The Metamorphosis: Quotes About Guilt

Instructor: Celeste Bright

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

Guilt is a major theme in 'The Metamorphosis.' Gregor's family essentially blames him for turning into an insect. In this lesson we'll examine some quotes about guilt in Kafka's vivid short story.

Gregor's Guilt in ''The Metamorphosis''

If we study ''The Metamorphosis'' carefully, we realize that the real shock it elicits is not caused by Gregor's transformation into an insect, but by how quickly other characters blame him for it. They think mainly of the impact on themselves while showing very little sympathy for Gregor.

Gregor's parents and sister have come to depend almost entirely on his earnings as a traveling fabric salesman. He's happy to support them and hopes to send his sister Grete to study at a music conservatory some day. However, when he wakes up unable to work, his employer and family treat him like a delinquent.

Guilt About Failing His Employer

How would you feel if your supervisor showed up at your front door the first time you were late? When Gregor oversleeps and is late to work, his supervisor immediately goes to his home early in the morning, disturbing his family and demanding to see him. Instead of being ashamed at his own overreaction, the chief clerk deflects guilt onto Gregor:

''Here you are... causing your parents a lot of unnecessary trouble and neglecting... your business duties in an incredible fashion… You amaze me, you amaze me. I thought you were a quiet, dependable person, and now all at once you seem bent on making a disgraceful exhibition of yourself.''

At first, Gregor doesn't stop to pity himself, but doggedly tries to smooth things over for everyone else: ''The chief clerk must be detained, soothed, persuaded and finally won over; the whole future of Gregor and his family depended on it!''

Guilt About Being a Financial Burden

Realizing Gregor is now an insect incapable of work, Grete and Gregor's parents resourcefully find extra income. However, they're worried about their own futures, not his, and want him to know it: ''At first whenever the need for earning money was mentioned Gregor let go his hold on the door and threw himself down on the cool leather sofa beside it, he felt so hot with shame and grief.''

Consumed by guilt, Gregor watches his erstwhile frail father take a job as a bank messenger and live in his uniform. The family takes in three lodgers for extra cash, which his father resents, often sardonically proclaiming: ''This is a life. This is the peace and quiet of my old age.'' And ''... leaning on [Grete and her mother] he would heave himself up, with difficulty, as if he were a great burden to himself, suffer them to lead him as far as the door and then wave them off and go on alone...'' Yet the family apparently spends no money on Gregor, since he subsists on leftover table scraps and food that's going bad.

An abstract image of a guilt-ridden man
Guilt-ridden man

Guilt About Being Unfit to Live With

In addition to financial guilt, Gregor bears his family's horror of living with a giant insect. This begins as Gregor tries to get out of bed without incident: ''His biggest worry was the crash he would not be able to help making, which would probably cause anxiety, if not terror, behind all the doors.''

Later, Gregor contemplates his family's quality of life: ''But what if all the quiet, the comfort, the contentment were now to end in horror?''

At first, Grete dutifully feeds and looks after Gregor. Although Gregor tries to stay out of her sight, he realizes ''how repulsive the sight of him still was to her, and that it was bound to go on being repulsive, and what an effort it must cost her not to run away even from the sight of the small portion of his body that stuck out from under the sofa.''

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