The Metamorphosis  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked."--The Metamorphosis (1915) by Franz Kafka

Related e



The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung, also sometimes termed "The Transformation") is a novella by Franz Kafka, first published in 1915. It is often cited as one of the seminal works of fiction of the 20th century and is widely studied in colleges and universities across the Western world. The story begins with a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed into a monstrous vermin. It is never explained in the story why Samsa transforms, nor did Kafka ever give an explanation.



Part I

One day Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, wakes up to find himself transformed into a "ungeheuren Ungeziefer", literally "monstrous vermin", often interpreted as a giant bug or insect. He believes it is a dream, and reflects on how dreary life as a traveling salesmen is. He looks at the wall clock and realizes that he has overslept and missed his train for work. He ponders on the consequences of this delay, and is annoyed at how his boss never accepts excuses or explanations from any of his employees no matter how hard working they are, displaying an apparent lack of trusting abilities. Gregor's mother knocks on the door and he answers her. She is concerned for Gregor because he is late for work, which is unorthodox for Gregor. Gregor answers his mother and realizes that his voice has changed, but his answer is short so his mother does not notice the voice change. His sister, Grete, to whom he was very close then whispers through the door and begs him to open the door. All his family members think that he is ill and ask him to open the door. He tries to get out of bed but he is incapable of moving his body. While trying to move, he finds that his office manager, the chief clerk has showed up to check on him. He finally rocks his body to the floor and calls out that he will open the door shortly.

Feeling offended by Gregor's delayed response in opening the door, the clerk warns him of the consequences of missing work. He adds that his recent performance has been unsatisfactory. Gregor disagrees and tells him that he will open the door shortly. Nobody on the other side of the door could understand a single word he uttered (Gregor was unaware of the fact that his voice has also transformed) and conclude that he is seriously ill. Finally, Gregor manages to unlock and open the door with his mouth. He apologizes to the office manager for the delay. Horrified by the sight of Gregor's appearance, the manager bolts out of the apartment, while Gregor's mother faints. Gregor tries to catch up with him but his father drives him back into the bedroom with a cane and a rolled newspaper. Gregor injures himself squeezing back through the doorway, and his father slams the door shut. Gregor, exhausted, falls asleep.

Part II

Gregor wakes and sees that someone has put milk and bread in his room. Initially excited, he quickly discovers that he has no taste for milk, once one of his favorite foods. He settles himself under a couch. The next morning, his sister comes in, sees that he has not touched the milk, and replaces it with rotting food scraps, which Gregor happily eats. This begins a routine in which his sister feeds him and cleans up while he hides under the couch, afraid that his appearance will frighten her. Gregor spends his time listening through the wall to his family members talking. They often discuss the difficult financial situation they find themselves in now that Gregor can’t provide for them. Gregor had plans of sending Grete to the conservatorium to pursue violin lessons, something that everyone else including Grete considered to be a dream. Gregor was however pretty determined to do so on the same Christmas before which the metamorphosis occurs. His incapability of being the provider of his family as well as his shattered dreams in respect to his sister coupled with his speechlessness reduces his thought process to a great respect. Gregor also learns that his mother wants to visit him, but his sister and father will not let her.

Gregor grows more comfortable with his changed body. He begins climbing the walls and ceiling for amusement. Discovering Gregor’s new pastime, Grete decides to remove some of the furniture to give Gregor more space. She and her mother begin taking furniture away, but Gregor finds their actions deeply distressing. He tries to save a picture on the wall of a woman wearing a fur hat, fur scarf, and a fur muff. Gregor’s mother sees him hanging on the wall and passes out. Grete calls out to Gregor—the first time anyone has spoken directly to him since his transformation. Gregor runs out of the room and into the kitchen. The father throws apples at Gregor, and one of them sinks into a sensitive spot in his back and remains lodged there, paralyzing his movements for a month and damaging it permanently. Gregor manages to get back into his bedroom but is severely injured.

Part III

One evening, the cleaning lady leaves Gregor’s door open while the boarders lounge about the living room. Grete has been asked to play the violin for them, and Gregor who usually took care to avoid crossing paths with anyone in the flat, in the midst of his depression and thus caused detachment, creeps out of his bedroom to listen. The boarders, who initially seemed interested in Grete, grow bored with her performance, but Gregor is transfixed by it. One of the boarders spots Gregor and they become alarmed. Gregor’s father tries to shove the boarders back into their rooms, but the three men protest and announce that they will move out immediately without paying rent because of the disgusting conditions in the apartment.

Grete, who has by now become tired of taking care of Gregor and is realizing the amount of burden his existence puts on each one in the family, tells her parents that they must get rid of Gregor or they will all be ruined. Her father agrees, wishing Gregor could understand them and would leave of his own accord. Gregor does in fact understand and slowly moves back to the bedroom. There, determined to rid his family of his presence, Gregor dies.

Upon discovering that Gregor is dead, the family feels a great sense of relief. The father kicks out the boarders and decides to fire the cleaning lady, who has disposed of Gregor’s body. The family takes a trolley ride out to the countryside, during which they consider their finances. Months of spare living as a result of Gregor’s condition have left them with substantial savings. They decide to move to a smaller apartment than the present one to further save their finances, an act which they were unable to carry out in Gregor's presence. During this short trip, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa realize that in spite of going through hardships which have brought an amount of paleness to her face, Grete appears to have grown up into a pretty and well figured lady, which leads her parents to think about finding her a husband.


Gregor Samsa

Gregor is the main character of the story. He works as a traveling salesman in order to provide money for his sister and parents. He wakes up one morning finding himself transformed to a vermin. After the metamorphosis, Gregor becomes unable to work and a claustrophile. This prompts his family to begin working once again.

The name "Gregor Samsa" appears to derive partly from literary works Kafka had read. The hero of The Story of Young Renate Fuchs, by German-Jewish novelist Jakob Wassermann (1873–1934), is a certain Gregor Samsa. The Viennese author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose sexual imagination gave rise to the idea of masochism, is also an influence. Sacher-Masoch (note the letters Sa-Mas) wrote Venus in Furs (1870), a novel whose hero assumes the name Gregor at one point. A "Venus in furs" literally recurs in "The Metamorphosis" in the picture that Gregor Samsa has hung on his bedroom wall. The name Samsa is similar to Kafka in its play of vowels and consonants: "Five letters in each word. The S in the word Samsa has the same position as the K in the word Kafka. The A "is in the second and fifth positions in both words." Kafka, when asked, would deny the significance of this correlation.

Gregor Samsa appears to be based upon Kafka himself. As when Kafka suffered from insomnia he feared he was repulsive and a burden to his family, during this time his sister was his caretaker.

Grete Samsa

Grete is Gregor's younger sister, who becomes his caretaker after his metamorphosis. Initially Grete and Gregor have a close relationship but this quickly fades. While Grete initially volunteers to feed him and clean his room, she grows more and more impatient with the burden and begins to leave his room in disarray out of spite. She plays the violin and dreams of going to the conservatory, a dream Gregor had intended to make happen. Gregor planned on making the announcement on Christmas Eve. To help provide an income for the family after Gregor's transformation, she starts working as a salesgirl.

Mr. Samsa

Mr. Samsa is Gregor's father. After the metamorphosis, he is forced to return to work in order to support the family financially. His attitude towards his son is harsh; he regards the transformed Gregor with disgust and possibly even fear. Mr. Samsa may have been based on Kafka's father, who treated Kafka harshly.

Mrs. Samsa

Mrs. Samsa is Grete and Gregor's mother. She is initially shocked at Gregor's transformation, however she wants to enter his room. This proves too much for her, thus giving rise to a conflict between her maternal impulse and sympathy and her fear and revulsion of Gregor's new form.


Kafka's sentences often deliver an unexpected impact just before the period—that being the finalizing meaning and focus. This is achieved from the construction of sentences in the original German, which requires that the participle be positioned at the end of the sentence. For example, in the opening sentence, it is the final word, verwandelt, that indicates transformation:

Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer verwandelt.
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature.

These constructions are not directly replicable in English, so it is up to the translator to provide the reader with the effect of the original text.

English translators have often sought to render the word Ungeziefer as "insect", but this is not strictly accurate. In Middle German, Ungeziefer literally means "unclean animal not suitable for sacrifice" and is sometimes used colloquially to mean "bug" – a very general term, unlike the scientific sounding "insect". Kafka had no intention of labeling Gregor as any specific thing, but instead wanted to convey Gregor's disgust at his transformation. The phrasing used by Joachim Neugroschel is "transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect" whereas David Wyllie says "transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin".

However, in Kafka's letter to his publisher of 25 October 1915, in which he discusses his concern about the cover illustration for the first edition, he uses the term Insekt, saying "The insect itself is not to be drawn. It is not even to be seen from a distance."

Ungeziefer has sometimes been translated as "cockroach", "dung beetle", "beetle", and other highly specific terms. The term "dung beetle" or Mistkäfer is in fact used in the novella by the cleaning lady near the end of the story, but it is not used in the narration. Ungeziefer also denotes a sense of separation between himself and his environment: he is unclean and must therefore be secluded.

Vladimir Nabokov, who was a lepidopterist as well as writer and literary critic, insisted that Gregor was not a cockroach, but a beetle with wings under his shell, and capable of flight. Nabokov left a sketch annotated "just over three feet long" on the opening page of his (heavily corrected) English teaching copy. In his accompanying lecture notes, Nabokov discusses the type of insect Gregor has been transformed into, concluding that Gregor "is not, technically, a dung beetle. He is merely a big beetle."


Adaptations to other media

There are many film versions of the story, mostly short films, including a 1975 TV version by Jan Němec, a 1977 animation by Caroline Leaf, a 1987 TV movie by Jim Goddard, a 1993 video by Carlos Atanes, and a longer (80-minute) 2002 version directed by Russian theatrical director Valery Fokin. In 2012 Director Chris Swanton completed the feature film length version of Metamorphosis the Movie (2012), featuring Maureen Lipman, Robert Pugh and Alistair Petrie.

A stage adaptation was performed by Steven Berkoff in 1969. Berkoff's text was also used for the libretto to Brian Howard's 1983 opera Metamorphosis.

Another stage adaptation was performed in 2006 as a co-production between the Icelandic company Vesturport and the Lyric Hammersmith, adapted and directed by Gísli Örn Garðarsson and David Farr, with a music soundtrack performed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Since premiering at the Lyric Hammersmith, the production has been performed in 2007 at the National Theatre of Iceland in Reykjavik, Iceland, in a 2008 United Kingdom tour in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Plymouth, and again London, also in 2008 in Seoul, South Korea, and Dublin, Ireland, in 2009 in Hong Kong, China, and in Hobart, Tasmania, Wollongong, and Sydney, all Australia, in 2010 in Bogotá, Colombia, Reykjavik, Iceland, and New York City, USA, and in 2011 in Saint Petersburg and Norilsk, both Russia. It is currently due to return to the Lyric Hammersmith in January 2013, starring Garðarsson as Gregor Samsa.

American cartoonist Robert Crumb drew a comic adaptation of the novella, which is included in the 1993 book Introducing Kafka, an illustrated biography of Kafka also known as Kafka for Beginners, R. Crumb's Kafka, or simply Kafka. American comic artist Peter Kuper illustrated a graphic-novel version, first published by the Crown Publishing Group in 2003.

Allusions/references from other works



  • Marc Estrin's debut surrealist novel Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa (2002) vis-à-vis the world between 1915 and 1945.
  • Brian Keenan's autobiography An Evil Cradling makes reference to Kafka: "My thoughts were preoccupied by my loss of humanity. Was I a kind of Kafkaesque character transformed out of human form into some animal? Something to be locked away from the world?"
  • Lance Olsen's novel Anxious Pleasures: A Novel After Kafka retells Kafka's novella from the points of view of those inside his family and out.
  • Amos Oz refers to the silence of Gregor Samsa in his A Tale of Love and Darkness after his father discovers that he – the young Amos – has arranged his books by their height.
  • Contemporary Hungarian writer Lajos Parti Nagy, as part of his weekly series of satires on the deeds of the Hungarian government, published (and recited) his "Bohemian tale" on 30 December 2011, with huge allusions to "The Metamorphosis". It was later issued as part of the collection of his first 53 satires in the series, in a bestseller book entitled Fülkefor és vidéke (roughly translated as "Booth revol and his county", referring to Viktor Orbán's election victory speech of 2010). Parti Nagy, famous for being a "virtuoso word-squeezer", writes the satires in a highly archaic tongue with tons of puns and hints to contemporary events, making them basically untranslatable (just like most of his - otherwise celebrated - works, like Szódalovaglás or the novel A test angyala).


  • Both the 1968 version and the 2005 version of the film The Producers include a scene where the two protagonists are searching for a sure flop. The opening for the play of Metamorphosis is read and rejected for being too good.
  • The 2008 film The Reader features Ralph Fiennes reading aloud from Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis".
  • In 2002 a Russian version titled Prevrashchenie was directed by Valery Fokin with Yevgeny Mironov as Gregor.
  • In 1995, the actor Peter Capaldi won an Oscar for his short-film Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life. The plot of the film has the author (played by Richard E. Grant) trying to write the opening line of "Metamorphosis" and experimenting with various things that Gregor might turn into, such as a banana or a kangaroo. The film is also notable for a number of Kafkaesque moments.
  • In 1993 Carlos Atanes directed The Metamorphosis of Franz Kafka, a controversial adaptation based on "The Metamorphosis" as well on biographical details from Kafka's family.
  • in Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, Jeff Daniels's and Jesse Eisenberg's characters make several references to "The Metamorphosis".
  • The novella is referenced in the 1986 film The Fly when Seth Brundle, nearing the end of his own metamorphosis into "Brundlefly", says to Ronnie Quaife, "I'm an insect...who dreamt he was a man...and loved it. But now the dream is over...and the insect is awake."
  • In the Mel Brooks film Space Balls, President Scroob orders the crew of Spaceball One to begin Metamorphosis, prompting Dark Helmet to ask "Ready Kafka?"
  • In David Cronenberg's 1991 film Naked Lunch, based both on the novel of the same name by, and the life of, William S. Burroughs, Judy Davis' character "Joan", after having been caught by Peter Weller's protagonist "Bill Lee", injecting bug powder directly into her heart explains, breathing deeply - "It's a Kafka feel like a bug."


  • American cartoonist Robert Crumb drew an illustrated adaptation of the novella which appears in the book Introducing Kafka.
  • In the comic book Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez, the eponymous Johnny is plagued by a roach that keeps appearing in his house no matter how many times he kills it (whether or not this roach is immortal or simply many different roaches is up to interpretation) and is affectionately named "Mr. Samsa".
  • In The Simpsons book Treehouse of Horror Spook-tacular, Matt Groening did a spoof on the metamorphosis, entitling it "Metamorphosimpsons".
  • Peter Kuper (illustrator of Kafka's Give It Up!) also adapted Kafka's "Metamorphosis".
  • Corbeyran / Horne illustrated Kafka's "Metamorphosis" in 2009.
  • East Press published a manga version of the story in 2008 as part of their Manga de Dokuha line.
  • In Raw Vol. 2, no. 2 (1990), Robert Sikoryak published a parody of The Metamorphosis, drawing it in the style of Charles Schulz's Peanuts, under the title "Good Ol' Gregor Samsa."
  • In Sensational Spider-Man 41, Peter Parker references "The Metamorphosis" while speaking to Mephisto, saying that he hopes he doesn't wake from his supposed dream to find himself in the form of Gregor Samsa as a cockroach.


My little brother is an insect / He likes to crawl around his room / His mother shudders at the sight of him / His pappy is a businessman / Every move he makes is torture / He cannot speak words any more / Our sister likes to flip him on his back / And watch little brother squirm
  • The Christian rock band Showbread references "The Metamorphosis" in their song titled "Samsa Meets Kafka" on their album No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical.
  • Extreme metal band Imperial Vengeance adapted the story into the penultimate track of their 2011 album Black Heart of Empire, "Of Insect and Allegory".
  • Pakistani ambient musician Asfandyar Khan has a song titled "Gregor Samsa is Dead, Long Live Gregor Samsa" off his debut release, Snow Makes Things Perfect.
  • The Rapper Random has a song entitled Buggin' (The Metamorphosis) on his "Language Arts, Vol. 1" album, which summarizes the plot of "Metamorphosis".
  • Eric Schwartz wrote a song "I Just Killed Kafka" on his album "That's How It's Gonna Be" about killing a cockroach.


  • A radio play on CBC's Wiretap, 'Help Me, Doctor', depicts the character Gregor Samsa, in correspondence with Dr. Seuss about his ailment.


  • In the Home Movies episode "Director's Cut", Dwayne makes a rock opera based on "The Metamorphosis".
  • In the Arthur episode "Bugged", Brain dreams that he is a giant cockroach because he is scornfully referred to as a "pest" by his friends for being domineering.
  • In one episode of My So-Called Life, the characters must read "The Metamorphosis" and write a paragraph about it as an assignment in English class. Jordan Catalano, Rickie Vasquez, Brian Kraków and Sharon Cherski all discuss the story and the meaning of "The Metamorphosis".

Video Games

  • In the fighting game, Skullgirls, the character Filia has a parasite posing as her hair named Samson. One of her Hyper Moves is called "Gregor Samson", in which Samson transforms into a giant roach and charges at the opponent.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution prominently features a billboard advertisement for an opera titled "Il Metamorfoso." The game itself depicts a future where prosthetic body parts have become so advanced that some people voluntarily have their natural limbs, eyes, or organs replaced. These "augmented" people face social stigma and are often perceived as self-mutilating. The game centers around a character who did not choose to be augmented, but required a large amount of his body to be replaced by mechanical parts during surgery to save his life.


1915 - metamorphoses - Franz Kafka - alienation - existentialism - 20th century literature - fantastic literature - absurd - surreal

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Metamorphosis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools