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Various Themes and Symbolism in Franz Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis'

The Metamorphosis: Themes and Symbolism
An extremely weird story of a man transforming into an insect, The Metamorphosis is a novella written by Franz Kafka. It is definitely not meant to be taken literally. Having several themes and symbols, this story becomes very interesting to understand. Penlighten outlines the themes and symbolism that it portrays.
Christina Andrew
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
Sneak Peek
The whole story is based on Gregor Samsa, who one fine day, wakes up to see himself transformed into a giant, ugly insect. This fiction is about the post-metamorphosis period of his life, the difficulties and challenges he faces with people and his own consciousness, and how he is not accepted because of the physical appearance and the behavior of this new creature he has turned into.
The first sentence of the novella is something very absurd and unexpected for any reader. The author starts directly with his main story, not meandering around the bush. His motive here is to mask a deep meaning with an unrealistic story, one that will make you think. What possibly could the author mean? The whole story seems bang on, and to the point, even though it is a riddle in itself.

Penlighten does an analysis of the conflicts and complications, alongside describing the themes and symbolism of this story, that Gregor and his family go through, following Gregor's bizarre physical transformation.
Unpredictable Life
In this fiction, Gregor Samsa is a traveling salesman. Bored and unhappy with his current life, one fine morning, he wakes up to find out that he was not himself anymore. His whole life was going to change in the coming few hours. Little did Gregor know, what this morning and life henceforth was going to bring him.

▶ Unprepared and unaware, as we proceed towards every new moment of our lives, it brings unexpected situations which may be exciting, happy, or sad. Not knowing what comes next is what we call life!
The Casual Reaction
When Gregor realizes he has been transformed into an ugly insect, he doesn't seem worried or scared. He doesn't even care to reason why he underwent metamorphosis, rather he is busy thinking about his next routine event like nothing unusual happened to him.

▶ Practically, if such a big and horrible change occurred in any man's life, he would panic with fear and have loads of questions to ask. The calmness one should have in one's life no matter what the situation is, can automatically solve a lot of things. If not solve them, at least a peaceful mind can try to think of some way to cope with the situation.
Act of Courage
When Gregor's manager comes to his place, Gregor tries hard to get down the bed and open the door. Finally, he rocks himself down on the floor and opens it, to explain his situation to his manager.

▶ Even after being stuck in a bad situation, Gregor doesn't hide himself from the world. Instead, he faces his family and his manager with complete confidence, not worrying about the consequences.
Rejection by Society
As Gregor moves out of his room, his manager is so horrified, he runs off. His mother faints, and his father whacks and shoos him away. The family that once survived on Gregor's hard-earned money, now sees him with eyes of disgust. His sister who was very close to him, tries to take care of her brother, feed him and keep him clean, but this couldn't go on for a very long time. Finally, the family decides to get rid of him.

▶ A man is rejected by the society if there is something unusual about him. Whatever the change may be, good or bad, the reaction of the society will always be the same. Here, only due to the physical appearance of Gregor, his family and other people don't accept him. His inability to do anything including his own daily chores, makes him a burden on the family, and they want him to be out of their lives as soon as possible.
Gregor gets transformed into an insect, an ugly one. But this doesn't end here. With his physical change, a series of changes keep occurring. His behavior, his mental state, his actions, his eating habits, everything about him changed. This was not just a change for him, but also his family. Their behavior and attitude towards him deteriorated as the days passed. Till he was able and capable of taking care of his family he was an asset to them, but when he transformed, he became a burden.

▶ As people transform, not into a different creature, but behavior-wise and as they evolve with time, others around them also change their attitude and behavior towards them. If you are of use to people, they will be kind and good to you, but they will throw you out if you aren't fruitful.
With his body, his face, and his language, Gregor's identity is in jeopardy. Who can possibly look at Gregor and decide that he is him? How does one decide what he is trying to speak? Some might just deny his existence as an insect. Who is Gregor now?!

▶ The identity of a person is created by the society he lives in. They decide for you who you are. You have no power, no control over your life if you lose language, or your face. People won't believe you, because they have decided how you should look like, and how you should speak. If now you change, you are not you for them. You are someone else!
Acceptance of Self
Gregor is in a constant fight with himself since tie time he has been transformed. His mind and body are not going together. He still thinks human, but is trying to adjust to the current situation. When his sister gets him milk, something he loved as a human, he doesn't like it at all now. He adjusts to his body demands, sits under his couch, and crawls up walls. He accepted his situation and is living the life of a captive in his own room, so his family doesn't have to face any trouble because of him.

▶ Self-acceptance is extremely important in everyone's life. If you don't accept the transformed you (which happened forcefully, unknowingly, or by choice), you will be fighting with yourself for the rest of your life. You have to live with it, with the current situation. No matter how hard it is, you can't just run away from it.
Climax and Events Henceforth
One day, his sister playing the violin causes him to leave his room, as he is so taken in by her performance. This scares the tenant living in his house. Chaos ensues following this, which leads to the tenant leaving their home, who was, sadly, their only source of income. This incident outrages his family further, who now believe that he is of no use to the family and should be gotten rid of. Gregor, who is around, overhears the conversation and returns to his room with a heavy heart. Torn by the pain of being treated with disgust by his own family members, he breathes his last.

▶ The death of Gregor confirms the stark realization that his family is fortunate now that he is no more. Their troubles come to an end with Gregor's demise.
The Picture of a Woman in Fur
This picture symbolizes the life of Gregor before his transformation. It explains his human desire to hang that picture on his wall. The reasons are not specified, but when his mother and sister come to his room to take it off while cleaning his room, his pain of letting the only belonging from his past human life go, is clearly visible as he clings to it.
Father's Uniform
Gregor's father's uniform that he would wear to his job showed his dignity. Gregor had a switching feeling towards his father that jumped from pity to respect. As his father started working again to earn a living for his family, his respect for him increased substantially.
Food symbolizes, in a way, Gregor's family's sympathy towards him. After his transformation, his sister, gets him milk. Then she decides to take care of her brother's food and cleaning. But by the end of the novella, his sister is fed up of all the extra duties she got caught in. Also, Gregor's was a death by an apple. When his father sees him loitering in the living room, he chases him off by throwing apples at him. One apple gets lodged in his back, paralyzing him with pain.