The Metamorphosis

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Themes and Colors
Mind vs. Body Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
Intentions vs. Outcomes Theme Icon
Sympathy, Dependence, Responsibility Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Metamorphosis, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Intentions vs. Outcomes Theme Icon

Gregor always has the best intentions, but he fails to communicate them effectively, and always makes blunders that increase his family's difficulties. The most heart-wrenching example of a well-intentioned, failed gesture comes during Grete's violin concert for the boarders. Gregor wants to prove that he's not a mere animal, and feels that the music will offer him the "unknown nourishment" he's lacking (which suggests that a lack of art and beauty contribute to his death, shortly after the concert). He creeps forward in a fit of optimism and affection, but of course his actions ruin the concert and destroy his family's attempt to make money. In this situation and in the many other moments of failed good intentions, Gregor's problem is his inability to communicate. Even without talking, he ought to be able to use body language to show what he intends, but his insect-like brain prevents him from acting in an understandable way.

This theme demonstrates the extreme importance of effective communication, as well as the way that people's preconceptions and opinions create walls. To take another example, Gregor's father's certainty that Gregor's scuttling is threatening, not just nervous, leads him to attack his son.

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Intentions vs. Outcomes ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Intentions vs. Outcomes appears in each section of The Metamorphosis. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Intentions vs. Outcomes Quotes in The Metamorphosis

Below you will find the important quotes in The Metamorphosis related to the theme of Intentions vs. Outcomes.
Section 1 Quotes

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.


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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 3 Quotes

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.

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.