The Metamorphosis: Essay Q&A
1. How do the minor characters, the Chief Clerk and the three Lodgers, function in "The Metamorphosis?"
Because all the action of the story takes place in one apartment, the Chief Clerk represents the world of work that Gregor used to inhabit before his transformation. His arrival at the front door a few hours after Gregor wakes us as an giant insect portrays the type of scrutiny and stress Gregor found himself under on a daily basis: "the chief clerk's firm footsteps in his highly polished boots could now be heard in the adjoining room." Readers can only imagine what it would be like if a professor showed up in the dorm if a student decided to sleep in and roust her out of bed, or if any boss at any office showed up at one's home for that matter. It's preposterous. But this is the world Gregor inhabits since his father lost his business and put the family's financial debt on his young son's shoulders. In short, Gregor is enslaved.
The three Lodgers function as comic relief in a very bizarre, absurd, and increasingly dark tale. Two of them follow their leader around in perfect harmony as if reading the leader's mind: "the gentlemen bent over the dishes set in front of them as if they wanted to test the food before eating it, and the gentleman in the middle, who seemed to count as an authority for the other two, did indeed cut off a piece of meat while it was still in its dish, clearly wishing to establish whether it was sufficiently cooked or whether it should be sent back to the kitchen." These men also represent the outside world and are hard taskmasters, arrogant and rude. When Mr. Samsa throws them out of his home, he reclaims his earlier masculine vigor.
2. What role does the picture of the lady in the gilt frame play in "The Metamorphosis?"
The item of prominence in Gregor's room at the beginning of "The Metamorphosis," is a "picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame. It showed a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer." Despite his enormously busy life, Gregor has taken the time to cut out this sexually charged picture, place it in a gilt frame of his own making and hang it on the wall of his bedroom in the manner perhaps of teenagers would hang up a picture of a person to whom they were attracted.
The picture demonstrates that Gregor, a young man, desires a woman with whom he can form a permanent relationship. As it is, he is in a hit and miss relationship with one of the chambermaids in a hotel he frequents as a traveling salesman but it was more miss than hit. However, his family's dependence on him for financial support has to remain the focus of his life, and his future as far as a love life is concerned is bleak indeed.
3. In most short stories and novels, the protagonist undergoes a change of sorts and evolves into a more fully formed character. Agree or disagree with this statement in regards to Gregor in "The Metamorphosis?"
As a character, Gregor fails to grow and evolve. In fact he devolves. While "traditional" multifaceted fictive characters start out on one level, undergo conflict, resolution and end up at a higher level, more evolved as a person, Gregor begins to devolve in the very opening line of the story: "One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." He is no longer what humans consider the highest form of life, but has transmuted into what various translators call a beetle, a cockroach or what the charwoman refers to as a "dung beetle;" regardless, a much lower life form.
His devolution doesn't stop there, and Gregor degenerates even further the longer he remains an insect. He lives at night, eats spoiled food and enjoys tightly closed in spaces: "He had been reduced to the condition of an ancient invalid and it took him long, long minutes to crawl across his room-crawling over the ceiling was out of the question." Unlike most protagonists who experience growth of one sort or another, throughout the story Gregor shows no growth whatsoever and continues to deteriorate mentally and physically. When his last vestige of humanity, his love for music, is shattered by his sister Grete he goes into his room where he dies alone. His death is hardly given a second thought.
4. Critics maintain that Gregor finds freedom only in death because there was no other way out. Agree or disagree.
Gregor Samsa feels enslaved by life. Through no real choice of his own he is forced to maintain his family lavishly after his father's business failed. He also shouldered his father's debts to his boss and works as a sort of indentured servant as a traveling textiles salesman. He gets up at four in the morning to catch a five o'clock train and lives most of his life in hotel rooms with free time only to read railway timetables. In short, to use today's cliche, Gregor needs to get a life.
When he began supporting his family, Gregor enjoyed the attention and appreciation, but over time "they had even got used to it, both Gregor and the family, they took the money with gratitude and he was glad to provide it, although there was no longer much warm affection given in return." Now they employ a maid and sit around all day while Gregor works himself to death. It would seem then, that if Gregor's family is made up of healthy adults-they manage to support themselves very well after he becomes incapacitated-that he should quit his job, form a relationship and leave his parents' home.
However, Gregor is even more enslaved emotionally. He is so overwhelmed with guilt that he can't get out of bed for the first time in years. After Gregor finds out that his father had withheld money after his business failed (and thus didn't really have to take on the financial burden at all) instead of being angry he says it was a good thing his father lied, given how things turned out.
He feels guilty for upsetting their lives, guilty for the way he looks and so forth and so on. Gregor tries to escape his life by transforming into a giant insect, but death, it seems, is the only real way to gain his freedom.
5. The dictionary defines "metamorphosis" in terms of change, physical, emotion or spiritual. Beyond the evident change in Gregor at the beginning, where else does a metamorphic change occur?
At the beginning of "The Metamorphosis," Gregor clearly undergoes a change of major proportions. However, the tale could also be interpreted as the true metamorphosis occurring within the Samsa family. At the beginning, Mr. Samsa spends half the day eating breakfast and reading a variety of newspapers. He is overweight and needs to use a cane but otherwise remains healthy. Mrs. Samsa has asthma and needs to look out the window on occasion for air but other then this there is nothing stopping her from retaining gainful employment. Their daughter Grete likes to sleep late and play the violin. They are all completely dependent upon their son and brother for their livelihood and panic one morning when he fails to get out to bed to go to work. Each of them stands at a separate door entreating, cajoling and ordering him to get up to catch the train to work.
However, after Gregor's transformation, each member of the family is forced to undergo a metamorphosis themselves. Mr. Samsa takes a job at a bank as a doorman: "He was standing up straight enough now; dressed in a smart blue uniform with gold buttons, the sort worn by the employees at the banking institute." Clearly he has regained his earlier masculine vigor and it seems that all the while his son was supporting him he could have been working. Mrs. Gregor, similarly, takes in sewing for fancy ladies shops, a job she can perform despite her asthma. She too could have all the while been helping in the support of the family. Grete also, who was not doing much of anything, goes to work in a shop and studies at night so she can get a better paying job.
Truly, by the end of the story, all of the Samsas have been transformed from a highly dependent group of slackers into a self-sustaining functioning family. They have undergone a complete metamorphosis.