The Metamorphosis

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Schocken Books edition of The Metamorphosis published in 1995.
Section 1 Quotes

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

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

The beginning of The Metamorphosis is famously unsettling. Apart from a vague mention of "uneasy dreams," Kafka gives us no reason for why or how the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, was transformed into an insect. This might be simply a standard attention-grabbing opening if we were to learn afterwards what led to this state of affairs. But we never do get an answer: the book simply proceeds from this set of assumptions, as we, together with Gregor, must scramble to deal with its consequences.

Indeed, even the way the beginning is phrased removes agency or motivation from Gregor's metamorphosis: "he found himself transformed" focuses only on the end result. From the very beginning, then, the book proposes a way of storytelling in which events unfold with little guiding, consciously driven motivation. Instead, Gregor's body seems to change of its own will, with his mind hurrying to catch up with this transformation and to grapple with what it means for his sense of self and for his family. 


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You amaze me, you amaze me. I thought you were a quiet, dependable person, and now all at once you seem bent on making a disgraceful exhibition of yourself.

Related Characters: Chief Clerk (speaker), Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

The chief clerk is on the other side of Gregor's locked door, as he and the rest of Gregor's family beg Gregor to unlock it and let them in. As Gregor frantically attempts to deal with his new physical reality, the clerk grows frustrated and begins to criticize Gregor for failing to live up to his responsibilities. As we can see from the clerk's implications, Gregor has always been dutiful and responsible: he is the family's major breadwinner, and takes this role seriously. It is thanks to him that the family can get by at all.

Here, though, this strange event means that all Gregor's diligence and responsibility, carefully cultivated over a long period of time, are in danger of suddenly unraveling. What makes the scene even more excruciating is that there is nothing Gregor can do about it: he is trapped within his new body, unable even to defend himself with language to the clerk. At the same time, the quickness with which the Chief Clerk turns on Gregor, who has always been such a good employee, indicates both an incredible lack of compassion and suggests how quickly someone who has ceased to conform to the expectations of society, even through no fault of their own, is quickly shamed and discarded.

The chief clerk must be detained, soothed, persuaded and finally won over; the whole future of Gregor and his family depended on it!

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa, Chief Clerk
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor has finally gotten the door to his room unlocked, but he seems curiously to underestimate the distress and shock that are affecting both his family and the clerk at the moment. Instead, he congratulates himself on knowing exactly what must be done in his situation: he must calm down the clerk enough that he won't go back to the office in hysterics and ruin Gregor's job prospects. Such logic might seem flawless to Gregor, although to us it smacks of absurdity as well – how has Gregor not realized that his transformation has quite seriously jeopardized his job already? And that he no longer can be understood in order to explain himself?

Still, Gregor's insistence on soothing the clerk reflects his continued sense of obligation to his family, as he knows he is the sole source of income in the family and must make sure that they will be financially stable. It is the disconnect between Gregor's serious, responsible intentions and the disastrous effects his new body creates that will come to characterize much of the rest of the book.

Section 2 Quotes

"What a quiet life our family has been leading," said Gregor to himself, and as he sat there motionless staring into the darkness he felt great pride in the fact that he had been able to provide such a life for his parents and sister in such a fine flat. But what if all the quiet, the comfort, the contentment were now to end in horror?

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa (speaker), Grete Samsa, Father, Mother
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor, listening from his room, has realized that his father is not reading to Grete as usual, and his thoughts turn to the great disruption that his transformation has surely made in his family's daily life – perhaps the first time that he fully realizes how significant a change has taken place. Still, he continues to focus on the pride and self-confidence that he feels as an independent young man whose family burdens rest on his shoulders. They have long depended on him to lead the family, financially and otherwise, and he has happily taken on this duty, enabling them to live in peace.

However, now he begins to recognize that such peace and quiet may not last forever. Indeed, he himself might be the cause of his family's greatest destruction, even though that is not at all his intention. Once again, the phrasing of this passage's last line suggests that consequences might unfold without anyone consciously desiring or promoting them – instead, events will simply take place on their own, following the logic of physical reality rather than complex mental desires.

…He must lie low for the present and, by exercising patience and the utmost consideration, help the family to bear the inconvenience he was bound to cause them in his present condition.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

As Gregor continues to struggle to bear this new burden – the reality that his family now has been thrown into disruption because of his transformation – his thoughts turn once again to his responsibility in taking care of them. Gregor is used to acting in such a way that his family is able to remain dependent on him. This is precisely how he has led his life as his family's primary breadwinner until now. Yet again, the apparent logic of Gregor's thoughts is, upon closer examination, suspect. This time it is Gregor himself who has caused the family's disruption, so it is strange for him to commit himself to helping the family deal with it. 

Gregor seems to reconcile this contradiction by insisting, at least implicitly, that he had nothing to do with his own transformation, and so he cannot really be said to have caused his family's "inconvenience" in a meaningful sense of the term. But as a result of this confusion, the passage remains uncertain regarding whether Gregor will truly be able to direct his own circumstances, or whether he will have to submit to the necessities of his new reality.

At first whenever the need for earning money was mentioned Gregor let go his hold on the door and threw himself down on the cool leather sofa beside it, he felt so hot with shame and grief.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor has been listening to his family discuss financial matters, and as he realizes that, although they are thrifty, the only way they can stay afloat is by his father returning to work, he feels ashamed at no longer being able to support them. Gregor's feelings here seem deeply human: "shame and grief" both stem from a sense of responsibility and care towards his family. Gregor recognizes, at the same time, that it was he himself who was able to ease his family's difficulties earlier in his life – even though at the time, his family seemed to take his efforts for granted. Still, Gregor had embraced his role, and now it seems that the identity that he developed for himself as a responsible family man is unraveling, without any legitimate identity to replace it.

If he could have spoken to her and thanked her for all she had to do for him, he could have borne her ministrations better; as it was, they oppressed him.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa, Grete Samsa
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor is used to being able to provide for Grete as for the rest of his family: he is used to this position and the dynamics that result from this relationship. Now, in addition to his physical metamorphosis, he must undergo a transformation regarding his and his family's expectations about their proper roles. In particular, here, Grete's dependence on Gregor has reversed such that Gregor is now dependent on his sister.

However, it is not merely that Gregor feels uncomfortable and ill at ease because of the way the family dynamics have shifted. In addition, he is unable to communicate with Grete, using the power of language to make her comfortable again, and to communicate how he feels to her. As she grows increasingly nervous around him, Gregor becomes correspondingly more frustrated, and the chance for true feelings of sympathy and understanding becomes ever more remote.

Do let me in to Gregor, he is my unfortunate son! Can't you understand that I must go to him?

Related Characters: Mother (speaker), Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Grete has been taking care of Gregor during the past two months. Finally, Gregor's mother wants to come in and see him. Here, she seems to reclaim her role as his mother, even though he has changed beyond all recognition, and even though she has not exactly been playing the role of the devoted mother in recent weeks. Nevertheless, this passage suggests that one way his mother seeks to understand what has happened is within the framework of a family tragedy – an "unfortunate" event that happened to her beloved son, whom she now must look after. Even though the reality of the situation makes such cries seem senseless or silly, Mother, along with other characters in the story, can only rely on existing codes of family behavior in order to seek to understand this new reality.

Nothing should be taken out of his room; everything must stay as it was; he could not dispense with the good influence of the furniture on his state of mind; and even if the furniture did hamper him in his senseless crawling round and round, that was no drawback but a great advantage.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor's mother has asked Grete not to move any of the other furniture in the room out of the way. Grete has been doing so so that Gregor has greater freedom to move around, something which, as an insect, he appreciates. However, upon hearing his mother's opinion, Gregor realizes that he has been wrong – or, at least, that he has been thinking like a bug and not like the human he once was. The presence of the furniture, he now reasons, will force him to continue to think like a human: in general, it will force him to continue to use his mind to direct his circumstances, rather than being guided by his feelings alone. 

Grete has seemed to gain a level of sympathy for Gregor in sensing what he, as an animal, wants: but Gregor must balance his sense of gratefulness to Grete with the constant struggle going on between his mind and his body. As his mother notes, if they move all the furniture away, it's as good as accepting that Gregor will never change back: for Gregor, this would mean conceding victory to his bodily instincts.

Section 3 Quotes

The serious injury done to Gregor, which disabled him for more than a month—the apple went on sticking in his body as a visible reminder, since no one ventured to remove it—seemed to have made even his father recollect that Gregor was a member of the family, despite his present unfortunate and repulsive shape, and ought not to be treated as an enemy, that, on the contrary, family duty required the suppression of disgust and the exercise of patience, nothing but patience.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa, Father
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

In a moment of anger and fear, Gregor's father had thrown an apple at him – ceding to the sense, even if unconscious, that this insect was not really a member of their family but only a repulsive nuisance. Now, however, he and the other members of the family seem to have regained, if not clarity, at least a sense of responsibility and uncertain sympathy towards Gregor. They are all still confused regarding whether or not Gregor is "there," his mind trapped inside the cockroach, or if not, what precise relation exists between the Gregor that was once a part of their family and the new being that has replaced him.

Still, the family seems to accept that, even if they cannot understand what the insect is, the creature still belongs to them, and they must treat it accordingly. Once again, without any satisfying answers to guide their actions, the family falls back on customary codes of behavior rather than attempting to solve the mystery of Gregor's metamorphosis. 

Instead of being allowed to disturb him so senselessly whenever the whim took her, she should rather have been ordered to clean out his room daily, that charwoman!

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa, Charwoman
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

The charwoman has taking to poking her head into Gregor's room and laughing at him every so often, calling him names and bothering him. He never knows when exactly the charwoman will enter, so he always has to be prepared to deal with her intrusions. Here Gregor seems to consider himself once again the head of the family, responsible for the others and capable of deciding what should and should not take place within the household. Now, of course, his insistence contrasts deeply with the actual state of vulnerability in which he finds himself.

The charwoman's constant intrusions, in addition, create a notable contrast to the way the family treats Gregor. She has no memory of Gregor as a human: to her he is just a huge bug, a nuisance, to be sure, but nothing to be afraid of. Her casual attitude suggests that she is less bothered by such a "repulsive" creature than the family, which is striving towards the middle class and the stability and propriety that comes with it. But her attitude also reminds us that the true mystery and difficulty of the family's situation is not that they have to deal with a large insect, but that they have witnessed a senseless transformation and cannot find a way to resolve the inevitable problems of selfhood and responsibility that arise.

"I'm hungry enough," said Gregor sadly to himself, "but not for that kind of food. How these lodgers are stuffing themselves, and here I am dying of starvation!"

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa (speaker), Gregor Samsa, The lodgers
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor watches how his family carefully looks after the feeding and well-being of the lodgers that they have taken on. Another stage in the family's development has taken place: while initially Gregor provided financially for the family, they were then forced to take care of Gregor. Now, with Gregor transformed, the family has replaced Gregor as a dependent with lodgers who can pay them.

Gregor contrasts his own sorry state with that of the lodgers, even though what they are given to eat no longer appeals to him. Gregor has slipped further into the habits and desires of the body he inhabits. At the same time, however, his mind continues, through memory, to connect his past with his present, as he is able to recognize how much his family's attitude towards him has changed.

He felt hardly any surprise at his growing lack of consideration for the others; there had been a time when he prided himself on being considerate.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Related Symbols: Grete's violin
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor has heard Grete playing the violin and has crept into the room while the family and their lodgers are gathered for her recital. He hasn't taken the time to clean himself, and he knows that he will only be more repulsive to the family. Here, though, he finds himself affected by a different set of pressures. Gregor seems to have lost the sense of responsibility and care for his family that had long continued to be present even in his new state. It was that sense of responsibility that caused him those feelings of "shame and grief," for instance, and made him frustrated that he can no longer fulfill the role that was always his in the family. But now, this loss of a sense of responsibility seems to suggest that Gregor is allowing his body to dictate what he does. 

Was he an animal, that music had such an effect on him?

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Related Symbols: Grete's violin
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

Moments earlier, Gregor scuttled into the room where his sister was playing violin as if drawn there without his will. In an earlier passage this movement is described as a triumph of Gregor's bodily instincts over the emotional factors of responsibility and thoughtfulness that defined his character as a human. Now, however, we see the attraction of the concert to him in a different light. What draws him to the room is, of course, Grete's music: he is unable to stop himself because he is so enraptured by her playing.

Such an overwhelming feeling as a result of a musical or artistic experience is familiar to many people: indeed, one might call it a particularly human trait. As a result, Gregor begins to wonder whether or not "he" is truly an insect – a question that implies a more fundamental question, whether or not he is the same person that he once was, and what it means for the "he" that is Gregor's consciousness to survive through different physical realities. While the book will never answer this question, here it particularly complicates the possibility of making a strong contrast between thinking human and instinctual animal.

We must try to get rid of it. We've tried to look after it and to put up with it as far as is humanly possible, and I don't think anyone could reproach us in the slightest.

Related Characters: Grete Samsa (speaker), Gregor Samsa, Grete Samsa
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor has ruined the family's concert, and now with the horrified lodgers moving out they find themselves in even more dire financial straits than before. This time it is Grete, not Gregor's father, who expresses the most extreme views regarding their responsibility towards Gregor – all the more striking, since she is the one to have taken on the care of him most thoughtfully over the past several months.

Nonetheless, the way Grete frames her argument does not really suggest that she thinks it is justifiable to abandon her brother Gregor. While she has referred to the insect as Gregor before, now she characterizes him as "it," as a foreign intruder in the household who can only be managed. He has been changed, and she no longer sees him as Gregor. Further, she argues that the family has met its social obligations to this "it," and that they wouldn't be acting in a way that could cause them social shame if they ceased to care for "it". 

Grete's quote raises the question of whether all of her care for Gregor was always little more than a sense of social obligation – something she did because she felt she had to in order to be socially acceptable rather than something she wanted to do out of love. More likely, though, it indicates the way that as a dreadful situation ceases to change even those who respond initially with love can grow weary and then find ways to justify their desire to escape from that weariness. It also indicates just how heartless "society" can be.

But how can it be Gregor? If this were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that human beings can't live with such a creature, and he'd have gone away on his own accord.

Related Characters: Grete Samsa (speaker), Gregor Samsa, Grete Samsa
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Grete uses a peculiar kind of logic to justify why she believes that this creature is no longer Gregor – and since it is no longer her brother, all the bonds of care, love, and responsibility that ensure are broken. Her hypothetical statement suggests that if there were a thinking mind inside this creature, the insect never would have remained to bother them in the first place. As a result, she believes the family is justified in abandoning it.

Of course, at a different moment, Gregor could have used such feelings of resentment to justify abandoning his own family – also because they were so dependent on him and didn't think that their dependence might be a problem. But Gregor's repulsive physical state enables Grete to not have to grapple with such thoughts of equivalence, such that the family bonds can now begin to unravel. 

He thought of his family with tenderness and love.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor's final thoughts before he dies are of his family. Even though they have contributed to his death, and although even Grete has abandoned him, he still cannot fully let go of the feelings that have directed him for so long. Earlier in the book, it was Gregor's duty and role as breadwinner that helped to define him – leading to his confusion and discomfort when he could no longer fulfill this identity. Here, however, it is not exactly a certain identity but rather a certain sentiment towards others that defines Gregor's final moments. 

This is certainly the passage in the book that does the most to portray Gregor as a kind of martyr, dying so that his family can be free, even though he never questioned the burden he had to carry when he had to support the family. Here we are meant to see that even many of Gregor's actions that proved the most damaging to his family – the intrusion on the concert foremost among them – were prompted by feelings of love. Gregor may no longer inhabit a human body, and indeed it's still up for debate whether he is exactly still "Gregor" at all, but this passage suggests that that almost doesn't matter. Still, it would probably be a mistake to consider this passage as proving that love conquers all or can win out against fear and suspicion. If anything, it's tragically ironic that Gregor feels this way as he dies alone and abandoned by his family. 

And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their journey their daughter sprang to her feet first and stretched her young body.

Related Characters: Grete Samsa, Father, Mother
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

Although much of the book has followed Gregor's point of view, The Metamorphosis ends not with Gregor's pitiful death but with the sense of freedom and possibility that the family embraces after he dies. As they travel into the countryside, the future seems to open up for them: no longer must they bear the terrible burden of their strange, transformed son.

While this passage paints a portrait of a happy family, we are meant to remember that this portrait depends on exclusion and suspicion more than it does on mutual respect and responsibility, seen most clearly in the way that Grete's lithe, young body contrasts sharply with the decaying, disgusting beetle that Gregor had become. At the same time, the book shows how both these physical realities end up affecting, if not determining, the possibilities for each of the siblings. Gregor's transformed body caused him to be eventually abandoned by his family. Grete's body leads her parents to see how she might be married off, and in being married off ensure financial security for the whole family. The parents continue to depend on (or, perhaps, exploit?) their children, relying on social norms and expectations to do so. 

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