The Metamorphosis


Kafka wrote "The Metamorphosis" in 1912, taking three weeks to compose
the story. While he had expressed earlier satisfaction with the work, he later
found it to be flawed, even calling the ending "unreadable." But whatever his
own opinion may have been, the short story has become one of the most popularly
read and analyzed works of twentieth-century literature. Isolation and
alienation are at the heart of this surreal story of a man transformed overnight
into a kind of beetle. In contrast to much of Kafka\'s fiction, "The
Metamorphosis" has not a sense of incompleteness. It is formally structured
into three Roman-numbered parts, with each section having its own climax. A
number of themes run through the story, but at the center are the familial
relationships fundamentally affected by the great change in the story\'s
protagonist, Gregor Samsa (Lawson 27).

While the father-son relationship in the story appears to be a central
theme, the relationship between Gregor and his sister Grete is perhaps the most
unique. It is Grete, after all, with whom the metamorphosed Gregor has any
rapport, suggesting the Kafka intended to lend at least some significance to
their relationship. Grete\'s significance is found in her changing relationship
with her brother. It is Grete\'s changing actions, feelings, and speech toward
her brother, coupled with her accession to womanhood, that seem to parallel
Gregor\'s own metamorphosis. This change represents her metamorphosis form
adolescence into adulthood but at the same time it marks the final demise of
Gregor. Thus a certain symmetry is to be found in "The Metamorphosis": while
Gregor falls in the midst of despair, Grete ascends to a self-sufficient, sexual
woman.

It is Grete who initially tries conscientiously to do whatever she can
for Gregor. She attempts to find out what he eats, to make him feel comfortable,
and to anticipate his desires. Grete, in an act of goodwill and love toward
Gregor, "brought him a wide assortment of things, all spread out on old
newspaper: old, half-rotten vegetables; bones left over from the evening meal,
caked with congealed white sauce; some raisins and almonds; a piece of cheese,
which two days before Gregor had declared inedible; a plain slice of bread, a
slice of bread and butter, and one with butter and salt" (p. 24). Besides being
the only member of the family still willing to face Gregor daily, she is also
the family representative of Gregor, in a sense, to a mother who doesn\'t
understand and a father who is hostile and opposing. The father is physically
violent toward his metamorphosed Gregor, pushing him through a door in Part I:
"...when from behind his father gave him a strong push which was literally a
deliverance and he flew far into the room, bleeding freely" (p. 20). Grete
appears to concentrate on protecting Gregor from this antagonistic father and an
indecisive mother. In Part II, when Grete leads her mother into Gregor\'s room
for the first time, we see the strange way in which Grete has become both the
expert and the caretaker of Gregor\'s affairs (Nabokov 271). She convinces her
mother that it is best to remove all of the furniture from his room. Kafka
attributes her actions partly to an adolescent zest: "Another factor which might
have been also the enthusiastic temperament of an adolescent girl, which seeks
to indulge itself on every opportunity and which now tempted Grete to exaggerate
the horror of her brother\'s circumstances in order that she might do all the
more for him" (p. 34).

The change in Grete\'s attitudes and actions toward Gregor probably fully
begin in Part II, during the scene where Gregor struggles over to the window and
leans against the panes to look outside. Grete, seemingly beginning to forget
the Gregor still has human feelings and sensitivities, rudely opens the window
and voices her disgust at the distasteful odor of his den. Moreover, she
doesn\'t bother to hide her feelings when she sees him. One day, about a month
after Gregor\'s metamorphosis, "when there was surely no reason for her to be
still startled at his appearance, she came a little earlier than usual and found
him gazing out of the window...she jumped back as if in alarm and banged the
door shut; a stranger might well have thought he had been lying in wait for her
there meaning to bite her" (p. 30). Against her mounting insensitivity is
Gregor\'s poignant selflessness (Nabokov 270). In a marvelous display of feeling
and compassion for his sister and her feelings, he expends four hours of labor
to carry a sheet on his back to the couch to