Samsa Alienation in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

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Samsa Alienation in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

One would normally think of the home and family as a sanctuary; however the opposite is true for Gregor Samsa in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Instead of receiving love from his parents and sister, Gregor is outcast. His physical transformation into a vermin is a physical manifestation of his already alienated state and demonstrates how the family viewed him as a commodity instead of a son or brother that they loved. By analyzing Gregor’s room, his relationships with others, and his own internal dialogue, one can see that Gregor, in fact, did not transform at all.


Various aspects of the room in which Gregor lives illustrate that his life is not that of a human engaging with the world. His room is described a “proper human room” (Kafka 1915). The addition of the qualifier “human” is an example of verbal irony; Gregor has already morphed into a creature at this point. The room is also “small” and mention is made of the “four walls” (Kafka, 1915). Though many rooms are small and have four walls, the highlighting of this fact by the narrator evokes a sense of enclosure or imprisonment.


The furnishings of the room (or lack thereof) support Gregor’s disengagement with human connection. Nothing is related of photos of family or friends, and the room seems empty, save for his bed and a few other items. We read that “textile samples lay spread out on the table” (Kafka, 1915), thus informing us that Gregor, who works as a salesman, takes his work home with him. The only picture Gregor does have in his room is one of a woman that he cut out and framed (Kafka, 1915), thus suggesting he finds more interest in the image of a stranger than with that of any person in his life. Save for some furniture, a table covered with work, and an image of a stranger on the wall, Gregor’s room is empty and resembles a prison cell more than it does that of a human being connected with the world.


One more item in the room that supports Gregor’s involvement in his work and alienation from the world is that of the alarm clock which serves as a metaphor for the control that his job has in his life. Despite being transformed into a bug, Gregor is more worried about missing work than he is about his physical state. Brooding about how he would like to quit his job after paying about his parents’ debt while tossing and turning in bed, he says to himself, “First of all though, I’ve got to get up, my train leaves at five” (Kafka, 1915). Then, an entire paragraph is devoted to Gregor’s worrying about missing his train and wondering if he had slept through the alarm; Gregor then wonders how he will deal with the repercussions with his boss, who would certainly be angry with him for missing work. Gregor’s worries are supported when the chief clerk does stop by the apartment wondering why he did not appear at work (Kafka, 1915). Sokel (1983) notes that Gregor is further alienated from the products as his labor, as he does not even enjoy the money he earns but gives it to his family. He explains, “Gregor’s sole reason for enduring the hated position, the need to pay his parents’ ‘debt’ to his boss, drastically highlights the doubly extrinsic purpose of Gregor’s work. For not only is his labor alien to his true desires, but its…salary or commission that it affords him—does not even belong to him” (p. 487). Gregor’s room and everything in it tell the story of his life: he sleeps, he works, and he has no connection to other humans.


Gregor’s relationships with others also reveal his alienation and role as a commodity, not a person. The interaction with the chief clerk at the office makes it clear the Gregor is valued simply for his ability to make the company money. As already mentioned, the clerk at Gregor’s office soon came by the family apartment to check on Gregor’s whereabouts. The description of the visit makes it clear that the clerk was not at the home to inquire about Gregor’s welfare but to reprimand him for not being at work. When Gregor did not respond to the family’s questions (because he was physically unable to do so), “[t]he chief clerk now raised his voice, ‘Mr. Samsa,’…You barricade yourself in your room…you are causing serious and unnecessary concern to your parents and… you fail to carry out your business duties in a way that is quite unheard of” (Kafka, 1915). When Gregor does finally respond (in a way incomprehensible to all), they assume he is mocking them instead of trying to explain his predicament (Kafka, 1915). The clerk is quick to fire Gregor, thus suggesting that Gregor is a commodity that can be easily replaced.


The chief clerk is not the only person who views Gregor as a commodity; Gregor’s own family sees him as a means to their own end and as something that is useless when it is no longer able to make money. Early in the novella, Gregor thinks about the fact that Gregor was working to pay off his parents’ debt, and would need to work “another five or six years” to do so (Kafka, 1915). One would think that in such a situation that the rest of the family was incapable of working, but this is not true, as the family soon finds other means of income upon Gregor’s inability to work.


Perhaps the most telling scene of the family’s view of Gregor occurs at the very end of section I when Gregor rushes out of his room in an effort to reach out to the clerk and save his job. Though one might understand confusion on their part, Gregor’s family, in particular his father, shun him and react violently. Upon seeing Gregor, his father “seized the chief clerk’s stick in his right hand…, picked up a large newspaper from the table with his left, and used them to drive Gregor back into his room, stamping his foot at him as he went” (Kafka, 1915). The father then started “making hissing noises at [Gregor] like a wild man” (Kafka, 1915). Clearly, Gregor’s father sees Gregor not as a son but as an enemy; this is ultimately supported when he shoves Gregor into his room, injuring him. After the scene calms, “For two whole days, all the talk at every mealtime was about what they should do now” (Kafka, 1915), leading the family to believe such talk was about how they would provide for themselves, not how they would care for Gregor. There is no care or concern demonstrated to Gregor by his father or anyone, for that matter; rather, his father exemplifies the fact that the family only cared about Gregor when he was useful to them; now that he is not of use, he is simply a burden. Ryan (2007) makes note of additional significance of Gregor’s role that is lost in translation. He explains that a term used to refer to Gregor in the story’s original German was “Ungeziefer,” a word that has a history of connotations varying from “unclean animal,” to “louse,” to “cockroach” and other such undesirable creatures (p. 11). Regardless of the translation, it is clear that Gregor is simply not wanted.


Sadly, Gregor’s own internal dialogue parallel how his family talks to and about him. In fact, one might say that he has internalized the voices of his family and the clerk. One example of this includes his reaction upon realizing he was an insect. As mentioned earlier, Gregor was not concerned about finding a way to get his human body back; rather, he was concerned about whether or not he was late to work. Even after the clerk’s visit, Gregor is keen on finding a way to get to work: “If, however, they took everything calmly he would still have no reason to be upset, and if he hurried he really could be at the station for eight o’clock” (Kafka, 1915). Gregor plans for the family’s future even though they do not; in fact, they take for granted that they will be provided for and “had so much to worry about at present that they had lost sight of any thought for the future. Gregor, though, did think about the future” (Kafka 1915). Though one might first think it is good of Gregor to work so hard for his family, Gregor has completely lost his own identity in doing so. He simply sees himself as a means to their welfare, just as they do.


Ironically, it is after Gregor morphs into an insect (or “un-thing,” as would be a closer translation of the novella’s German title), that Gregor begins to demonstrate more human qualities. One early example of this occurs near the end of the first section as the chief clerk is about to leave. After rushing out of his room in an effort to appease the clerk, Gregor sees his mother look at him and briefly forgets about the one thing that had previously consumed his entire life: “’Mother, Mother,’ said Gregor gently, looking up at her. He had completely forgotten the chief clerk for the moment…” (Kafka, 1915). As the story progresses, we read less and less of Gregor worrying about his job and more about him thinking of his own emotions. Reflecting upon his sister’s efforts to leave him food, Gregor wishes he were able to share his gratitude with her. The narrator laments, “If Gregor had only been able to speak to his sister and thank her for all that she had to do for him it would have been easier for him to bear it; but as it was it caused him pain” (Kafka, 1915). This Gregor is quite different from the work-obsessed Gregor at the beginning of the story. Gregor even shows thoughtfulness for his parents, even though they do not demonstrate care for him as his sister does: “Out of consideration for his parents, Gregor wanted to avoid being seen at the window during the day” (Kafka, 1915). These are not the thoughts of an unfeeling, monstrous vermin but those of a caring, considerate brother and son.


Gregor’s change from a travelling salesman to an insect in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis was not truly a change at all; in fact, by studying his room, his relationships and this thinking, it becomes clear that Gregor did not change at all. The true metamorphosis happens after Gregor’s physical transformation. Turning into a bug, unable to work, made Gregor realize what was most important in his life: not his job, but his human relationships. Sadly, his family is not able to reciprocate his feelings of love and concern. At the close of The Metamorphosis, it is not Gregor, but his family who have morphed into unfeeling creatures, while Gregor is the most human of them all.








Kafka, F. (1915). The Metamorphosis (D. Wyllie, Trans.). Retrieved from Project Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5200/5200-h/5200-h.htm

Ryan, S. (2007) Franz Kafka’s Die Verwandlung: Transformation, Metaphor, and the Perils of Assimilation. Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, 43(1), 1-18.

Sokel, W.H. (1983). From Marx to Myth: The Structure and Function of Self-Alienation in Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Literary Review, 26(4), 485-496.




  1. What is your chosen prompt for the literary analysis assignment?

(Use the space below to complete this section. Include the number and first sentence of the prompt you chose from the list of prompts.)                                                 


I have chosen prompt number two for my literary analysis: write an analysis of a key character in a literary work.


  1. What interests you most about this prompt and why?

(Use the space below to complete this section. Your response must be 100 to 150 words.)

I have chosen the second prompt because it seems interesting to me to analyze a character. Characters are the most important part of any story and their actions are what moves the story forward, and through them, we gain knowledge about the author’s intent in writing the story. There are various motivations behind the actions of a character. Authors often try to make points and share more information with the reader through the actions and decisions of a character. Analyzing a character and their actions will allow me to understand the story better, as well as gain a better insight into the moral of the story.


  1. What text(s) will you write about? Why?

(Use the space below to complete this section. Your response must be 100 to 150 words.)

I have chosen to write about Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  I have always been interested in the literature of Shakespeare but have never read Macbeth. I saw very little of a movie based on Macbeth but do not know much about the plot or storyline. Now that I have been given the opportunity to base a character analysis on a character of my choosing, I am also given the opportunity to read the play. Although I have always had the option of reading this work of literature at my leisure, reading it for this assignment will make it a mandatory thing that I must do, rather than something I may get around to reading someday.


  1. What is your working thesis? Keep in mind that “working thesis” means you can slightly modify your thesis for the draft and/or final essay.

(Use the space below to complete this section. Your thesis statement must be ONLY one to two sentences long.)

Macbeth is a strong, moral character who becomes convinced, by his wife, that he must kill his good friend, King Duncan, in order to gain his crown and title. In a fit of greed fueled by his wife, Macbeth is thrown into a world of guilt and shame, for this outcome was not what he wanted.


  1. What are three key ideas that you will discuss in support of your thesis?  (Write one — and only one — sentence for each point.

  1. Macbeth was a loyal and faithful general of the king’s army, thankful to him for the ranks he had already been given by the king.
  2. Macbeth is easily persuaded by his wife, Lady Macbeth, to kill the king in order to become king of Scotland.
  3. Macbeth becomes tormented with guilt and fearful that he will get caught and is forced to commit more horrible acts in order to cover up murdering the king.





  1. What questions/concerns do you have at this point about your project?

(Use the space below to complete this section. Your response must be 75 to 150 words long.)


One question I have about this project is whether or not we will be able to change our prompts once we have chosen one. I have never read Macbeth and am unsure if the prompt I have chosen will suit the literature I have chosen or if I will find another prompt to be more interesting once I have read the play.

One concern I have about this prompt is analyzing the character’s psychological background and how simple that may be to do based on only the actions we read about in the literature. Is this something we will learn to do through the course of this class?



Write: Post your working thesis and your strongest body paragraph into the discussion by Thursday (Day 3) at midnight; do not attach it as a separate document. For the purposes of this discussion only, signify your working thesis by including it in bold type and italicize the topic sentence of your body paragraph. Your body paragraph should include at least three examples of paraphrases and/or quotations (there should be at least one of each) with correct citations in APA format. After the body paragraph, be sure to include reference page citations for the paraphrased and cited sources. Then, answer the following three questions:


  • Explain the connection between the topic sentence and your working thesis. Would this connection be clear to someone without your explanation? If so, why? If not, how can you modify your topic sentence and/or thesis statement to make this connection more clear?
  • Explain the choice of reference material. How do the references support the topic sentence? Would this connection be clear to someone without your explanation? If so, why? If not, what information should you add to the paragraph to make this connection more clear?
  • Does the paragraph contain any unnecessary information? Does everything in it work to support the topic sentence? What information could be added or removed? In essence, you are being asked to evaluate the cohesion of your paragraph.
  • Note any other specific challenges faced or successes experienced when writing this paragraph or completing this discussion post.

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