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Metaphor in The Metamorphosis

Instructor: Kevin Watson

Kevin has taught college English and has master's degrees in Applied Linguistics and Creative Writing.

In Franz Kafka's ''The Metamorphosis'', Gregor Samsa's change into an insect serves as an extended metaphor. In this lesson, you will learn about others and how the author uses metaphor to present a story of circumstances reducing a person to one of the lowest forms of life.

A Prisoner in His Career

Prison serves as an extended metaphor in ''The Metamorphosis''. Gregor Samsa, before awakening as a bug, is a prisoner in his life. For the past five years, he has never missed work. His job is lonely, as a traveling salesman always on the go, never having time for real interpersonal relationships outside his home. The people he sees through work are clients, not the sort of people that carry any importance in his life. They are merely people he must try to get along with to make a buck.

The Weather Inside Him

As he lies in bed unable to get up, the dreariness outside is a metaphor for his internal picture:

''It's already seven o'clock,'' he told himself at the latest striking of the alarm clock, ''already seven o'clock and still such a fog.''

The weather reflects his state of mind, a confusion that is endlessly somber and without a ray of hope. And the fog is what besets his tired mind, a fog obliterating his purpose and preventing him from seeing life in the light.

This dreariness is a metaphor for depression, with the voltage of his life turned down to where he cannot even manage to get out of bed, cleverly likened to an insect on its back. Like some with depression, just getting out of bed can be a monumental task as the person may have lost belief in the order of his/her own life.

The Boss is at the Door?

What reaction would you have if you did not go to work and your boss showed up at your bedroom door demanding to enter and know your excuse for your truancy? Gregor Samsa's Manager does exactly this. comes around and puts pressure on Gregor to open his door. He inspects the flat, ''with a squeak of his polished boots'', and he lectures Gregor on his incorrect behavior and threatens him. In fact, all the family reacts with fear. Does this sound like a prison guard? Can you imagine a society where supervisors own their employees to the degree that a single absence after five years is investigated? Everything about Gregor's work life leaves him feeling used up.

Gregor Samsa Wakes Up
The Awakening

A Prisoner to Family

Trapped in his existence, Gregor Samsa cannot leave his job because he is the sole source of income and his family depends on him for everything. With a father who has lost his own business, a mother with asthma, and a sister only seventeen, it is his own sacrifice of keeping a job he doesn't want that makes their lives secure. After becoming a bug, he no longer has that obligation, but now he's a prisoner of his own room. He is a shame to the family. He must stay there and receive meals kicked into the room by his sister, who gradually only wishes he were gone.

A Prisoner in a Foreign Body

Gregor Samsa is at first imprisoned in his new form as he cannot operate the strange legs and balance his bulbous shape. Despite gradually learning how to get around, he is not allowed to leave the room. In effect, he is incarcerated. He is visible to his family, but they cannot understand any of the screeching sounds he makes. He is cut off emotionally, and being kept in a single room means he is physically cut off from the world.

A Mental Breakdown

Gregor Samsa's change to an insect can be seen as a metaphor for a psychological breakdown. He has been made to feel insignificant, as lowly as an insect. In his new form, Gregor is monstrous and unrecognizable, enough to frighten away his family, his manager, and even his own mother. He cannot work or fend for himself. He becomes a liability to the family. They are too ashamed to seek help even though there is a hospital right across the street. Finally, when he dies, their reaction not of sorrow but of relief:

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