The Metamorphosis

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The Metamorphosis

Kafka wrote "The Metamorphosis" in 1912, taking three weeks to compose the story. While he had expressed earlier satisfaction with the work, he later found it to be flawed, even calling the ending "unreadable." But whatever his own opinion may have been, the short story has become one of the most popularly read and analyzed works of twentieth-century literature. Isolation and alienation are at the heart of this surreal story of a man transformed overnight into a kind of beetle. In contrast to much of Kafka's fiction, "The Metamorphosis" has not a sense of incompleteness. It is formally structured into three Roman-numbered parts, with each section having its own climax. A number of themes run through the story, but at the center are the familial relationships fundamentally affected by the great change in the story's protagonist, Gregor Samsa (Lawson 27).

While the father-son relationship in the story appears to be a central theme, the relationship between Gregor and his sister Grete is perhaps the most unique. It is Grete, after all, with whom the metamorphosed Gregor has any rapport, suggesting the Kafka intended to lend at least some significance to their relationship. Grete's significance is found in her changing relationship with her brother. It is Grete's changing actions, feelings, and speech toward her brother, coupled with her accession to womanhood, that seem to parallel Gregor's own metamorphosis. This change represents her metamorphosis form adolescence into adulthood but at the same time it marks the final demise of Gregor. Thus a certain symmetry is to be found in "The Metamorphosis": while Gregor falls in the midst of despair, Grete ascends to a self-sufficient, sexual woman.

It is Grete who initially tries conscientiously to do whatever she can for Gregor. She attempts to find out what he eats, to make him feel comfortable, and to anticipate his desires. Grete, in an act of goodwill and love toward Gregor, "brought him a wide assortment of things, all spread out on old newspaper: old, half-rotten vegetables; bones left over from the evening meal, caked with congealed white sauce; some raisins and almonds; a piece of cheese, which two days before Gregor had declared inedible; a plain slice of bread, a slice of bread and butter, and one with butter and salt" (p. 24). Besides being the only member of the family still willing to face Gregor daily, she is also the family representative of Gregor, in a sense, to a mother who doesn't understand and a father who is hostile and opposing. The father is physically violent toward his metamorphosed Gregor, pushing him through a door in Part I: "...when from behind his father gave him a strong push which was literally a deliverance and he flew far into the room, bleeding freely" (p. 20). Grete appears to concentrate on protecting Gregor from this antagonistic father and an indecisive mother. In Part II, when Grete leads her mother into Gregor's room for the first time, we see the strange way in which Grete has become both the expert and the caretaker of Gregor's affairs (Nabokov 271). She convinces her mother that it is best to remove all of the furniture from his room. Kafka attributes her actions partly to an adolescent zest: "Another factor which might have been also the enthusiastic temperament of an adolescent girl, which seeks to indulge itself on every opportunity and which now tempted Grete to exaggerate the horror of her brother's circumstances in order that she might do all the more for him" (p. 34).

The change in Grete's attitudes and actions toward Gregor probably fully begin in Part II, during the scene where Gregor struggles over to the window and leans against the panes to look outside. Grete, seemingly beginning to forget the Gregor still has human feelings and sensitivities, rudely opens the window and voices her disgust at the distasteful odor of his den. Moreover, she doesn't bother to hide her...
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