The Metamorphosis

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Sympathy, Dependence, Responsibility Theme Analysis

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Sympathy, Dependence, Responsibility Theme Icon
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Sympathy, Dependence, Responsibility Theme Icon

Though Gregor's family first deals with his metamorphosis with concern and sympathy, by the story's end they're actually happier after his death. The story demonstrates the shifting roles of dependence and sympathy: at first, the dependent Gregor gains the sympathy of his family, who attempt to be responsible for him; later, they grow weary, even angered, by their responsibilities towards him. The family's loss of sympathy for Gregor stems from the trouble he's caused them financially and the ways he's embarrassed them in front of guests, but the biggest block to their sympathy is his loss of his human shape and behavior. Grete is the character with the most sympathy for Gregor, but even she reaches her limit after the disastrous violin concert. She tells her mother and father, "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…" She justifies this position by choosing not to believe that the cockroach is her brother anymore, and characterizes him as selfish and rude. The readers, on the other hand, are aligned with Gregor, since we see the story from his head. As he runs back and forth in dismay, we feel his pain, even as we wish that he could reassure his family by acting a little more human, or by being more responsible and independent.

Still, Grete's assumption may be true—Gregor in this new shape might not be her brother anymore. By the end of the story, he's not so much a human trapped in an insect's body, as a very thoughtful insect, which to all outward appearances acts like an insect. But even though he's not really human anymore, does he deserve the same amount of sympathy as a human? The story suggests that he does, but it also demonstrates how that's impossible.

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Sympathy, Dependence, Responsibility ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Metamorphosis related to the theme of Sympathy, Dependence, Responsibility.
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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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.

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.

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. 

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.