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Food Symbolism in The Metamorphosis

Instructor: Tina Miller

Tina earned an MFA in Creative Writing, has several published novels and short stories, and teaches English and writing.

When Gregor Samsa wakes up one day as an insect, he quickly learns that his understanding of food and what food means to him has changed. In Franz Kafka's ''The Metamorphosis,'' food takes center stage as Gregor adapts to his new life.

A Manic Monday

Imagine an insect: legs scrambling about as it explores and seeks out food. Now, imagine you are that insect. Everything in life, even something as simple as eating changes. This is what Gregor Samsa experiences the day he wakes up and realizes he's an enormous insect. Instead of waking up and heading out to work, Gregor struggles with all the changes to his daily life. Kafka uses food as one way to show how different Gregory's new life is in his novella, The Metamorphosis.

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka

Animalistic Adaptations

Gregor's morning does not go well. His family and his employer are shocked at what he's become, and Gregor isn't too happy about it either. Before he knows it, he is ravenous. Thank goodness his sister places a bowl of milk and bread in the room for Gregor. As a human, Gregor enjoyed milk. Surely, it would stop his rumbling insect innards. He dips his head into the bowl to drink and comes to two realizations. He observes that ''. . . he was only able to eat if his whole body worked together as a snuffling whole - but the milk did not taste at all nice.''

Gregor's taste of the milk is a sure sign that his life has changed. He can no longer use silverware to eat or even his hands. Though his mind is human, he is acting like an animal or insect would and can't eat in a 'civilized' fashion using silverware. He doesn't even know what to eat. Overnight, the things he enjoyed before now disgust him.

Natural Instincts

Gregor's sister still cares for him so she brings him a little bit of everything, as insects and humans do have one thing in common: if you can't eat, you can't survive. Gregor can try different kinds of food and help his sister understand what he prefers. He explains the assortment: '' old, half-rotten vegetables; bones from the evening meal, covered in white sauce that had gone hard; a few raisins and almonds; some cheese that Gregor had declared inedible two days before; a dry roll and some bread spread with butter and salt.'' His sister even brings a bowl of water. All animals need water, right?

Gregor in Metamorphosis
The Metamorphosis

This is an important moment for Gregor. He discovers he likes the moldy cheese, rotten vegetables, and old sauce while also realizing he doesn't like fresher food. Gregor explains that he drags these away ''because he couldn't stand the smell.'' . Choosing to eat trash, such as spoiled cheese, old gravy and rotten vegetables shows how far Gregor has fallen and how much he has changed.

Rationing Weapons

As Gregor learns more about his new senses, he starts to explore. He recognizes that he can scoot to the cupboard or leave his room, if nobody is watching. Gregor's family may still feed him, but like Gregor they've changed. One day, Gregor ventures into a common area; he's lured by the sound of his sister's violin. Not paying attention, Gregor sees something whoosh by him. He explains: ''right beside him, lightly tossed, something flew down and rolled in front of him. It was an apple; then another one immediately flew at him.''

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