the floor without volition and his nostrils his last breath faintly streamed.”
All quotations from The Metamorphosis are sourced from the 2014 translation by Susan Bernonofsky, published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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Originally published at theapeironblog.com.