The Metamorphosis Major Themes
Economic effects on human relationships
Gregor is enslaved
by his family because he is the one who makes money. Thus, with the possible
exception of his sister, the family seems to treat him not as a member but as a
source of income. When Gregor is no longer able to work after his
metamorphosis, he is treated with revulsion and neglected. Once the family
begins working, they also find difficulty communicating with each other, eating
dinner in silence and fighting among themselves. The exhaustion of dehumanizing
jobs and the recognition that people are only valuable so long as they earn a
salary keeps anyone who works isolated from others and unable to establish
human relations with them.
The theme of
family and the duties of family members to each other drive the interactions
between Gregor and the others. His thoughts are almost entirely of the need to
support his parents and sending his sister to the Conservatory. Though Gregor
hates his job, he follows the call of duty to his family and goes far beyond
simple duty. The family, on the other hand, takes care of Gregor after his
metamorphosis only so far as duty seems to necessitate. He is kept locked in
his room and brought food. In the end, his room is barely cleaned and his
sister no longer cares about what food she brings him. Her actions are routine,
as she only wants to do enough that she can claim she has fulfilled her duty.
When she decides she has had enough, she insists that their duty to him has
been fulfilled: “I don’t think anyone could reproach us in the
slightest,” she says as she suggests that they need to get rid of him.
metamorphosis, Gregor is alienated from his job, his humanity, his family, and
even his body, as we see from the fact that he barely notices his
transformation. In fact, even his consideration for his family seems to be
something alien to him, as he barely notices it when he loses this
consideration at the end. After his metamorphosis, Gregor feels completely alienated
from his room and environment and, as a symbol of this, can’t even see his
street out the window. The Metamorphosis, then, is a powerful indictment of the
alienation brought on by the modern social order.
Freedom and escapism
Gregor is trapped
in his job by his duty to his family, but he dreams of the day when he can
finally pay off their debts and quit his job. His need for freedom from the
restrictive demands of work is expressed in his metamorphosis, by means of
which he escapes. This escape, however, fails to bring Gregor freedom, for he
is now imprisoned by his family in his room. Thus, when Gregor works, he is
enslaved by his job and, when he doesn’t work, he is enslaved by his family.
There is no way of balancing out freedom and duty, and in the end one is always
a slave. The only means of escape turns out to be death.
Guilt stems from
family duty, and is Gregor’s most powerful emotion. When he is transformed into
an insect, Gregor is made unable to work by circumstances beyond his control.
Despite the fact that his metamorphosis is not his fault, however, he is racked
by guilt every time that the family mentions money or that he thinks about the
pain that he has inadvertently inflicted on them by losing the ability to
support them. Guilt, it turns out, is deadly, as Gregor realizes at the end
that his life is the only thing keeping the family from a better life. He dies
for them just as he lived for them: out of guilt.
Alone in his room,
Gregor tries to rebuild the self-identity that he had lost by living entirely
for others and ignoring his own needs. He cannot, however, escape from what he
sees as his family duty, and continues to act only to serve his family by doing
his best not to inconvenience them. Gregor’s comments about his family’s
behavior are often tinged with resentment at the way they treat him, but he
will not allow himself to recognize his bitterness. Gregor manages to escape
his self-effacing sense of duty only in the last chapter, when he asserts
himself in realizing that his family has been neglecting him. Gregor’s search
for his identity seems hopeless, however, because he never had an identity to
start with. He finds his humanity only at the end, when his sister’s playing
reminds him of his love for his family. This love, coupled with his freedom, is
the final ingredient he needs to establish his identity.
*** no longer than one and half pages.