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Free Study Guide-The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka-Online Book Summary
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Gregor Samsa

Gregor is the main character and the protagonist; he goes through both a physical and mental metamorphosis during the story. In the beginning, Gregor seems somewhat emotionless. He has no friends, is not liked at work, is not ambitious, and has no goals. He lives with and provides financial support for his lazy family, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa and his sister Grete. A dutiful son, he never questions why his father does not work and earn a living; instead, Gregor takes full financial responsibility, never complaining; he does, however, worry about keeping his job, especially once he is turned into an insect. This is ironic since Gregor hates his job intensely.

While in human form, Gregor dreams of the time, five or six years in the future, when he can quit working. In the meantime, he is bonded to an institution that treats him no better than an insect. They do not appreciate his dedication, caring nothing about the fact that he has not been tardy or absent for five years; instead, on the one day he is late, the chief clerk comes to call at the Samsas and insinuates that perhaps Gregor has stolen from the company and is staying home to hide the fact.

Living in such an emotional void, it is not too surprising that Gregor seems unconcerned about his physical metamorphosis into a giant bug. He is most annoyed by the tiny inconveniences, like having no hands to open the door and so many legs that it is difficult to walk. Once he is a bug, Gregor also undergoes a mental metamorphosis. He spends most of his time listening to and observing his family. Although he feels guilty over not being able to support them because he is an insect, he is shocked to learn that his father has a savings account and resents the fact that he was forced to work as a salesman unnecessarily. When the family all get a job, Gregor wonders why they have not worked before to help him with the obligations.

He also questions why they refuse to accept or even acknowledge him in his new shape and form. When he see the new boarders at his table, Gregor is plainly jealous. He longs to have the company of his family and even states that he needs "a different kind of food" -- that of love and companionship. Ironically, as a human, Gregor had few emotions; now as a bug, he is filled with hopes, dreams, and longings.

In the end, the Samsas drive Gregor to his death. They refuse to talk to him, locking him up in his dark room, which they pile with unnecessary things. Mrs. Samsa faints when she sees him. Grete begins to ignore him, and Mr. Samsa pokes him with a walking stick and throws apples at him. When Grete finally and totally rejects him, Gregor no longer has a reason for living and dies the next day.

Mr. Samsa

Gregor's father is old and tired; although he has worked in the past, 2he presently expects his only son, Gregor, to support the family. He cruelly hides the fact that he has a savings account in order to make Gregor feel totally responsible to them and for them. As a result, he enslaves his son to a company that makes him miserable and does not appreciate him. Mr. Samsa obviously does not appreciate Gregor either. When he becomes an insect, his father wants nothing to do with him; his usefulness is now past. With no patience for or understanding of the metamorphosis, Mr. Samsa pokes Gregor with a walking stick, drives him into his room, and locks the door. Later, he blames Gregor for making his wife faint and throws apples at him, wounding him seriously. He then is totally unconcerned that the insect has an apple imbedded in his back, causing it to fester. When Mr. Samsa learns that Gregor has died, he feels greatly relieved and offers a prayer of thanksgiving that the pain is over. In many ways, Mr. Samsa seems to be a reflection of Kafka's own father.

Mrs. Samsa

Gregor's mother is portrayed as a weak woman who loves her son but fails to comfort and fully protect him. Mrs. Samsa cannot stand the sight of her changed son and faints when she actually sees him. She will not go into his room alone, but only when Grete is with her. She does, however, plead with her husband and daughter to visit with Gregor. She is also the one who stops Mr. Samsa from assaulting Gregor with apples. Her efforts are not enough to save her son, and when he dies, she seems as unconcerned as the other family members. Mrs. Samsa is generally thought to be a portrait of Kafka's mother.

Grete Samsa

Grete is Gregor's sister, who enjoys playing the violin. Before his metamorphosis, the two of them are very close, confiding in one another. Gregor is happy that he can provide for her so that she does not have to get a job; Grete seems quite content not to work outside the home. Additionally, Gregor is trying to save money to send Grete to a conservatory to formally study the violin and develop her talent.

Other than Gregor, Grete is the only character who goes through dramatic changes during the story. Initially, she cares about her brother, even in the body of a giant bug. Whenever she comes into his room, she is quiet, not wanting to disturb or frighten Gregor. She also keeps his room clean and brings him things to eat twice a day. She worries about what he might like to eat and observes what he has actually eaten so she can plan future meals for him. Having observed him looking out the window, she makes sure it is open so he can see the world beyond his room. Her kindness and quiet consideration, even when she is afraid of his appearance, touches Gregor deeply. She is his only contact with humanity, and he appreciates that Grete has not deserted him.

As time passes, Grete begins to resent Gregor. Now that she is working outside the home, it is a bother to have to bring her brother food, and she only does so once a day. When she enters, she leaves the food and departs in a hurry, obviously not wanting anything to do with Gregor. By the end of the story, she totally avoids her brother, trying to pretend he does not exist. When he presents himself in front of the boarders, Grete is horrified and upset. In a violent outpouring of emotion, she reveals her hatred towards the bug and her wish that he would simply go away and quit causing the family so much pain. Grete's changed attitude literally saddens Gregor to death. He knows that if Grete cannot accept him, no human will ever be able to do so, for she has been his staunchest ally. Feeling totally alienated from humanity, Gregor gives up and dies.

Though the transformation of Grete seems severe, Kafka manages to develop her character without passing harsh judgment on her. Instead, he characterizes her in a genuine, non-emotional, and matter-of-fact way.

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