Analysis Pages

Vocabulary in The Metamorphosis

Vocabulary Examples in The Metamorphosis:

Chapter I


"this was really no fun now..."   (Chapter I)

It's important to note here that Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis in third person limited, rather than omniscient, giving readers access to Gregor's thoughts and feelings without having to tell the story from his perspective. Thus, this line reads as though it's Gregor's thought, though, in everything readers have seen so far, there's been no indication that he's having "fun." This line would appear then to be an instance of the author speaking to the reader and saying that this has gone on long enough.

"She was clever; she had already cried..."   (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.

"if they took in everything quietly, then he would have no reason to get excited..."   (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.

"parading about with peculiar moods..."   (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.

"Gregor was still here..."   (Chapter I)

In a situation where Gregor doesn't have the ability to go anywhere, writing that he's "still here" suggests emotional and psychological entrapment. Gregor is "still here" because he still exists and because, in spite of his sudden metamorphosis, his mind and consciousness are inside the pest's body.

"an embarrassing stillness set in; in the adjacent room on the right, the sister began to sob..."   (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.

"where hopefully his little legs would acquire some sense..."   (Chapter I)

Gregor thinks of his new legs almost like creatures of their own, with their own will and their own logic, which appear to be disjointed for the moment. He hopes that his legs will acquire some sense, meaning work properly, which further emphasizes the disconnect Gregor feels with his newfound body.

"which presumably would cause fright, or at the very least concern..."   (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 think of themselves first, and then worry about his health.

"and still such a fog..."   (Chapter I)

This is a double entendre: the "fog" refers both to the literal fog that has yet to dissipate and the mental "fog" that Gregor feels because of his inability to make a decision. His surprise here can be read as a mild incredulity over the fact that he's still having this problem, even after spending so long in bed.

"If I didn't hold back for my parents' sake..."   (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 readers have learned about Gregor thus far, they can safely assume that this would never happen, regardless of his transformation.

"Other travelers live like harem women..."   (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..."   (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 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.

"one heard raindrops falling upon the window ledge..."   (Chapter I)

Minute details such as these appear throughout the text and help to illustrate a central existentialist concept: that the immediate moment and everything in it is of paramount importance. This description can also be interpreted as a metaphor for human individuality, where the raindrops, like snowflakes, which symbolize unique individuals, are destroyed when they fall on the window ledge.

"a gargantuan pest..."   (Chapter I)

There's some debate over exactly what kind of "pest" Gregor Samsa transforms into in this first line. The original German, ungeheuren ungeziefer, has no direct translation into English, but is typically understood to mean an insect of some monstrous variety. Translators often use the word "pest" to preserve the ambiguity and allow for multiple interpretations.

"uniting wholly with him—Gregor's sight then failed him..."   (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.

"gathering his escort around him..."   (Chapter II)

This long description of the father is meant to characterize him as old and infirm, but in this last line, the word "escort" suggests that he was never really sick (as we can see from him being up and about and looking very lively). He actually enjoys being catered to and waited upon, deliberately stopping when he wants to speak in order to make himself the center of attention.

"Gregor, you…..."   (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 readers 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.

"as a diversion, he picked up the habit of crawling back and forth across the walls and ceiling..."   (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 readers empathize with him.

"immobile and situated so as to scare..."   (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 is understandable.

"Gregor would not have been surprised if she had not entered..."   (Chapter II)

In 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..."   (Chapter II)

Kafka implies that Gregor's room stinks. 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.

"quite ponderous..."   (Chapter II)

In this context, "ponderous" means 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..."   (Chapter II)

In the original German, this phrase "undoubtedly better" or 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, has to rationalize it to 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.

"Thank you, I've had enough..."   (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 a result of their disgust over living with this pest as it is a result of their no longer having a source of income and needing to pinch pennies in order to survive.

"what and how much about the occurrences she knew was entirely unclear..."   (Chapter II)

Kafka attempts to downplay the events and their effect on the maid, referring to them as "occurrences" (German: "der Vorfall") in order to lessen their significance; but we know, from the maid's reaction in the next lines, that she has clearly been traumatized by the occurrences, and that the attorney's response, like the maid's, can be understood as the general response, the one Gregor would get if he were out in public.

"flatulated..."   (Chapter II)

In German, this word is "blähen," which can be used both to mean to expand or to billow (when referring to curtains or a boat's sail) and to pass gas (when referring to food and digestion, as it does here). In the context of this story, with its dark, absurdist themes, Gregor's gas is meant both to inset a bit of comedy and to emphasize that he's an unclean and perhaps even disgusting creature.

"probably intended to be Gregor's for all time..."   (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 unclean 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 the dishes.

"an entire smorgasbord..."   (Chapter II)

The word "smorgasbord" means 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.

"heavy, swoon-like sleep..."   (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.

"the daughter rose up first and stretched her young body..."   (Chapter III)

Here, "young body" can be understood as a new or newly matured body, indicating that Grete has grown up and come into her own as a woman. Over the course of this short novel, Grete has undergone a transformation of her own, albeit a natural one, that sees her go from the sad, weeping girl of Part I to the vibrant, beautiful young woman of Part III. Her metamorphosis serves as a counterpoint to Gregor's, reminding readers that drastic changes like his aren't uncommon, but that they tend to happen slowly, imperceptibly, almost as if they weren't happening at all.

"chosen by Gregor..."   (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.

"Adjoo, folks..."   (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..."   (Chapter III)

In the end, the servant asks a stranger to take care of Gregor's body, which is here referred to as "trash." 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.

"which was that he had to disappear..."   (Chapter III)

Notice that Kafka doesn't use the word "die" here, instead suggesting that Gregor should disappear, both from his family's life and from the world in general. It's as if he should cease to exist, or to have never even existed, so that they can forget this all ever happened, as his mother wanted to while they were moving the furniture.

"with mechanical motions..."   (Chapter III)

Note the use of the word "mechanical", or mechanischen Handbewegungen, to describe the movement of her hands. 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.

"we must be rid of it..."   (Chapter III)

Grete finally strips Gregor of his remaining humanity by referring to him as an "it" (in German, es or him, depending on case, used only in reference to things or animals). In Part I, Grete was Gregor's ally, but has since come to begrudge him the care and service she has provided to him and now wants to be rid of him forever (though how she will do this and how far she's willing to go remains to be seen).

"Christmas had already gone by?..."   (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 readers 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.

"the dust that lay over the whole of his room..."   (Chapter III)

This dust is a symbol of Gregor's insignificance, as he's forgotten and pushed aside by his family, relegated to this room where dust cakes on his body, as if he's an old, unwanted piece of furniture. It's worth noting that dust, in itself, is composed of shed skin and particles that collect in the air, and that the dust in this room was likely created by Gregor himself.

"off in a remote corner..."   (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.

"the pleats of his livery..."   (Chapter III)

The word "livery" typically refers to uniforms that imply rank, as with the position of a military officer, a servant in a household, or, as in the father's case, an employee at a bank. Often, the word "livery" has a stately connotation, as if to indicate that the uniform is in some way rich and ostentatious. Here, Kafka refers to it as "livery" not because of its grandeur but because of the pomp with which the father wears it at all times.

"C'mon over here, y'a old dung beetle..."   (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.

"with a new sensitivity that had actually gripped the entire family..."   (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 it didn't cut any ice with the father..."   (Chapter III)

"It didn't cut any ice" is a colloquialism meaning that something made no impression on someone or didn't matter to them. In this context, the translator also uses it to imply that the father is in essence a cold man, one with little feeling or affection for others, as we can see here in his obstinance and his distaste for Gregor.

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