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What Wounds Gregor in The Metamorphosis?

Instructor: Celeste Bright

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

In Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis,' Gregor takes a beating, both emotionally and physically. We'll learn about the things that wound Gregor in this bizarre and disturbing novella.

Physical Injuries

Have you ever felt sorry for an injured insect? Over the course of The Metamorphosis, Gregor sustains many injuries: some are major, some minor. Most are incurred as he learns to get around in his new insect body, but Gregor is also fatally injured by his father near the end of The Metamorphosis.

Incidental Wear and Tear

In the beginning of the novella, Gregor does the best he can to command his insect body, but he inevitably injures himself. After rocking himself awkwardly out of bed the first morning, he falls and hits his head, rubbing it ''in pain and irritation.'' When he tries to prop himself up on his chest of drawers in order to reach his bedroom doorknob, he slips a few times and bangs up his lower body, which ''smarted'' (stung). And as he attempts to turn the key in the lock with his jaws, he finds he is ''undoubtedly damaging them somewhere, since a brown fluid issued from his mouth, flowed over the key and dripped on the floor.''

Once his parents and his boss, the chief clerk, have seen Gregor's terrifying appearance near the beginning of the narrative, his father, Mr. Samsa, begins viciously shooing Gregor back into his bedroom. Gregor is too wide to fit through his door while crawling, but realizes his father wants him out of sight immediately, so he jams himself diagonally through the door. His ''flank was quite bruised,'' and ''horrid blotches stained the white door'' as he gets stuck. When he finally gets back inside, he is ''bleeding freely.''

Mr. Samsa's Abuse

Surprisingly, Gregor's father has no problem stamping his feet and swinging a walking stick at Gregor, and this is a sign of more violence to come. When his mother, Mrs. Samsa, accidentally catches sight of Gregor on his bedroom wall, she faints, and her husband thinks her son has done something criminal to her. Furious, Mr. Samsa begins hurling apples at Gregor, ''determined to bombard him.'' One apple ''grazed Gregor's back and glanced off harmlessly,'' but the next ''immediately landed right on his back and sank in,'' leaving Gregor in ''incredible pain.''

This is Gregor's fatal wound: ''the apple went on sticking in his body as a visible reminder, since no one ventured to remove it.'' In the short term, Gregor finds that his ability to move is seriously limited, and ''it took him long, long minutes to creep across his room like an old invalid.''

Gregor is an insect rather than a spider, but he might resemble The Crying Spider by Odilon Redon
Crying Spider

Emotional Injuries

Gregor's physical suffering is acute, but it's made much worse by the damage he suffers by being emotionally isolated from his family.

Mr. and Mrs. Samsa

Mr. Samsa's violent efforts to drive Gregor back into his room on his first morning as an insect have emotional as well as physical repercussions. His attack is triggered by the chief clerk's flight from their home; Mr. Samsa's first reaction is to blame Gregor—as if Gregor's condition were some elaborate practical joke—rather than to be concerned for his son. Gregor attempts to speak to him, but ''no entreaty of Gregor's availed, indeed no entreaty was even understood.'' He is ''afraid of exasperating his father,'' who ''was far from thinking of... opening the other half of the door, to let Gregor have enough space.''

Gregor is also in terror of making his mother's health worse, particularly when she catches sight of him on his bedroom wall and faints: ''Gregor was now cut off from his mother, who was perhaps nearly dying because of him; ...there was nothing he could do but wait; and harassed by self-reproach and worry he began now to crawl to and fro.''

Grete

The worst form of emotional isolation, however, is caused by his sister Grete. At first, Grete takes it upon herself to clean Gregor's room and find out what he can eat, and her brother takes this as a welcome sign of sympathy. When he finds the first meal she leaves for him, he feels he ''could almost have laughed with joy.'' As she continues to care for him, Gregor wishes he ''could have spoken to her and thanked her for all she had to do for him.''

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