Gregor's injury incapacitates him for more than a month, and the apple remains embedded in his back. The wound reminds his family to treat him better: "family duty required the suppression of disgust and the exercise of patience." The family now leaves the living room door open so that he can see them as they eat dinner. The dinners tend to be quiet, as all three family members are now employed, Grete as a salesgirl and Gregor's mother at an underwear manufacturer. Gregor's father is constantly exhausted, won't even remove his increasingly dirty work uniform, and complains about his life. Gregor learns that the family has been selling off jewels to get some income, and soon they replace their servant girl with an older and less expensive charwoman.
The family can't figure out how to relate to the cockroach. Is Gregor inside that body? Or has Gregor transformed in both body and mind? And, most important: even if Gregor is 100% cockroach, does the cockroach still deserve some respect because he was once Gregor? No one believes that some monster cockroach ate Gregor—on some level, everyone knows that he is the cockroach, and therefore is a part of their family. As such, the family struggles with their responsibilities towards him, as all humans struggle with responsibility towards those different from us. Meanwhile, the responsibilities of work that at first enlivened his father now merely exhaust him, just as Gregor's own work seemed to have been exhausting him when he was human. And the family's financial fortune's continue to falter with Gregor's income gone.
Gregor understands that the stresses on his family have made Grete, his mother and father less attentive to him. His family members spend all day working for other people. They seem exhausted and hopeless, and upset that they are so unfortunate compared to everyone else that they know.
The family cares a lot about how they measure up to other people, and their desire to conform and fit in with society's expectations also limits their sympathy for Gregor—he is a source of shame.
Gregor imagines returning to work and being able to help his family, thinks about his friends, the chief clerk, even a few love affairs, but ultimately he's happy when he stops thinking about these people. He sometimes is "filled with rage" because of his family's neglect and Grete's careless cleaning. He barely eats, but Grete doesn't seem to notice. Still, she wants to be the only one to take care of Gregor, and fights with their mother for sometimes trying to help him.
This passage shows Gregor's descent into indignation about what he perceives as his family ignoring him. Before his transformation, he was motivated both by being responsible, and by earning recognition for it. Now his family's ignoring him pushes him further into roach-like self-centeredness. He is happier when not thinking about human things.
The charwoman finds Gregor one day and is neither disgusted nor frightened by him. In fact, she likes to check on him from time to time, bothering him. When he tries to run threateningly towards her, she calmly keeps him away with a chair.
The amusing character of the charwoman provides a contrast to the family. She's less concerned with class and etiquette, and therefore feels no shame or disgust regarding Gregor—and so is more capable of dealing with Gregor. She also lacks any memory of him as a human, and so she feels no conflict about how to treat or think about him.
The family takes on three lodgers to supplement their income. To make things comfortable for the lodgers, the family dumps clutter and trash in Gregor's room. Gregor barely eats and feels sad and tired even though he enjoys climbing around the junk. Gregor longingly notices the care with which his mother and Grete feed the lodgers, and the attention that his father lavishes upon them.
Though in Section 2 the family paid a lot of attention to Gregor's room, wanting to clear it out to make him comfortable, now they completely disregard his preferences. As his dependence on them has become a burden, their sympathy has faded. In addition, there is a sense that the lodgers have partially taken the place of Gregor's former human role. It used to be that he provided financial support and then his family would manage he home (clean his room, make his bed, etc.). But now they do that for the lodgers.
One night, for the first time since the transformation as far as Gregor knows, Grete begins to play the violin. The lodgers ask her to come play for them in the living room. Gregor's mother and father awkwardly and formally come to watch as well.
Grete resuming her playing of the violin seems to suggest some return of normality Gregor's family (at least for everyone but him). Though her playing also suggests that she and her parents are trying to make the lodgers happy, to "earn" their money and stay afloat. Even as the family pays more attention to the lodgers and less to Gregor, the family's awkward striving paints them in a sympathetic light, preventing them from seeming intentionally evil.
Gregor creeps into the living room, though he is filthy and can't be bothered to clean himself: "He hardly felt any surprise at his growing lack of consideration for the others; there had been a time when he prided himself on being considerate." No one notices as he crawls closer and closer. The lodgers seem bored but polite, yet Gregor profoundly feels the beauty of the music. He wonders, "Was he an animal, that music had such an effect on him?"
While the family cares passionately about appearances, part of Gregor's transformation is his unconcern with manners. Yet the question he poses about his deep feelings for Grete's playing is essential to the story. By genuinely appreciating the art in a way the other's don't, is he truly more human than the others?
Gregor wants to come closer so that he can indicate to Grete how much he loves her playing. He imagines that he could be useful to the family, even as a cockroach, by guarding and protecting them. He imagines that he and Grete will be close again, and he can tell her that he wanted to send her to the conservatorium. When she hears him saying that, he imagines she will cry and kiss him.
As he experiences the music, and also perhaps as he experiences the "normality" of the scene of Grete playing for her family, Gregor returns to desires that he cared about while he was still a human. He's able to envision a new life, where he could communicate and take on new responsibilities. This is the story's most optimistic point.
The lodgers notice Gregor and alert Gregor's father. At first, the lodgers are amused, but then they become concerned. Grete gives the violin to her mother and runs to make the lodgers' beds. Gregor's father tries to push the lodgers to their bedroom.
The lodgers' changing attitudes demonstrate the importance of conformity. They move as a unit to condemn an unusual event, though they were originally individually amused by it.
One of the lodgers announces that, because of "disgusting conditions," he will not pay the family, and that he might sue. The other lodgers follow suit. Gregor's father and mother are extremely upset, and Gregor's mother drops the violin. Gregor stays still on the floor.
There are two disasters in this moment—the disaster of losing the money, and the disaster of the dropped violin, which has taken on a symbolic significance representing the family's vision of a beautiful future and the deep humanity of appreciating art. Gregor's most positive moment while an insect has, it turned out, ruined everything—destroyed his family's dreams and finances just as they were on the verge of being recovered.
Grete announces that she wants to get rid of "this creature," whom she no longer thinks of as Gregor. She thinks the family has done as much as they could. Grete says that "it," meaning Gregor, will cause her parents' deaths. She weeps. Gregor's father says that he wishes Gregor could understand them, because then they could maybe find a solution.
Unexpectedly, Grete, the one who cared most for Gregor, is the first to explicitly give up on him. But maybe the strength of her love makes it harder for her to cope with the outcomes of his behavior. She asserts that the cockroach is no longer Gregor, and implies that therefore she no longer has any responsibilities toward him. For once, the father is the most patient—though no one has an open enough mind to actually try to comprehend Gregor. They simply assume he can't.
Grete again asserts that the cockroach can't understand them and is no longer 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." She blames Gregor not just for destroying their relationship with the lodgers, but for wanting to drive them out of their house. As Gregor attempts to turn to go back to his room, Grete sees him moving and panics.
Grete's assertion that Gregor's noblest action would have been to disappear is another way of saying that because he placed such a burden on the family he could have best helped the family by removing that burden—removing himself. While Grete originally seemed to enjoy the responsibility of caring for Gregor, that enjoyment has turned to resentment. It is fair to note, though, at this point that Gregor is now no more dependent on his family than they used to be on him (though he is more disgusting-looking), and his resentment never led him to try to abandon them. Regardless, Grete now no longer sees Gregor as anything but an insect—and a hostile insect at that—and interprets everything he does as hostile.
Gregor goes back to his room with extreme difficulty because of his injuries and weakness. His family watches him go silently, but as soon as he enters his room, Grete shuts and locks the door behind him. In his room, Gregor can't move. He thinks "of his family with tenderness and love," and dies.
The charwoman comes the following morning and thinks Gregor is trying to trick her. She pokes him with a broom before realizing that he's died, then she calls to the family. Grete notes how thin Gregor had become. Grete, her mother and father go to the parents' room.
Once Gregor has died, Grete, along with her mother and father, are remorseful. When Gregor is not moving, is not threatening them simply through his living presence, they can again think of him as their son. When they no longer have to think about the burden of caring for him, their sympathy returns.
The lodgers come out confused that there's no breakfast available, but the charwoman shows them to Gregor's room. The Samsa family tearfully emerges, and the father orders the lodgers to leave. At first, the lodgers gear up for a fight, but then they realize how serious the father is, and leave. The family watches them go.
The family drops its concerns about correct behavior, and freely expose their emotions about Gregor. The lodgers' quick departure shows how strong emotions overpower the rules of society and to have regained a sense of dignity in refusing to serve the lodgers any longer. At the same time, they may order the lodgers out because the lodgers own behavior toward Gregor now shamefully reminds them of their own behavior toward the insect who they now acknowledge again as their beloved son.
Grete, her mother and father all write to their bosses to take work off for the day. The charwoman leaves, excitedly mentioning that the family doesn't need to worry about disposing of the carcass, implying that she's enjoyed the surely grotesque process of getting rid of it. The family doesn't care to hear her story, and she leaves in a huff. The father says he plans to fire her. Grete and her mother sadly stand together for a moment, then the father urges them to "let bygones be bygones."
The charwoman's most unattractive trait is her lack of sympathy and respect towards Gregor. However, with her nosy, goofy, and lower-class attitude, she was more interested in him and less disgusted by him when he was alive than any of his family, who don't want to hear the details of Gregor's insect-hood. The father's comment about bygones suggests that after this brief period of mourning the family is already forgiving itself for their treatment of Gregor, are already moving on.
Grete, her mother and father leave the house and take the tram to the countryside. They talk optimistically about their future careers and their plans to move away from their current apartment, which Gregor picked, to a cheaper and better located one. Grete's mother and father both realize that Grete looks mature and beautiful and it's time for them to find her a husband. As they arrive at their stop, Grete stands and stretches.
The family quickly returns to balance. Inevitably, discontent will follow, as it always seems to. But for now in the rush of their freedom from the burdens of caring for Gregor they demonstrate how little they needed or cared about Gregor after all and how much promise has returned to their family now that he is gone. The final moments link to the larger concerns of conformity, beauty, and the way the body determines the kind of life a person can lead, while the suggestion of finding Grete a husband is a hint of a total replacement of Gregor—the husband offers the prospect of a new man in the prime of his life for them all to depend on.