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Dehumanization of Gregor in The Metamorphosis

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

Over the course of Franz Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis,' the main character Gregor becomes less human and increasingly more like the insect he has become. This lesson looks at key scenes in the book where this transition is most evident.

Brief Overview

Kafka's Metamorphosis covers a strange period in the life of Gregor Samsa, which begins when he wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned into a giant insect. This understandably causes the dynamics within his family to change dramatically. In The Metamorphosis Kafka is interested in examining how such a dramatic transformation affects Gregor over time, as well as how it affects those close to him. As time goes by, and as Gregor's insect state becomes the ''new normal'' for the family, we can see Gregor slowly becoming more like an insect and his family gradually starting to look at him as an insect rather than as a person.

Author Franz Kafka, 1917
Kafka

In the Beginning

Just after Gregor's transformation into an insect, he still tries to go through life as though this is a temporary setback. For example, Gregor attempts to communicate with his family and with his boss, who has shown up at the apartment to find out why Gregor missed his morning train. Gregor does not realize that he can't talk anymore until everyone comments that he cannot be understood and the voice coming from his room sounds like an animal. It takes Gregor some time to recognize the new limitations he faces.

His Family's Initial Reactions

Gregor's family reacts exactly as you would expect...with shock and horror! His father seems to be unable to deal with the situation at all, and his mother is overwhelmed with emotion and cannot interact with Gregor in any way. Only Gregor's sister, Grete, is able to overcome her fear and attempt to care for her brother. Grete seems to realize that Gregor is still himself on some level, even if he looks quite different. She tries to treat him with dignity.

Gregor Adjusts to His New Reality

After a few days, Gregor grows bored spending all his time alone in his room, and he starts to amuse himself the only way he can...with his new insect body.

''...it was hard to just lie quietly through the night, his food soon stopped giving him any pleasure at all, and so, to entertain himself, he got into the habit of crawling up and down the walls and ceiling. He was especially fond of hanging form the ceiling; it was quite different from lying on the floor.''

This behavior would have been unthinkable to Gregor only a day or two beforehand, when he was mostly concerned with how he would manage to get back to work. Although it would be too much to say that he has ''come to terms'' with being an insect, he at least seems to be getting more comfortable in his new skin at this stage.

Emptying Gregor's Room

Gregor's sister notices that Gregor cannot get around very well in bedroom, so she and her mother decide to remove his things inside to free up space. Gregor; however, is not on board with the plan; he has fond memories of his belongings and does not want them to remove anything. In order to stop them from taking away a picture on his wall, Gregor climbs onto it and covers it with his body. When Gregor's sister and mother return to the room, his mother faints!

Gregor's Father Snaps

When Gregor's father comes home, he learns that Gregor caused his wife to faint. This is the point when he finally loses patience and begins throwing fruit at Gregor.

''He had filled his pockets with fruit from the bowl on the sideboard and now, without even taking the time for careful aim, threw one apple after another... Another one however, immediately following it, hit squarely and lodged in his back...''

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