Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung; also published in English as The Metamorphosis and The Transformation) is a novella by the German-speaking Czech author Franz Kafka. It was first published in December 1915.
The plot is set in motion when the protagonist Gregor Samsa (a traveling salesman who lives with his parents and younger sister) finds that he has been transformed into a gigantic insect. Gregor has to come to terms with his new body and the new life which comes along with it, although he continues to try to cling on to his humanity. The transformation in Gregor also forces the rest of his family to change, Not only do they have to cope with living with a family member whom they now consider to be disgusting and an embarrassment, they also have to find ways to compensate for the loss of Gregor's income, which they had come to rely on exclusively.
The cause of Gregor's metamorphosis is not revealed. A possible reading is that Gregor Samsa has not really changed into an insect but is merely suffering from the delusion that he has. The horror with which others react to the transformed Gregor could conceivably be a reaction to his strange behavior, the odd noises which he makes and, later in the novella, his filthy appearance.
Short films based on Metamorphosis were released in 1975, 1977, 1987 and 1993. A sixty-minute Russian language film version was released in 2002 and a feature-length English language film version was released in 2012. The novella was adapted for the stage in 1969 and 2006. An opera based on the 1969 stage adaptation was performed in 1983.
Gregor Samsa is a young man who shares an apartment with his parents and his seventeen-year-old sister Grete. Gregor works as a traveling salesman. He does not like his job very much but feels that he has to stay in it for at least another five years. Gregor's parents owe money to his manager and it will take him another five or six years to clear their debts. However, even after the money which the Samsas owe the manager has been deducted, Gregor's wages are enough for the entire family to live on comfortably and they have no other regular source of income. Gregor's father has not worked since his business failed five years ago. Since then, he has gained weight and can now most often be seen sleeping in an armchair. Gregor's mother suffers from asthma and finds any physical exertion difficult. Gregor's sister Grete enjoys playing the violin. Gregor has been saving up to send her to music school and plans to announce this on Christmas Eve.
The novella begins when Gregor Samsa awakes and finds that he has changed into an enormous bug. At first, he is unsure whether the transformation is real or imaginary, whether it is permanent or temporary and whether or not other people will find it strange. He finds that his bedroom has not changed and is still a room for a human being, complete with the picture on the wall of a woman in a fur coat which he had recently cut out of a magazine. Gregor notices that he has overslept and missed his five o'clock train. Nevertheless, he is till determined to get up and go to work. However, he has great difficulty working out how to get off his back and get his insect body out of bed. Gregor's mother concludes that he must be ill when neither she nor his father are able to get him to unlock his bedroom door and leave for work.
At 7:15am, Gregor's manager arrives at the apartment. When Gregor's bedroom door remains locked, the manager begins to criticize the quality of Gregor's work and suggests that he is in danger of losing his job. Gregor responds to this with a lengthy speech in defense of his work, however, Gregor's manager and family cannot understand a word he is saying, the manager claiming that it did not sound like human speech but like the sound of an animal.
Although his tiny insect legs are incapable of performing the task, Gregor manages to use his mouth to turn the key in the lock and open the door. His parents and his manager are horrified by the sight of the transformed Gregor. As his manager backs away in horror, Gregor still tries to talk to him and persuade him that he can still do his job well. Gregor is surprised when his father tries to prevent him from doing this and when his father uses a newspaper and a walking stick to force him to return to his bedroom. Although Gregor is badly beaten by his father, he finds that his insect body heals quickly.
In the evening, Gregor finds that his sister has left a bowl of bread and milk for him. However, although he is hungry, Gregor finds that he cannot bear to eat the bread and milk. His sister notices this the following morning and brings him a selection of kitchen scraps to choose from. Gregor finds that he cannot stand to eat anything fresh but enjoys eating everything rotten. Gregor's sister takes on the regular task of feeding him twice a day and cleaning his room. To save his sister's discomfort, Gregor always hides under a couch when his sister comes into the room, eventually covering the couch with a sheet in order to hide better.
Since they cannot understand the noises which Gregor makes, Gregor's family assume that he cannot understand them either and stop talking to him, although Gregor continues to eavesdrop on them. Gregor also finds that his eyesight is not as good as it was and he cannot see much out of the window anymore. To amuse himself, Gregor takes to crawling along the walls and the ceiling. To help him to move around his room more freely. Gregor's sister decides to remove all the furniture from his room. As Gregor's sister and mother take the furniture away, Gregor comes to the conclusion that they are taking away the last traces of his humanity. He is determined that they will not take away his picture of the woman in the fur coat. While his mother and sister are out of the room, he climbs on to the wall and clings to the picture. His mother is horrified by the sight of the transformed Gregor on the wall and faints. Gregor's sister goes to get some medicine to revive her mother. Gregor wants to help and follows her out of the room. He finds himself locked out of his bedroom, in which the terrified women hide.
When Gregor's father returns home, his sister explains that Gregor is loose. Gregor's father angrily confronts him. Gregor is amazed by how his father has changed. The formerly fat and sleepy man is now a security guard at a bank. He wears a blue uniform with gold buttons and appears much more energetic. Gregor's father begins throwing apples at him, one of which hits him in the back and stays there. Gregor's mother has to beg her husband to spare their son's life. Gregor never fully recovers from his father's attack. Nobody removes the apple which has sunk into his back, so it stays there and goes rotten.
No longer being able to rely either on Gregor to provide for them or on savings from Gregor's job or his father's failed business, all of the members of the Samsa family need to find other ways to earn money. In addition to Mr. Samsa's job as a security guard, Mrs. Samsa works from home as a seamstress and Gregor's sister Grete gets a job as a shop assistant. Grete also studies shorthand and French, in the hope of getting a better job in the future. The Samsas also sell their jewelry and take in three lodgers.
Gregor's sister begins to neglect him. He often goes unfed and becomes weak from hunger as a result. She no longer puts much effort into cleaning his room and eventually her father tells her to stop cleaning it altogether. Gregor's bedroom becomes used as a storage room in which all manner of junk is placed. Consequently, Gregor himself becomes covred in dirt. The Samsas hire a cleaning woman. She soon becomes aware of Gregor's existence. She is the only person to encounter Gregor since his transformation who is not afraid of him. Instead, she tries to greet him in a friendly manner each day, calling him a dung beetle. However, far from cleaning his room, she treats it as a trash can, throwing any garbage which she comes across into it.
Hearing Grete play the violin one evening, the three lodgers ask her to come into the living room and give them a recital. Gregor is captivated by the music and moves into the living room to watch his sister playing. When the three lodgers eventually notice the transformed Gregor and realize that they have been sharing an apartment with the filthy creature, they announce that they are leaving and will not pay the rent that they owe.
Gregor's sister begins to cry. She insists that the animal which they are living with is no longer Gregor and that they have to get rid of it. She adds that if it were really Gregor, he would have done the decent thing and gone away a long time ago. Gregor slowly makes his way back to his bedroom. The following morning, the cleaning woman tells the Samsas that Gregor is dead.
The Smasas decide to take the day off work and go for an excursion. They think about the future, which, thanks to their three jobs, they can face with confidence. They realize that they are now free to move into a smaller and cheaper apartment. The novella ends with Mr. and Mrs. Samsa noticing what a beautiful young woman their daughter has become and deciding that the time has come to start looking for a husband for her.
- Sound files of German-language public domain audiobook of Metamorphosis from LibriVox: