The Metamorphosis: Novel Summary: Section 2
As the sun is going down, Gregor wakes to find that his sister Grete has left him a bowl of milk, which she knows he likes. However, now Gregor finds the fresh milk repulsive. Deeply ashamed, he crawls underneath the sofa and thinks how his transformation must be affecting his parents who are in the sitting room. "[G]azing into the darkness, [he] felt a great pride that he was able to provide a life.in such a nice home for his sister and parents." What will become of them now, he worries and remains covered up underneath the couch.
Grete opens the door the following morning, sees him under the couch, cries out but forces herself to remove the still-full bowl of milk. Then she returns with old cheese, bones with gravy and such, and Gregor eats to his heart's content. A daily routine ensues in which Grete brings Gregor food and cleans up while he waits, hidden to spare her sensibilities, underneath the couch.
Gregor's worries about the family's survival are soon alleviated when, by listening at the keyhole one evening, he learns that their financial situation isn't as dire as he was led to believe. Unknown to the rest of the family, after his business had failed five years earlier, Mr. Samsa had managed to put by some money. But Gregor had been earning so much money that he was in a position to bear the costs of the whole family, and bear them he did, completely: "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."
However, despite the additional hidden funds, the family still needs income. Mrs. Samsa has asthma and so cannot be expected to work; Mr. Samsa has sat around in his nightgown gaining weight for five years since his business failed and Grete, at seventeen, sleeps late and plays the violin. Gregor wants to continue to provide for them all and is deeply ashamed and filled with guilt that his present condition forbids this.
Gregor is appreciative of Grete's efforts to care for him but she still finds him repulsive, so he drapes a blanket over the couch he hides under so she will not have to even glimpse him when she comes in to feed and clean up after him. His parents are happy to have her take on this responsibility but Gregor's mother insists she be allowed in his room to see her son. Grete has noticed the adhesive Gregor leaves upon the walls and ceiling as he moves about and so the two women enter his room one day to remove some of the bigger furniture in an effort to provide more space for Gregor to move about. However, Gregor's mother is hesitant because removing the furniture, she feels, will give Gregor the idea that they have given up hope of his recovery and that when he returns to his human state he will feel disturbed to find his furniture missing.
Gregor tends to panic when he realizes they are removing his furniture, especially his desk that he used all the way through school. In an effort to "preserve something," when his sister and mother are out of the room he scurries out from beneath his couch and crawls up the wall where he presses his body against the picture of the woman in fur in the gilt frame. When Gregor's mother sees him she collapses and Grete has to rush out of the room to get her medicine. Gregor follows Grete out of his room to help but scares his sister who rushes back into Gregor's room to their unconscious mother, closing the door behind her. This leaves Gregor outside his room in the parlor where he runs excitedly over the walls and the ceiling until he falls exhausted into the middle of the table. At this point, Mr. Samsa, who has gone back to work, returns home to these goings on. He chases the insect around the room, picks up some apples and begins to throw them at Gregor. One of the apples penetrates Gregor's side and is so painful that it causes him to pass out. Mrs. Samsa and Grete come rushing out of Gregor's room and beg the father to spare his son's life.
Gregor continues to devolve from his former human self into a more insectoid form of being. He becomes more active at night and does not like fresh food, preferring instead to eat spoiled food. When he isn't crawling about the walls and ceiling he scurries out of sight when humans enter the room and prefers tight, enclosed spaces. However, when Grete and Mrs. Samsa attempt to remove the furniture, which represents his past life and symbolizes his humanity, he feels compelled to "preserve" an artifact of his previous self and jumps upon the picture upon the wall. There is no doubt his desperate movement is sexually charged: "He hurried up onto the picture and pressed himself against its glass, it held him firmly and felt good on his hot belly." Gregor here is literally hanging on to, or protecting, his earlier dream of meeting an attractive woman, loving her and mating with her; a dream, however, that was extinguished by his father's business collapse and Gregor's sacrificial gesture of taking on the family's entire financial burden. Gregor gave up his dreams in order to care for his family, and they became so accustomed to his support that in time they ceased to appreciate it.
However, in making this sacrifice, it also appears that Gregor was mistaken or perhaps even tricked by his father. Gregor overhears the family in the parlor discussing their finances and realizes that Mr. Samsa squirreled away money when his business failed. In short, the father has been holding out on the son, and Gregor realizes that his father "could actually have used this surplus money to reduce his father's debt to his boss, and the day when he [Gregor] could have freed himself from that job would have come much closer." It would seem then with the recognition that Gregor didn't actually have to work all those years and anticipate five additional dreadful years. However, instead of feeling anger toward his father, Gregor instead thinks "now it was certainly better the way his father had done things." The term "denial" was not popular in this era, but it is entirely appropriate here. Gregor is denying the reality of the situation he is in.
By the way, notice the change that has come upon Gregor's father. Before Gregor metamorphosed into a giant insect, his father was sitting all day reading newspapers in his nightgown putting on weight. But he has in the interim returned to work: "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; above the high, stiff collar of the coat his strong double-chin emerged; under the bushy eyebrows, his piercing, dark eyes looked out fresh and alert; his normally unkempt white hair was combed down painfully close to his scalp." Here is a picture of masculine vigor complete with phallic undertones. The father's attack upon the son with the apples was simply a battle with an opponent. And at this point, it's clear. Gregor's dysfunctional role as parent has been regained by the real father, and the family has returned to a more normal nuclear model. Some scholars suggest that with this in mind, Gregor's transformation was indeed a sacrifice on his part to save his family but this leaves us wondering what ultimately will happen to Gregor.