First published in 1915, this is the story of Gregor Samsa, a young traveling salesman who lives with and financially supports his parents and younger sister. One morning he wakes up to discover that during the night he has been transformed into a "monstrous vermin" or insect. At first he is preoccupied with practical, everyday concerns: How to get out of bed and walk with his numerous legs? Can he still make it to the office on time?

Soon his abilities, tastes, and interests begin to change. No one can understand his insect-speech. He likes to scurry under the furniture and eat rotten scraps of food. Gregor's family, horrified that Gregor has become an enormous insect, keep him in his bedroom and refuse to interact with him. Only his sister Grete demonstrates concern by bringing his food each day.

When Gregor breaks out one day and scurries into the living room, his father throws apples to chase him away. One becomes embedded in his back. Eventually the apple becomes rotten and infected; Gregor wastes away. When he dies the cleaning woman throws his remains into the garbage.


Gregor's predicament is much like that of any person suffering from severe, particularly disfiguring, chronic illness or disability. Gregor's life story and personal identity change dramatically when he becomes a vermin. In the new identity his senses are different: the hospital across the street is now beyond Gregor's range of vision. His abilities change. Shifts in spatial arrangements circumscribe Gregor's movements. His voice is transformed. Some of Gregor's changes are generated from within; some are conditioned by the world's reaction to his metamorphosis.

Other metamorphoses also occur in the story. Gregor's family see his predicament as an affront to them (after all, they expect Gregor to support the family). They withdraw from him, try to contain the damage, but in the process begin to change their own life stories as well--Gregor's father, who had been disabled, mobilizes and goes back to work; he changes from being an "old man" to a bank official "holding himself very erect." Gregor's sister also gets a job and seems on the verge of a new life.

"The Metamorphosis" can also be seen as a reaction against bourgeois society and its demands. Gregor's manifest physical separation may represent his alienation and inarticulate yearnings. He had been a "vermin," crushed and circumscribed by authority and routine. He had been imprisoned by social and economic demands: "Just don't stay in bed being useless . . . . "

In a psychoanalytic interpretation, The Metamorphosis prevents the imminent rebellion of the son against the father. Gregor had become strong as a result of his father's failure. He crippled his father's self-esteem and took over the father's position in the family. After the catastrophe, the same sequence takes place in reverse: son becomes weak, and father kills him.


First published: 1915. Translated by Stanley Corngold.



Place Published

New York




Stanley Corngold