When people are put in tough situations, they are forced to adapt to their surroundings. The Metamorphosis demonstrates a particular theme that shows how people change when they are faced with hardships and sufferings. In the novella, Gregor transforms into a bug because of the pressure that results from his very dependent family and his job. Gregor’s sister, Grete, and their father, Mr. Samsa, also change their behavior and attitude because of the distress Gregor’s transformation adds to their family.
Through the use of the transformation of characters in the novella, The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka portrays the idea that people change under pressure. Throughout the novella, Kafka constantly mentions Gregor’s job and his roles at work. His whole life is revolved around the company and he has no social life because of it. Due to all of this pressure and stress, Gregor changes form. Kafka opens the story with, “When Gregor Samsa awoke in his bed one morning from unquiet dreams, he found himself transformed into an enormous insect” (945). This shows that over time Gregor gets tired of the strain and anxiety that his job creates for him.
His alienation is the result of his long working hours and the lack of affection and affirmation he receives from everyone surrounding him. After Gregor wakes up, he hears the doorbell ring and he attempts to get up. When Gregor finally opens the door and reveals his new transformation to his family and the Deputy Director he observes that, “On the wall just opposite hung a photograph of Gregor from his military days, which showed him dressed as a lieutenant, with a carefree smile, his hand on his dagger, his bearing and his uniform commanding respect” (953).
Before Gregor’s strict work life, for once, he is content with his life because he is a member of the military. However, when he gets a job to provide for his parents and sister, he is no longer able to live a carefree life. Gregor is held down by the finances he is responsible for, as the provider for his family. Gregor’s metamorphosis from a man into a giant insect dramatically conveys all the pent-up frustrations and unresolved issues of both Gregor and his family. Gregor’s family also experiences a transformation as a result of Gregor’s physical transformation.
However, their transformation occurs in the mental sense. Gregor’s family, up until this situation occurs, is completely dependent on Gregor, relying on him to work and bring home the money they need to live. When Gregor transforms, Grete is the only person that shows pity for Gregor and she becomes Gregor’s caretaker. She brings him food, cleans his room, places his chair by the window so he can see out to the street, and comes up with the idea of removing his furniture so he has more room to scurry and climb.
Gregor even thought to himself, “Of course, it was not just childish stubbornness and the hard-won self-confidence she had recently and unexpectedly acquired that determined her on this course…” (957). Grete adapts to Gregor’s transformation and this new life style because she feels that she has to step up to the plate and help her brother. There is a change of state implied by her actions. While at first Grete takes care of her brother out of kindness, eventually she comes to regard the job as a duty. She doesn’t always enjoy it, but it serves to define her position in the family.
As she matures and takes on more adult responsibilities, most notably getting a job to help provide for her family financially, her commitment to Gregor diminishes. Eventually she comes to resent the role, and it is Grete who decides they must get rid of Gregor. She proclaims, “‘We must try to get rid of it. It’s going to kill you both; I can see it coming. When people have to work as hard as we do, they can’t bear this kind of constant torture at home’” (973). Grete, once again, changes her mind and attitude about the whole situation.
Suddenly, for the sake of her family and herself, she believes that the best thing to do is kill Gregor. Grete changes because there is so much pressure for her family to make their own money and provide for themselves. This is a marked difference from her role early in the story as the sole caregiver to her brother. It is significant that the story ends with Grete having bloomed into a confident girl, stretching her body as though emerging from her low key, boring life. This suggests that Grete has completed her own transformation into an adult.
Gregor’s metamorphosis has a rippling effect on his father as he has to modify his own behavior in response to Gregor’s new form. At the start of the story, Mr Samsa is a retired businessman whose career is not overly successful. As his role as family provider is supplanted by his salesman son, he becomes more and more accustomed to inactivity and lack of purpose. His demeanor begins to change when he is forced back to work. Gregor sees his father “dressed in the kind of close-fitting blue uniform with gold buttons that doormen at the banking houses wore; over the high stiff collar of the coat…” (965).
When Mr. Samsa realizes that Gregor can’t continue working, thus no longer bringing home the much needed income, he is forced to find ways to survive without his son. He must change his behavior in order to help his family. This includes finding work and even moving on from Gregor. As well, Mr. Samsa still sees himself as inferior to the three lodgers due to the poor nature of his job. He ultimately reasserts his self-belief when he stands up to the boarders and demands they leave. Kafka writes, “’Leave my apartment immediately! ’ said Mr. Samsa and pointed to the door…” (975).
This is another example of Mr. Samsa’s transformation because he is finally able to stand up for what he believes. He has a new, brave attitude and approach to everything. By the end of the novella, Mr. Samsa feels obligated to change and he becomes a more important figure in the Samsa family because of the hardships Gregor puts his family under. In The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka uses transformations to portray the idea that people are forced to change under pressure. Under work pressure and alienation from society, Gregor discovers himself to be literally no longer human and transformed into a bug.
Grete changes as the narrative progresses, emerging at the end as a confident young woman, not the little girl in need of guidance that Gregor had seen her to be. Mr. Samsa undergoes his own metamorphosis when he takes on a bigger role in the family to provide for them. Kafka uses the transformations to draw attention to the ways that people change under pressure, not just physically, but psychologically and emotionally too. Most times it can become so dramatic that they might not even recognize themselves.