The Metamorphosis: Freedom Quotes

Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

A major theme in ''The Metamorphosis'' is the desire for freedom; both Gregor and his family feel it after his bizarre transformation into a giant insect. Let's discuss quotes related to freedom in Kafka's thought-provoking narrative.

Gregor's Lack of Freedom

Physical Restraints

At the beginning of ''The Metamorphosis,'' Gregor's first problem is his limited physical mobility: he can't get out of bed. He notes that ''in his present condition he could not turn himself over.'' He struggles to execute basic movements because he ''had only the numerous little legs which never stopped waving in all directions and which he could not control in the least.'' He also finds ''that in moving backwards he could not even control the direction he took.''

An insect on its back, unable to move, much like Gregor
Upside down insect

Gregor further finds himself confined to his room because no one can stand the sight of him. With the furniture in his room, which his sister and mother ultimately fail to remove, he ''could not crawl very far around the few square yards of floor space he had.''

However, Gregor does have a new ability to walk up walls. He finds some freedom ''hanging from the ceiling; it was much better than lying on the floor; one could breathe more freely; one's body swung and rocked lightly,'' a sensation that leaves him in ''almost blissful absorption.''

Demanding Job

Gregor is stuck in an ''exhausting'' job as a traveling fabric salesman because he has to support his family; he earns more this way than working in an office. He'd like to be free of his micro-managing supervisor, the chief clerk: ''If I didn't have to hold my hand because of my parents I'd have given notice long ago, I'd have gone to the chief and told him exactly what I think of him.''

The Chief Clerk
The Chief Clerk

Interpersonal Restraints

Gregor's new life as an insect frees him from his job, but it makes him unable to communicate verbally with his family, leaving him emotionally isolated. ''No entreaty of Gregor's availed, indeed no entreaty was even understood.'' When Grete takes on the task of feeding him and cleaning his room, Gregor feels that ''if he could have spoken to her and thanked her for all she had to do for him, he could have borne her ministrations better; as it was, they oppressed him.''

Gregor's Family's Lack of Freedom

Because Gregor can no longer support his family financially, each member is forced to find work. Grete gets a job as a salesgirl instead of studying at the conservatory, Mrs. Samsa overworks her eyes doing ''fine sewing'' for an underwear firm, and Mr. Samsa becomes a bank messenger. He's literally constricted in the uniform he refuses to take off, even at home: ''his strong double chin bulged over the stiff high collar of his jacket.''

Although their tiring jobs are bad enough, ''what they lamented most was the fact that they could not leave the flat... because they could not think of any way to shift Gregor.'' Yet Gregor knows that ''what really kept them from moving... was rather their own complete hopelessness and the belief that they had been singled out for... misfortune.''

Gregor's Death Frees His Family

When Gregor is found dead one morning, the family feels freed, and Mr. Samsa proclaims: ''Now thanks be to God.'' They're also free of the financial need to keep lodgers (although it's not clear how Gregor actually created any expenses while he was alive), and Mr. Samsa tells them to leave for good. When they're gone, he and the women feel ''as if a burden had been lifted from them.'' He promises to fire the obnoxious charwoman the same night.

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