Character Analysis in The Metamorphosis
Gregor Samsa: Gregor Samsa, the novella’s protagonist, is a young man who has spent the majority of his life working to provide for his family. Selfless and hardworking, Gregor has not seriously considered what relationships he may be missing due to his long work hours. After mysteriously transforming into an insect, Gregor’s immediate thought is not horror at his situation but instead distress at the possibility of losing his job. After his transformation, Gregor’s main struggle is reconciling his animalistic body with his still rational mind and what place remains for Gregor in his family. Despite their rejections, Gregor’s dedication to his family lasts until his death: he chooses to die rather than continue to drain resources from them.
Grete Samsa: The seventeen-year-old sister of Gregor, Grete is initially Gregor’s main ally. Though repulsed by Gregor’s appearance, she is the first to attempt to care for him, perhaps owing to their closeness prior to his transformation. Eventually, she grows tired of this job, and, having been forced to get a job as a salesgirl to help her family, she insists on getting rid of Gregor. Near the end of the story, she claims that the insect in the room is no longer her brother, cementing Gregor’s decision to waste away rather than continue burdening his family. Following Gregor’s death, Grete is revealed to have matured, both emotionally and physically, and gone through her own transformation.
Character Analysis Examples in The Metamorphosis:
"it became apparent that his body was too wide to go through any further..." See in text (Chapter I)
Kafka doesn't give the reader exact measurements, but from this line we can assume that Gregor's body is at least several feet wide (four, most likely) and that he's just as tall, if not taller, when standing at his full height. His alarming width and length make his transformation all the more terrifying for his family, who see him now and think of him as a monster.
"Gregor was going out of his mind because of this..." See in text (Chapter I)
It's possible that Gregor, in this state, reacts somewhat differently to sounds and that, as a bug-like creature, he's interpreting this hissing like bugs do: as signs of danger or warning. This feeling of going out of his mind might actually be an instinctual response to danger, then, in which case his fear would both require and hinder his retreat.
"The attorney fled momentarily from his mind..." See in text (Chapter I)
Kafka separates the mind and the body here, suggesting that they're both entities that can be "fled" or get left behind, and that when this happens the body and the mind act of their own accord. In this case, the narrator's jaw snaps in shock and horror, as if he's trying to speak. In Gregor's case, his body and his mind are at a disconnect, but have grown gradually more aligned as he loses his ability to speak and learns how to walk.
"She was clever; she had already cried..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice the use of the semicolon here. It links the two ideas together, implying that her tears are proof of her cleverness, that she cried in some ways because she's clever and figured out that something is wrong with Gregor. This semicolon appears in the original German as well, meaning that the translator has preserved it to retrain this subtle bit of characterization.
"shrugged his shoulders..." See in text (Chapter I)
In the course of Gregor's speech, the attorney has attempted to run, turned back to look at Gregor, listened to him, and decided that, after all, it's not his problem. This indifference in the face of a strange and uncomfortable situation further characterizes him as someone whose self-interests supersede his empathy for other people.
"a photograph of Gregor from the time of his military service..." See in text (Chapter I)
Gregor's time in the military may explain why he keeps trying to go to work: he's been trained to obey orders, to follow protocol, and to be as disciplined as the army requires. His former status as a lieutenant, and not a mere soldier, suggests that he was at one time a man with some power and prestige, and that his job as a traveling salesman is a significant step down.
"because the father held breakfast to be the most important meal of the day..." See in text (Chapter I)
Recall that Gregor, who catches the seven o'clock train and wakes up much earlier than his parents seem to, doesn't get to enjoy this long, leisurely breakfast, but almost certainly pays for it with his income. It would appear from the fact that his parents didn't wake him up earlier that they don't generally invite him to breakfast and that they may well wait until he's usually gone to eat.
"it was a hospital..." See in text (Chapter I)
At his most vulnerable, Gregor looks out of the window at what could be his salvation: a hospital. That it's so near and that he can't reach it symbolizes the futility of his situation, which, like the hospital, seems endless, a kind gray, lifeless box that's trapped him (perhaps forever) in this bug-like body.
"with her hair standing on end all over the place from the night..." See in text (Chapter I)
This tells us that Gregor's mother was still in bed or getting dressed when she first knocked on Gregor's door. The hypocrisy of this (her sleeping in while he's forced to wake up obscenely early) indicates that she has grown comfortable in her position, living off of Gregor's wages, and that her life is comparatively idle.
"how had his sister dressed herself so quickly..." See in text (Chapter I)
It's possible that Gregor's sister Grete has been dressed all along, but it's more likely that he has lost all track of time and that, like someone focusing intently on a task, he doesn't realize how long it's taken him even to stand up and speak these words. It's very possible that what appeared to him to be quick and difficult was in fact long and painful for those on the other side of the door.
"They were communicating through Gregor's room..." See in text (Chapter I)
Existentialists believe that their experiences and ideas isolate them in many ways from other people, making communication very difficult. It becomes clear in this passage that this existentialist belief has in fact become a reality, and that Gregor is no longer able to speak German (the original language of The Metamorphosis). His parents begin to speak through his room, effectively rendering him and it insignificant, almost as if they don't exist.
"then Gregor had no more responsibility and could be calm..." See in text (Chapter I)
Gregor seems to think that, if his transformation is real, and if they're startled and horrified by his new appearance, then he'll be absolved of any and all responsibility to his parents, to his job, and for the fact of his transformation. This is akin to saying that it won't be his fault or that it hasn't been. Of course, given what we know about his family and the attorney, it's not likely that he'll get off without a hitch. Note also that in this scenario and the next Gregor will be calm and have no reason to be excited. This appears to be what he wants.
"if they took in everything quietly, then he would have no reason to get excited..." See in text (Chapter I)
This line can be interpreted two ways. It could be that if they take his appearance in quietly, then his transformation isn't real, and it's all in his head. Or it could be that his metamorphosis can be lived with in a terse, horrified silence, and that Gregor intends to go about living as if he hasn't changed, though everyone will know that he has. Neither of these seem like viable options for him at this point, which further emphasizes the futility of his attempt to open the door.
"such a thing will not be permitted..." See in text (Chapter I)
It's unclear exactly what has led to Gregor's low performance at work. Given that Gregor has been working there for five years already, the reader can safely assume that he is (or was) a good salesman. This is hard to believe, given what we know about his personality, but if he's desperate for money he may be able to push himself to be more of a vibrant, interesting, charismatic person than he appears to be. His transformation may be a result of his inability to continue to do this.
"it concerned the collection of cash entrusted to you a short while ago..." See in text (Chapter I)
Gregor's boss has indicated to the attorney that Gregor might have stolen an unknown sum of money from the firm. There's no evidence to support this within the text, and we can't be sure what did or didn't happen before Gregor's metamorphosis. Given his determination to go to work despite his situation, we can assume that in fact he didn't steal this money and his boss is just being needlessly suspicious.
"parading about with peculiar moods..." See in text (Chapter I)
Kafka's use of the word "parading" here characterizes the attorney as a hypercritical, insensitive man whose only interests are working and keeping tabs on other people. In no way has Gregor been "parading" his predicament around, but by having the attorney say he has Kafka demonstrates how absurd and stifling bureaucracies can be when simply staying home labels someone as a drama queen.
"I mention this only incidentally..." See in text (Chapter I)
Typically, when Kafka makes a list, as he does here, he puts the most important item of the list last, making this act of "neglecting" his work and his duties the one that the attorney is most interested in (and, of course, the reason he's visiting). Knowing this, the attorney's friendly aside here reads like a very potent warning.
"Gregor was still here..." See in text (Chapter I)
In a situation where Gregor doesn't have the ability to go anywhere, writing that he's "still here" suggests that we're not talking about his physical presence, but his emotional and psychological one. Gregor is "still here" because he still exists in spite and because, in spite of his sudden metamorphosis, his mind and consciousness are inside that pest's body.
"an embarrassing stillness set in; in the adjacent room on the right, the sister began to sob..." See in text (Chapter I)
It's unclear from this line if the embarrassment felt here is Gregor's or his parents' (or both). Given that the next clause of the sentence sees the sister sobbing, and not Gregor, it's more likely that his parents are embarrassed, and that this reaction, like his sister's crying, is a direct result of fear: they're all worried about what will happen to them if he loses his job. In this case, the embarrassment isn't Gregor's, then, but is something he considers unnecessary.
"as soon as Gregor opens the door..." See in text (Chapter I)
In this line, Gregor's mother subtly hints to her son that she's stalled the attorney as long as she can and that he'll have to come out now. She tries to characterize him as a diligent worker, but the reader can read between the lines here and see that Gregor's life is really small, and that aside from his woodwork he has no outside hobbies (likely because they'd be too expensive).
"He will certainly be good enough to forgive the mess in your room..." See in text (Chapter I)
His father shrewdly invents a scenario in which Gregor isn't opening his door because he's embarrassed about the state of his room. The reality is that his father doesn't know what's wrong and just wants to save face in front of the attorney, whom he know to hold power over Gregor and his continued employment. This is both extremely smart and incredibly self-serving.
"at the very least, one had to concede the possibility of such a thing..." See in text (Chapter I)
The absurdity of this situation has led Gregor to ask some existential questions about the nature of reality and human experience: if he, an otherwise unremarkable man, could suddenly and without warning change into this pest, then surely it must be possible that others have done so in the past. In thinking this, Gregor attempts to relate to the attorney and, by extension, to all of humanity. This attempt is ultimately unsuccessful.
"he turned his head and rubbed it on the carpet..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice the tenderness and the innocence of this simple action. Kafka uses it to evoke sympathy for his protagonist, who, in discovering his new body, often seems like a toddler, hurting himself in silly and yet strangely charming ways that endear him to the reader and allow us to identify and empathize with him.
"the only one condemned..." See in text (Chapter I)
There's a certain arrogance in these thoughts, which, when read in a certain light, seem to suggest that Gregor alone is being persecuted, and that no one else suffers but him. He does, of course, work with a number of other people at the firm, all of whom are being persecuted at least as much as him. Kafka's characters often have this experience of being controlled by and vaguely afraid of an absurd, overly-officious bureaucracy, and indeed this is one of his major themes.
"where hopefully his little legs would acquire some sense..." See in text (Chapter I)
Gregor thinks of his new legs almost like creatures of their own, with their own will and their own logic, which appears to be disjointed for the moment, unable to organize itself enough to move in unison. He hopes that his legs will acquire some sense, meaning work properly, without any really input from him, which further emphasizes the disconnect Gregor feels with his newfound body.
"which presumably would cause fright, or at the very least concern..." See in text (Chapter I)
Note the order in which Gregor lists the likely results of his crash: his immediate assumption is that it would cause fright, not for his person or his health, but for their livelihood, which depends on Gregor being able to work and make commission. Gregor (rightly) assumed that his family will think of themselves first, and then worry about his health.
"and he was eager to see how his present fantasies would gradually fade away..." See in text (Chapter I)
Note the use of the word "fantasies" here. It would appear to refer to "delusions" or "misconceptions" that have led him to imagine himself as a giant pest, but "fantasies" suggests that this is, in fact, a desired state of being that arises from a dream or his subconscious and can only be realized in bed, not in the real world, where he would never allow himself to be thus transformed.
"locking all doors during the night, even at home..." See in text (Chapter I)
This learned distrust subtly characterizes Gregor's family as a group of greedy or demanding people who don't respect Gregor's privacy or view him as a real individual. They've assumed, because Gregor's otherwise so spineless, that they can ask anything and everything of him, including that they given him unlimited access to his life. Keep in mind, however, that when he leaves for work, he likely doesn't lock his door behind him, leaving his room free for his family to peruse.
"to remove everything remarkable from his voice..." See in text (Chapter I)
In removing everything "remarkable" in his voice, he overcorrects for the odd "squeaking" or inhuman sound and negates his individuality, making his voice as flat and expressionless as possible. In doing so, he appears to both fight against his metamorphosis (by eliminating the changes to his voice) and aid it (by making himself less human). This tension between wanting to change but also staying the same is in fact one of the greatest tensions in the book.
"his sister knocked lightly..." See in text (Chapter I)
Kafka establishes the power dynamics in the family by characterizing Gregor's mother, father, and sister by the way they knock. The reader already knows that his mother takes a somewhat passive-aggressive approach. His father uses a more aggressive approach, as indicated by his use of his fist to knock. His sister, on the other hand, knocks in a very polite way and will prove to be his one ally in this nuclear family.
"on one side door..." See in text (Chapter I)
From this, the reader knows that there are three doors opening into Gregor's room: the main door and the two side doors. Kafka uses this small detail to indicate to the reader that Gregor is both literally and figuratively surrounded by his family, trapped by their dependence on him (and by their ingratitude). That he refuses in this instance to let him in may be the first sign of strength on his part in the book.
"but in these circumstances he confined himself..." See in text (Chapter I)
Once again, Gregor "holds back" from saying what he really thinks in order to make a situation more outwardly pleasant and to placate his mother. From this slight change in his voice, we can assume that this metamorphosis isn't complete, and that he's literally confining himself in this body by refusing to speak. Note also that he wants to be open with his mother and, likely, to ask her for help, but thinks better of it because she's so angry with him. This characterizes their relationship as extremely one-sided in its affections.
"The soft voice..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice that his mother doesn't tell him to get up or reproach him for being lazy, but subtly reminds him that he has responsibilities to his family and must support them with his job as a salesman. This kind of passive-aggresive behavior can be seen throughout the short novel, in which many characters imply what they're think without directly saying it. In his mother's soft voice we can clearly hear her rage and frustration.
"without being able to make the decision to get out of bed..." See in text (Chapter I)
Instead of trying to reverse his metamorphosis, he passively waits for it to resolve itself, assuming that he'll revert back to his former self if he just waits. He doesn't realize that this inability to decide is in fact in keeping with his personality, and that if continues to behave this way he'll never turn back. This element of existentialism—that there's no common single experience of being human and that each person must create his or her own reality—is crucial to understanding Gregor Samsa's acceptance of his situation.
"And besides, would the doctor in this case be totally wrong..." See in text (Chapter I)
Gregor admits that his condition isn't entirely physical, and that this metamorphosis appears to be a literal manifestation of his feelings of insignificance and his desire to skip work. He thinks perhaps that his situation is a direct result of his dissatisfaction with life, and, thus, that he's responsible for it.
"without backbone or intelligence..." See in text (Chapter I)
Keep in mind that the errand boy is the boss's minion just like Gregor. Neither of them can stand up to him, but, because Gregor carries the higher rank in the company, he's under more pressure. His backbone is a symbol of man's ability to determine one's own destiny. In his job, he's figuratively spineless, unable to confront his boss, but now that he's a pest, this lack of a backbone is a physical reality.
"to avoid those storm clouds brewing over the boss' head..." See in text (Chapter I)
Kafka builds on his previous characterization of the boss as a mean, overtly domineering person by using the metaphor of storm clouds to illustrate his frustration with Gregor, whose tardiness angers his boss to the point where "storm clouds" (of anger and frustration) brew over his head, as if he's plotting against Gregor (possibly to fire him).
"and he really didn't feel particularly fresh and active..." See in text (Chapter I)
Kafka uses understatement to emphasize the absurdity and the dark comedy of Gregor's situation. Despite having already confirmed that his transformation isn't a dream, Gregor still seems to think that he's just a regular (albeit overworked and unappreciated) person, capable of getting up out of bed in the morning and running to catch the train. Kafka's use of the word "fresh" underscores how unclean Gregor is as a pest.
"sitting up on that desk and speaking down to the employee from on high like that..." See in text (Chapter I)
This can't have been unintentional on the supervisor's part. He must know and like that sitting on the desk rather than in a chair makes it seem like he's looming over his employees, speaking down to them as if he were a god. This arrogance seems particularly pathetic when we consider that the boss has trouble hearing, which characterizes him as an older and weaker man.
"If I didn't hold back for my parents' sake..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice that Gregor says "hold back" instead of simply "go to work" or "keep up appearances." This implies that he doesn't just want to quit, but wants to make a scene about it and really tell his supervisor what he thinks about him. Based on what we've learned about Gregor thus far, we can safely assume that this never would've happened, regardless of his transformation.
"Other travelers live like harem women..." See in text (Chapter I)
Gregor mistakenly assumes that women who live in a "harem," or the room or house where women in Muslim families are housed, live in a state of comfort and luxury, with the freedom to do as they please. In fact, these women are being segregated, and their comfort depends on that of the men in their household. Gregor seems to think, as did many Westerners in his time, that harem women had easy lives, and he longs for the independence he thinks they enjoy (likely because his supervisor constantly hovers over him).
"and never expected to be genuine..." See in text (Chapter I)
Kafka refers to the kinds of pleasantries one expects to share when one travels, saying hello to strangers and asking only the simplest of questions as a matter of course, in order to be polite. As a salesman, Gregor has mastered this way of speaking by necessity, but doesn't enjoy it, recognizing how hollow it makes his work and, by extension, his life.
"what a strenuous occupation I've chosen..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice how quickly Gregor's thoughts have segued from confusion about his transformation to hatred of his work. Here, the line about his strenuous occupation refers to the amount of traveling he has to do as a salesman, which requires that he get up early, precluding his desire to sleep and "forget" his foolishness, meaning, his transformation, but also, probably, his dreams of a more fulfilling life, as symbolized by the picture of the woman in the boa.
"into which her entire forearm had disappeared..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice that the lady's fur muff makes her look almost like an animal. This image parallels Gregor's own transformation, into which his body or human self has disappeared, like the lady's forearm. In aligning the transformed Gregor with the woman in the boa, Kafka suggests that Gregor's real problem may be related to his sexuality, in particular, his inability to meet women.
"which he had cut out of an illustrated magazine..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice that this picture is the only personal possession described in this passage. His sample cloths are work-related items, and his room, too small for much more than a bed and table, doesn't allow him that much space in which to decorate. As a result, this picture appears to be his only possession, and we learn as much from its presence as we do from the absence of any other characterizing possessions.
"a proper room for a human being..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice how Kafka subtly implies that, because Gregor is no longer a human being, he no longer belongs in this room. This establishes the theme of not belonging or being out of place, which defines Gregor's experience both before and after his transformation.
"uniting wholly with him—Gregor's sight then failed him..." See in text (Chapter II)
From Gregor's perspective, his mother and father seem to merge into a single, multi-limbed creature, monstrous in its intention to both hurt Gregor and spare his life. With this image, we can clearly see that the humans in this story are the real threats and that Gregor, who seems to be physically incapable of murder, is at the mercy of these strange, cruel figures.
"and yet he felt like he was nailed down and stretched out..." See in text (Chapter II)
Kafka alludes to two different Biblical images: first, the apple, the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil from which Adam and Eve eat in the Garden of Eden (this fruit is never explicitly named, but is commonly depicted as an apple); and second, to the crucifixion, as Gregor is "nailed down" in the same way that Christ was nailed to the Cross. Kafka uses this image to liken Gregor to a martyr, being nailed to the Cross so that his family might have a better life.
"it didn't have the appearance of a pursuit..." See in text (Chapter II)
Nevertheless, this dance around the table reads darkly comical, with Gregor's father following casually behind his son as he scrambles in fright. This failed escape further emphasizes Gregor's vulnerability to the reader and disproves his father's theory that he is, in some way, a monster. In this passage, we clearly see that the only monster here is Gregor's father.
"when his lungs hadn't been quite trustworthy..." See in text (Chapter II)
Kafka suffered from tuberculosis, and indeed it was very common in those days. It's possible that this is an autobiographical reference to Kafka's own infirmity, and that the author has aligned himself with his protagonist in his isolation and existentialism. If not, it's still important to note that Gregor has had health problems before, and this trouble with his lungs establishes a precedent of illness.
"with the long coattails of his uniform thrown back..." See in text (Chapter II)
Recall that in Part I, Kafka described a picture of Gregor from his time in the military, in which he was a lieutenant with a sharp uniform and a demanding presence, as if he deserved respect. Here, the uniform is on Gregor's father, which returns him to the position of respect and authority that he enjoyed before the collapse of his business. Kafka uses the symbol of the uniform to track the shift of power within the family.
"gathering his escort around him..." See in text (Chapter II)
This long description of the father is meant to characterize him as old and inform, but in this last line uses the word "escort" to suggest that he was never really sick (as we can see from him being up and about and looking very lively) but that he actually enjoyed being catered to and waited upon, deliberately stopping when he wants to speak in order to make himself the center of attention.
"And so he fled to the door of his room and pushed on it..." See in text (Chapter II)
In spite of his condition, Gregor has learned through his interactions with Grete how to communicate with his family, using body language and physical cues instead of real speech. This act of pushing on the door reminds one of a dog seeking to be let in. That his family hasn't bothered to interpret his body language, and that they assume him to be deaf and dumb, further illustrates the fact that they never fully understood him.
"shutting the door closed with her foot..." See in text (Chapter II)
Note that this if the first time Gregor has been out of his room since Part I, when he opened the door to speak with the attorney. In that time, his room has been characterized as a place of infirmity and of gradual decline, in which Gregor slowly loses his self-succiency and becomes dependent on others. That the mother has collapsed in his room suggests that she, too, has become dependent on others, as evidenced by the fact that she doesn't work and has trouble breathing.
"Gregor, you…..." See in text (Chapter II)
There are two important things to notice here: the first, that Grete has used Gregor's name, and that she still, in some ways, thinks of him as her brother, rather than as a thing; the second, that she trails off here without finishing her sentence, leaving the reader to guess what she was going to say. It's very possible that she was going to accuse him of being cruel or acting like a pest; that she stops herself from doing so suggests that she doesn't (yet) want to fight with him.
"it felt good against his hot underbelly..." See in text (Chapter II)
Kafka doesn't dwell on the point, and Gregor doesn't seem to think of it at all, but this act of covering up the picture with his body has overt sexual overtones (in that Gregor presses it against a part of his body that is, in essence, nude). This is the only direct display of sexuality in the book, and in the end it proves to be an act of futility, because Gregor can no longer act on his desires, but can only preserve the memory that he once had them.
"He would rather jump in Grete's face..." See in text (Chapter II)
This may well be the first time we've seen Gregor angry. He's been at various times confused, grateful, considerate, and suspicious, but the vehemence with which he protects this picture is unprecedented and a little frightening. It's at once an incredibly human thing to do (covet that which we desire as our own) and a display of inhuman intensity, in which Gregor thinks about attacking his own sister.
"the picture of the lady clothed in nothing but fur..." See in text (Chapter II)
Of all the items in the room, Gregor chooses to save the only one he made himself. In this way, the picture becomes of a symbol not just of his human desires and sexuality but of his self-succiency, which can, thus, be understood as his interiority and as his private emotional life. Without the picture, Gregor implies, all evidence of that life will cease to exist, and it will be as if he was never a person at all.
"even as a student in elementary school..." See in text (Chapter II)
Once again, Kafka saves the most important item of the list for last. In doing so, he effectively works backward from the present to the past, establishing Gregor's timeline and reminding us that the was, in fact, human, and that he had an entire life before his transformation. This detail comes at a crucial moment, when it's necessary for the reader to remember that, psychologically, Gregor is still a person and needs out sympathy and understanding.
"the fretsaw and his other tools..." See in text (Chapter II)
Recall that in Part I, Gregor's mother made a point of telling the firm's attorney that Gregor's only really interest other than work was using the fretsaw. There's no other evidence in the book to suggest that he made anything in addition to the picture frame, but even so, we can assume that it was his only hobby and, perhaps, his only solace.
"and then went back to Grete..." See in text (Chapter II)
Earlier in this chapter, we learned that the Samsas were often angry with Grete before Gregor's transformation, believing her to be a lazy and somewhat useless child. Now, after his metamorphosis, she has become the favorite child, or at the very least the preferred one who the mother turns to when the thought of Gregor becomes too much for her. Grete, it seems, has let this newfound respect go to her head and is assuming authority over Gregor's life and wellbeing.
"thereby being able to forget the intervening time with that much more ease..." See in text (Chapter II)
Given what we know of the mother thus far, it's safe for us to assume that this is really her desire, and that she wants to keep things just as they were so that it'll be easier for her to forget what has happened, if, indeed, Gregor ever does come back. His mother and father seem to be clinging to this hope, incessantly asking if there has been some change, but Grete, who has been interacting with Gregor, knows better and has come to accept his situation.
"as a diversion, he picked up the habit of crawling back and forth across the walls and ceiling..." See in text (Chapter II)
Kafka's use of the word "diversion" here indicates that Gregor's habit of crawling back and forth isn't as much a way of releasing stress and thinking through problems, as one does with pacing, as it is a kind of game that Gregor plays, a way of diverting his attention and perhaps even entertaining himself while he's alone. Given his solitude, it's not surprising that he would need this kind of distraction, and the fact that he does it helps the reader to empathize with him.
"only out of childish thoughtlessness..." See in text (Chapter II)
This thoughtlessness doesn't stem from a lack of affection for Gregor but rather from her own inability to realize what a hardship this act of taking care of him will be for her. As a young woman, and as Gregor's only ally, she naturally and selflessly began to take care of him, not knowing how emotionally and psychologically draining this would become. Now, she's feeling the effects of this strain, and Gregor realizes that perhaps he'll lose his only friend.
"immobile and situated so as to scare..." See in text (Chapter II)
This line isn't meant to imply that Gregor intends to scare anyone or that he sits in the window hoping that someone on the street will see him and be terrified. Instead, this line is meant to convey exactly how monstrous he has become and how terrified his sister is of his body. It's very possible that Gregor is continuing to grow and develop more bug-like characteristics, so the fact that she becomes more scared over time and not less is understandable.
"Gregor would not have been surprised if she had not entered..." See in text (Chapter II)
In the German, this line reads, "Eswäre für Gregor nicht unerwartet gewesen, wennsie nicht," meaning, Gregor would not have thought it unexpected if she had not entered. This use of a triple negative has an obfuscating effect, attempting to conceal the real meaning of the sentence (that Gregor is surprised that Grete didn't enter) in order to emphasize his inability to either be honest with himself or express his true feelings.
"as if she were suffocating..." See in text (Chapter II)
Kafka implies that Gregor's room stinks without using that word. Note that there has been no mention thus far of anyone cleaning Gregor's room, or of what's to be done about his excrement and secretions. It appears that they've left him to wallow in his filth, wanting nothing to do with it. This has quickly become unbearable for Grete and will cause problems for Gregor later.
"in which the gray heavens and the gray earth, indistinguishable from one another, merged..." See in text (Chapter II)
Like some animals, Gregor appears to be going color-blind, and now sees the world entirely or almost entirely in black and white. This was not part of the original metamorphosis, just like the loss of his voice, and these two changes together suggest that his transformation still isn't over. Kafka leaves us in suspense about what's next for Gregor.
"quite ponderous..." See in text (Chapter II)
"Ponderous" in this context meaning heavy, unwieldy, and clumsy. He hasn't been working at all (for reasons that aren't specified, but which we can assume amount to laziness), and thus has put on quite a bit of weight. The word "ponderous" can also be applied to thoughts, in the sense that he "ponders" things heavily or with great weight. Here, the translator may be suggesting that Gregor's father has, as a result of his indolence, had a lot of time to think.
"undoubtedly better..." See in text (Chapter II)
In the original German, this phrase ("zweifellos besser") carries with it a sarcastic connotation, as if to say that it's anything but better. Kafka uses this sarcasm to emphasize the fact that the family has obviously been taking advantage of Gregor and that, in hearing this, he has to rationalize it so himself as being prudent. In reality, this decision was not the father's to make alone, and Kafka couldn't be more critical of it.
"while he adhered to the door and eavesdropped..." See in text (Chapter II)
This is the first direct indication that Gregor's condition causes him to secrete an adhesive substance that allows him to climb the walls. So far, we've only seen him scuttling around on the floor. hiding under a couch, but now we know that he's able to climb the walls (and, as we later learn, the ceiling).
"Only the sister still remained close to Gregor..." See in text (Chapter II)
Kafka has already established that Grete is Gregor's only real ally, but this juxtaposition between her family's gradual loss of gratitude and her continued affection for Gregor suggests that she might have an ulterior motive, and that their relationship may not be as strong as Gregor thinks. We'll see what becomes of it later in the novel.
"father had not said anything to the contrary..." See in text (Chapter II)
This is a lie of omission. Gregor's father allowed him to believe that in the wake of the business' collapse they'd been left with nothing, but this just isn't true. That his father has manipulated him into becoming the sole breadwinner of the family suggests that he's an essentially selfish character (a trait that prepares us for his ingratitude, which we see in the next passage).
"Thank you, I've had enough..." See in text (Chapter II)
At this point in the narrative, the Samsas have begun to acclimate to Gregor's condition to the point where it seems, if not normal, then at least something they can try to ignore. Their lack of appetite here is as likely to be a result of their disgust over living with this past as it is a result of their no longer having a source of income and needing to pinch pennies in order to survive.
"successful collapse..." See in text (Chapter II)
An oxymoron: the failure of a business cannot be a success, and yet Kafka uses the line anyway, implying that the only thing the father is good at is ruining his business and, by extension, his life. Kafka also uses this oxymoron to emphasize how badly the business failed: this isn't just a collapse, but an alarmingly effective one that has placed them squarely in debt. (Note that Gregor has been working at his firm for five years, starting immediately after his father's business failed.)
"probably intended to be Gregor's for all time..." See in text (Chapter II)
Recall that when Grete picked up the bowl of milk, she did so with a rag, not her bare hands. Kafka didn't dwell on the point then, but now makes it clear that Gregor's family considers him unclear and that any plates he uses aren't likely to ever serve at the dinner table again. This is why Grete brings him the "smorgasbord" on newspaper: she doesn't want him to dirty up the dishes.
"an entire smorgasbord..." See in text (Chapter II)
"Smorgasbord" meaning a wide variety or selection. Often, when this word is used to refer to food, it connotes richness and abundance: a plethora of options, a platter of delicious treats. In this case, Gregor's "smorgasbord" consists of scraps and unwanted bits that his parents aren't likely to eat and that they won't begrudge Grete giving him. In his eyes, she's brought him something of a feast. In hers, this must be quietly, incredible sad.
"God, he simply had to be somewhere, he couldn't really fly away..." See in text (Chapter II)
Kafka breaks from the third person limited perspective to show us an example of Grete's thoughts, which appear to be harried, worried, in some ways fearful. This line, "he couldn't really fly away," underscores the absurdity of the situation, in which Grete has to imagine him as a bug and convince herself that he doesn't have wings (given how unusual his anatomy is, we can't actually be sure).
"he felt very cozy and regretted only that his body was too wide to fit fully underneath the couch..." See in text (Chapter II)
At this point in the narrative, Gregor's primary concern is comfort: his need to eat, his longing to sleep in his bed as he did before, and his desire, not just for his own wellbeing, but for his family's. He spends a great deal of time worrying about how they'll treat him now, what will happen to them. and if he'll ever be able to reconnect with them as a brother and son.
"of which the sister had always told him and wrote to him about..." See in text (Chapter II)
Kafka leaves it up to the reader to decipher the sister's intentions. It's possible that she wrote to Gregor about this habit of reading aloud to give him a sense of what lovely things he was missing. Or it could be that she's irritated by this practice and that the two have talked about it before. Given the tone of the passage, the former is more likely, but an argument could be made for either scenario.
"and for this reason the sister had certainly prepared it..." See in text (Chapter II)
His sister once again proves to be Gregor's only ally and has sweetly prepared this milk for him, knowing that he'll be hungry and trying to show him some consideration. However, the placement of the milk (in a bowl on the floor) and the presence of the chunks of bread (as if he were a dog) further emphasize that he's not human. He's being treated here almost like an unwanted pet.
"heavy, swoon-like sleep..." See in text (Chapter II)
To "swoon" means to faint (often, to fall as one faints). In the English language, the word "swoon" is most often associated with women or ladies who are believed to swoon or faint at the slightest provocation (such as the appearance of a giant vermin). In German, however, this word doesn't have quite the same gendered connotation, and thus a heavy, swoon-like sleep is one that feels as though it happened suddenly and got the better of him.
"chosen by Gregor..." See in text (Chapter III)
In Part I, we learned that Gregor's room had three doors in it, and that his family could speak to each other through it, as if he never existed. Here, we learn that Gregor himself chose this apartment, and that by doing so he placed himself in the very center of the family's life, as if his room were a heart that pumped blood into their life together. This choice speaks to his desire to provide for his family; later, it becomes the source of his dissatisfaction. By pointing this out at the very end, Kafka suggests that Gregor brought this whole tragedy on himself.
"his two female escorts..." See in text (Chapter III)
Recall that in Part II, Mr. Samsa was described as "gathering his escorts" around him while walking with Gregor and Mrs. Samsa on Sunday. In replacing Gregor with Grete, Kafka effectively edits him out of the family, stripping him both of his position (as Mr. Samsa's favorite child) and of his importance. Here, his entire family begins to lean on each other, as if to say that they never needed him, and that his sacrifices mean nothing to them.
"Adjoo, folks..." See in text (Chapter III)
The servant attempts to say "adieu," the French word for goodbye, but mangles the word very badly, further emphasizing to the reader her lack of education and sophistication. For her to simply say adjoo after finding Gregor's body proves that, in spite of her playfulness in earlier scenes, she never particularly cared about Gregor, and his presence was just an amusing diversion in an otherwise humdrum job.
"It's done taken care of..." See in text (Chapter III)
In the end, the servant asks a stranger to take care of Gregor's body, which is here referred to as "trash" so that everyone can talk about it without having to talk about it. Gregor's family doesn't want to bother with getting rid of him and certainly won't prepare a funeral, making this final act (of being taken out like trash) the one that makes Gregor's transformation from human to nothing complete.
"both on their own side..." See in text (Chapter III)
Recall that when Grete was playing the violin earlier the parents also took their own sides, flanking her as she played. Here, Kafka implies that, because they each have their own side, they're divided in their thoughts and feelings about Gregor, as evidenced by the fact that the mother wanted to clean his room and couldn't imagine getting rid of him.
"she believed him capable of all sorts of intrigues..." See in text (Chapter III)
Of all the characters in the novel, the old woman is the only one who ascribes him any real agency. Unlike his family, who think of him as a monster with no connection to the man they once knew, she believes that he has a personality and that he can, like a person, play dead, pretend to be offended, hold grudges, and respond like he would as a man. Her playfulness may be demeaning, but it's also the only real human connection he had.
"and would have gone away of his own free will..." See in text (Chapter III)
Grete seems to forget the fact that they've been keeping Gregor locked up and that, without their help, there would be no leaving the apartment; he certainly can't do so of his own free will with the father hissing at him to get back in his room. It's possible that by "go away" she means to die or pass away, but more likely she expects this bug-like creature to go live with the bugs in the wild. She doesn't, of course, stop to think how ridiculous this is.
"with mechanical motions..." See in text (Chapter III)
Note the use of the word "mechanical" to describe the movement of her hands (German: "mechanischen Handbewegungen"). This word suggests that Grete has had a lot of practice wiping away tears (both her mother's and her own) and that this might not be a genuine or a real display of affection, but rather a hollow performance of one, as if she's pretending to care for her parents to get what she wants.
"Christmas had already gone by?..." See in text (Chapter III)
Kafka never explicitly says when Gregor's metamorphosis took place and doesn't give an exact timeline of events in the novel, but it would appear that several months have passed, if not half a year, and that in that time Gregor has lost touch with the outside world so completely that he isn't even fully aware of the seasons. All we ever hear of the weather is that it rains. Perhaps that places this moment in spring; but perhaps it's still winter. It's impossible to tell.
"which she had left uncovered without a band or collar..." See in text (Chapter III)
In the early 20th century, a woman's neck was generally covered by a collar or a scarf as a sign of modesty, but women in the work force, who weren't typically thought of as ladies, sometimes went without it. Grete's change in wardrobe should be understood as another kind of transformation, one that traces her development from a young, often thoughtless woman to an adult who's making her way in the world.
"each from their side..." See in text (Chapter III)
The Samsas have flanked their talented daughter, standing to either side of her, like parents in the wings of an auditorium or a theatre, in order to watch her perform for their tenants, who are treated with the utmost deference and respect. Note also that Grete didn't originally intend to play for the tenants and that, more likely, she was asked to play by or offered to play for her parents, who would like a little bit of entertainment in their very exhausting lives.
"off in a remote corner..." See in text (Chapter III)
Notice the way in which both the tenant and the mother relegate her to a corner and, thus, to a place of insignificance. In the household's shifting power dynamics, the mother, who doesn't leave the house to work, and whose only real skill is in sewing, has become perhaps the least powerful and least important member of the family, except in her occasional desire to care for Gregor and make him comfortable.
"as if, by this, it should be signified to him that one needed teeth to eat..." See in text (Chapter III)
In Part III, Kafka places great emphasis on the ways in which Gregor is denigrated in his situation, emasculated by the servant, and feeling here as if he's being mocked by the tenants and, by extension, by all of humanity. His jaws, remember, were proven in Part I to be strong enough to turn the key in the lock, so there's no reason for Gregor to feel insecure; and yet he's been treated so terribly that he can't help internalizing the negative criticism.
"The tenants bent down over the dishes set before them..." See in text (Chapter III)
These three tenants are a peculiar bunch and appear often to act in perfect unison. Kafka juxtaposes their similarity and their simultaneity of movement with the discord present between the three remaining members of the Samsa family, of which Gregor is no longer really a part. This juxtaposition presents an image of what the Samsas want (harmony) even as it throws their present troubles into sharp relief.
"and she calmly put the chair back in the corner..." See in text (Chapter III)
Throughout the story, Gregor has been emasculated and stripped of his power by the other characters, who have taken advantage of him, treated him like a pest, willfully injured him, and almost starved him to death. In this scene, the one character he should've been able to get the better of (the lowly servant) completes his emasculation by calling him names and threatening to kill him if he fights back.
"C'mon over here, y'a old dung beetle..." See in text (Chapter III)
Kafka indicates that the old woman is uneducated and of a low social class through her use of simple colloquialisms like "C'mon over here" and "y'a" (in the original German, this line reads, “Kommmal herüber, alter Mistkäfer!”). Interestingly, this old woman is the only character who takes Gregor's condition in stride, but it's this very comfort and familiarity that makes him dislike her.
"Gregor hissed loudly in rage..." See in text (Chapter III)
Recall that in Part I, Gregor's father hissed at him like this to force him back into his room. In that scene, the father was characterized as an animalistic, brutish man, the kind of monster who maims his own son with an apple. Here, Gregor hisses, furious at them for not closing the door, which he has hitherto wanted open. Kafka uses the repetition of this sound to suggest that Gregor's transformation into a bug-like creature is now complete.
"with a new sensitivity that had actually gripped the entire family..." See in text (Chapter III)
This sensitivity isn't meant to imply any sympathy or understanding of Gregor's situation but instead characterizes his family as being newly touchy, overly-sensitive, quick to take offense and to, as Grete does, burst into tears. Their sensitivity in this sense is really an expression of their vulnerability and the emotional and psychological strain that they're under, trying to support themselves and take care of Gregor.
"but she had decided to let it alone..." See in text (Chapter III)
As Grete becomes more and more independent, and more involved in the family's financial affairs, she has less and less time to care for Gregor, and what was once an act of love and affection (or, as Gregor put it, "youthful thoughtlessness") now seems merely a chore, as she sweeps out his room in only the most cursory fashion.
"and he was happy when they disappeared..." See in text (Chapter III)
Remember that in Part II Gregor clung desperately to his humanity, pressing himself against the picture of that woman and clinging to the furniture they wanted to remove. Here, he's happy to be rid of his memories, not because he has lost his humanity but because he has given up hope of living at all. This gladness in the face of misery feels particularly macabre considering the apple in his back and foreshadows the ending of the novel.
"the mother and sister smiled with fatigue at one another..." See in text (Chapter III)
Here we see the Samsas establish a kind of normalcy and a routine that didn't seem possible in Parts I and II, and which appears to only be possible now because of Gregor's deteriorating health. It's as if, as his condition worsens, the family's situation gets steadily more stable (a trend that doesn't bode well for Gregor).