The Metamorphosis Chapter 1: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

Reality clashes with the absurd when Gregor Samsa awakens to find himself transformed into an insect in Franz Kafka's 'Metamorphosis.' The first chapter of this story begins Gregor's examination of his life. His unconscious distaste for his life comes to life in the metamorphosis of his human form to that of insect.

Gregor Samsa

It's early in the morning and there is a faint drone that hums in the background. It is the alarm clock going off. You reach over and turn it off, then lie in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering whether you should make the effort to get out of bed. What would happen if one morning you woke up and noticed you were now an insect? Perhaps a ridiculous notion, since that is likely an impossible event. Franz Kafka makes it a reality for Gregor Samsa in the story ''Metamorphosis.''

Gregor Samsa is a salesman. He doesn't like his job, but he really has no choice. His parents are in debt to his boss, and the only way to pay back the debt rests on Gregor. When the story opens, Gregor is just waking up, having slept through his alarm. He has missed the early train to work, and when he doesn't show up at the station, the boss will know. Gregor contemplates these scenarios as he contemplates getting out of bed.

The absurdity of Gregor looking down and seeing ''...his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments...'' is of no concern to Gregor. His struggles getting out of bed, due to the bulk of his upper body ''...and numerous legs...'' are of no concern to Gregor. He sees this transformation as if it is a normal occurrence. It does not concern him in the least. This indifference relates to his dislike for his job since he equates the difficulty in getting out of bed with his ''exhausting job'' of travelling all the time.

Difficulty With Daily Routines

While Gregor struggles to get out of bed, his parents realize that he has not left for work. His mother comes and knocks on his door to make sure he is going to work. A little later his dad knocks and asks ''What's the matter with you?'' Their concern for his well-being lacks sincerity. He continues his struggle to get out of bed, knowing that his boss would ''...reproach his parents over their son's laziness.''

After a number of attempts, Gregor ''lay in his former position...and watched his little legs struggling against each other.'' He is calm and reserved in his efforts, not showing any sign of despair that he is now an insect. His thoughts are about his job and how someone from the office will soon come by to check up on him. Before he is able to achieve this task, someone knocks at the door. Sure enough, they have come to check on him. The visitor, however, is not who he expected.

An Unexpected Visitor

Who should come to check on why Gregor has not shown up at work but the chief clerk. He is subordinate only to the boss. Gregor's parents tell the clerk how responsible Gregor is and how he does nothing but spend his time working or planning. When he comes to Gregor's room, Gregor will not open the door. This confounds the clerk, as well as Gregor's parents. They can't help but wonder what is wrong, especially when they notice how his voice has changed.

The chief clerk takes Gregor's uncooperative behavior as a sign that something nefarious might be going on. He insinuates that ''cash payments were entrusted to you'' and that for ''some time past his work has been most unsatisfactory.'' Based on these accusations, Gregor's job is in jeopardy.

Gregor's father sends for a locksmith and has Gregor's sister go fetch the doctor. If Gregor won't come out of his room on his own, they will take the door down to get to him. They have had enough of his disrespect. Gregor has finally managed to roll out of bed and is working the lock on his door with his mouth. As the door opens, it does so in a way that prevents his appearance from being immediately seen.

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