Hospital Symbolism in The Metamorphosis

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

Gregor Samsa undergoes a transformation in Franz Kafka's novel 'The Metamorphosis.' In this story, the hospital comes to stand for the futility of Gregor's situation and his isolation. Read more to explore quotes and the symbol of the hospital.

''The Metamorphosis'' Background

Have you ever felt trapped, as if there was help nearby that just wouldn't come? Then you may be able to relate, at least in some small way, to the main character in Franz Kafka's ''The Metamorphosis.'' In this allegorical tale, the character Gregor Samsa suddenly transforms to a vermin overnight. The story details his progressive isolation in this dark look at a person's need to be part of society.

In the following sections, we will look at the text to see how Kafka introduced and wrote about the hospital and then go deeper into the meaning underneath the surface interpretation of this recurring symbol.

Hospital Mentions in the Text

The hospital figures prominently into Gregor's experience. However, there are only two direct mentions of the hospital in ''The Metamorphosis.''

The narrator introduces the hospital in the first section of the story. The chief clerk from Gregor's office comes to check on him. Gregor utters what he thinks to be reassuring words to the clerk and his family, but what comes out sounds monstrous. Gregor's mother, Anna, sends Grete for a doctor thinking Gregor is ill, then his father sends Anna for a locksmith to get into Gregor's locked room.

Gregor feels comforted to hear others notice him and care for his well-being. He feels this is an invitation back to society. The narrator reveals the hospital's location just after Gregor painstakingly opens his bedroom door and everyone sees him for the first time after his transformation stating,

''It had meanwhile become much brighter outside; on the other side of the street one could see clearly a section of the endlessly long, dark gray building opposite--it was a hospital--its facade relentlessly punctuated by evenly spaced windows; the rain was still falling, but only in large, singly discernible drops, each one of which, it seemed, was literally being hurled to the ground below.''

Then the second mention occurs soon after the beginning of Part II. Gregor is lamenting his position. He is less able to sleep through the night but sometimes takes the effort to crawl up onto the armchair so he can look out the window. He looks out, but the power of his eyes has diminished. The narrator relates that ''the hospital across the street, which he used to curse for being all too often before his eyes, was now quite beyond his range of vision.''

The hospital seems so close to Gregor

Symbol Analysis: Futility

Let's explore the idea of what the hospital represents. A hospital is a place to go to heal and fix any harm done to one's body. After his transformation, Gregor is in great need of convalescence. He can see this place of healing through his one view of the outside world, but he is unable to gain access to it. His nearness to the hospital becomes an additional torture for him to endure.

His sister is sent to retrieve a doctor and she would not have had far to go to the hospital so close. Yet, the hospital could never help him in his state and doctors would not be able to return him to his former body. The near, yet unreachable hospital comes to stand for the absurd futility of his current situation.

Symbol Analysis: Isolation

Gregor has exits on each of his four walls; he has a door on three sides and a window on the other. Ironically, with his new, monstrous body, he must remain in this room and not make use of any of these forms of escape. He becomes increasingly isolated as the story continues.

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