Imagery in The Metamorphosis: Examples & Quotes

Instructor: Tina Miller

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

Imagine taking on an animal's form and having life change unexpectedly. Gregor Samsa could empathize, as one morning, he wakes up as a beetle in Franz Kafka's ''The Metamorphosis.'' Imagery abounds through Gregor's beady beetle eyes.

The Metamorphosis

Gregor Samsa awakes. Instead of having two legs, he has six. Instead of being covered with his own soft skin, he is enshrouded with a hardened shell. This transformation strikes him unexpectedly. It alters the way he views the world and the way others see him.

Written by Franz Kafka and first published in 1915, The Metamorphosis not only examines the psychological changes that happen when Gregor Samsa morphs into a beetle, it also provides descriptions to show how a human-turned-beetle might view life from his new perspective. Kafka uses robust imagery to show Gregor's world to the reader.

Metamorphosis Cover
Metamorphosis Cover

A Hard-Shelled Life

When people awake and look at themselves, they expect to see a human form. Gregor does not.

'He lay on his armor-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections.'

His once skin-covered back has now been transformed. Kafka uses a simile to compare the hardened shell of his back to armor. Time will tell if Gregor's resolve is as strong as his back.

Initially, Gregor remains mostly calm as he experiences life in his new shell. He quickly realizes some obvious differences. Gregor's sudden metamorphosis into a beetle provides a wealth of opportunity for Kafka to use visual imagery to juxtapose the human form with the beetle form.

'. . .the lack of teeth was, of course, made up for with a very strong jaw; using the jaw, he really was able to start the key turning. . .he must have been causing some kind of damage as a brown fluid came from his mouth. '

Can you imagine not only having to adjust to the beetle form but then realizing that you have no teeth? How will you eat? But there's more. Before, Gregor would have anticipated red blood to flow from an injured area. Now, his own body is alien to him.

Gregor is that you?
Gregor is that you?

Throughout his ordeal, Gregor becomes cognizant of his working parts; pain and afflictions impact him differently. Even getting out of bed was a struggle.

'He only had all those little legs continuously moving in different directions, and which he was moreover unable to control. If he wanted to bend one of them, then that was the first one that would stretch itself out; and if he finally managed to do what he wanted with that leg, all the others seemed to be set free and would move about painfully.'

Gregor could no longer walk, skip, or saunter. He can only scurry about on lively legs, which seemed to have a mind of their own.

As a beetle, Gregor experiences previously unfathomable ailments and pains. However, just as he carried on in his life as a man, Gregor learns to roll with the punches.

His Surroundings

Now that Gregor is a beetle, his perception of things around him change. Kafka uses imagery to show this. His room, once appropriate for a man, has been rearranged to make room for his more robust body.

For some reason, the tall, empty room where he was forced to remain made him feel uneasy as he lay there flat on the floor, even though he had been living in it for five years.

You can imagine Gregor's isolation in this vast space that once felt like home. However, Gregor still appreciates the small things, like the picture he can still gaze at on the wall.

' …there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame. It showed a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer.'

Such imagery shows a few things. Gregor appreciates luxury, and even as a beetle, he still finds solace in the image.

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka

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