Gradually, Gregor discovers how unimportant he really is to the family, and how little they really care about him. He has given them his love and devotion, and they repay him by locking him away when he needs them the most.
Kafka uses the plot to show the increasing disinterest of Gregor’s family, and how they have used him for the last five years. His father has grown “fat and sluggish,” his mother relied on the servants (that he paid for), and his sister did nothing much at all. He worked like a dog to keep the family together, and in thanks, they lock him away in his room when he becomes an embarrassment. Kafka uses this plot device to add information about the family, all the while showing Gregor’s sweet disposition. Gregor’s life is meaningless and empty, but he does not blame them for any of it. Instead, he never stops loving them. Kafka writes, “He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even stronger than his sister’s” (Kafka 83). Gregor never holds their actions against them, and in this, he is almost a heroic character. Even though his appearance is repulsive, he is really the most likeable character of the story.
Ultimately, Kafka uses Gregor’s personality and characterization as a symbol for the meaningless activities of life, and to illustrate how meaningless life is. If that were not depressing enough, he makes Gregor cheerful, hopeful, and kind, surrounded by a family that is anything but those things. Gregor, transformed into something hideous, is the best one of the entire family, who could represent the monsters of society. They are unsympathetic, care only about themselves, and blame their condition on everyone but themselves. Gregor has very human bouts of anger and rage, but the reader forgives him because his family treats him horribly. He recognizes they treated him horribly before, as well, but forgives them for it, and in the ultimate act of love, dies, so their lives can get back to “normal.” Kafka uses an interesting trick in his characterization. He makes the most hideous “monster” of the story the most kind and sympathetic, thereby making the self-serving family even more horrible and unsympathetic. Gregor’s life is meaningless, but his transformation has actually given his family purpose and drive, something they lacked while he struggled to take care of them. Perhaps, in a convoluted way, Kafka is trying to say that his life was not so meaningless and empty after all. In fact, another critic finds the story a parody of the “perfect” home. He writes, “The Metamorphosis’ is a parody, if that is the right word, of domestic home life where the uncomprehending and unsympathetic father fails even to attempt to grasp the son’s unlucky transformation” (Olsen). Thus, Kafka used Gregor’s transformation to make a statement about society. Gregor’s life is meaningless, and so is society.
In conclusion, this is a disturbing and dark story that has implications for everyone who reads it, even today. They author seems to be saying that most of our lives are meaningless and menial, and that we have little to look forward to or hope for in life (and love). In the end, Gregor’s family abandons him (in fact, they are quite happy to be rid of him), even though he spent his life working to repay their debt. They do not love him, and in fact, after his transformation they despise him. Kafka uses characterization, theme, and symbolism in this story to take the reader on a graphic journey of despair, hopelessness, and meaningless life. The story is hard to read because it is so bleak and negative, and it paints a sad picture of humanity and how families actually feel about one another. Gregor’s life is meaningless because he allows it to be, but his family is just as responsible – they do nothing to encourage him or help him along the way. They do not love him, and that is the ultimate tragedy of this story.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis.’ New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
Kafka, Franz. Selected Short Stories of Franz Kafka. Trans. Willa Muir and Edwin Muir. New York: Modern Library, 1952.
Olsen, Eric. “The Labyrinth Within: Franz Kafka and…