Lessons From The Metamorphosis: 7 Questions About Life, Work & Family

The Metamorphosis is a story by Franz Kafka.

It’s a novella written in 1915. Although originally written in German, a translated version can be found online and read for free. It has been studied and used in many literary pieces and adapted into many forms, especially for its theme. Most people see the story as somewhat psychological and an interpretation of an interesting social circumstance.

Just like the Ones Who Walks Away From Omelas, Metamorphosis is deep, a story of a helpless being who has no control of his situation in any way despite being the major contributor to the upstanding of his family before one unfaithful morning.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis Summary

What if you wake up one morning and realize you have turned into a giant vermin? This is the story of a salesman named Gregor Samsa and what happens after he turns into an insect. His family depends on him, so the story follows Gregor’s thought process, the changes in his body, and his family’s reaction and attempts to survive without his financial contribution.

If you are new here, I used to pick a literary fiction book and do a short analysis, gleaning important life lessons from fiction. I was inspired to start doing that because many people argue that fiction has no intellectual value. Today’s post is a summary and lessons from Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

Lessons From Kafka’s Metamorphosis

These are a few lessons you can take from the story. Of course, you might notice entirely different things from reading the book. In fact, I would like to read yours, too, so write it and share it with me using the social media buttons at the bottom of this page.

1. Are you postponing what will make you happy?

After Gregor becomes a vermin, he starts reflecting on his life and what he wishes he had done.

Some of them include trying things with his boss and travelling less.

“what a strenuous career it is that I’ve chosen! Travelling day in and day out. Doing business like this takes much more effort than doing your own business at home, and on top of that there’s the curse of travelling, worries about making train connections, bad and irregular food, contact with different people all the time so that you can never get to know anyone or become friendly with them.

For instance, whenever I go back to the guest house during the morning to copy out the contract, these gentlemen are always still sitting there eating their breakfasts. I ought to just try that with my boss; I’d get kicked out on the spot. But who knows, maybe that would be the best thing for me

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2. Why do you do what you do for work?

It turns out that Gregor’s reason for working (or working in this kind of job) is his parents. He does not like his work or his boss.

If I didn’t have my parents to think about I’d have given in my notice a long time ago, I’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel.

3. If anything goes wrong, who will be more worried because of how much they care?

The family is dependent on Gregor for the finances. He is the breadwinner and provider. Things change in the house when he becomes incapable of doing his duties. The way they regard him has changed from ‘this is GREGOR’ to ‘This place is occupied by an insect.’ (That was how Gregor felt about all of it.)

Despite all of that, there is someone who still cares more than the others.

It’s his family, especially his sister.

At the other side door his sister came plaintively: “Gregor? Aren’t you well? Do you need anything?” Gregor answered to both sides: “I’m ready, now”, making an effort to remove all the strangeness from his voice by enunciating very carefully and putting long pauses between each, individual word. His father went back to his breakfast, but his sister whispered: “Gregor, open the door, I beg of you.” 

When he refuses to open the door, his sister can’t help it anymore, though she doesn’t know what’s wrong yet.

“Can the chief clerk come in to see you now then?”, asked his father impatiently, knocking at the door again. “No”, said Gregor. In the room on his right there followed a painful silence; in the room on his left his sister began to cry.

Her thoughtfulness to Gregor’s situation:

However, his sister noticed the full dish immediately and looked at it and the few drops of milk splashed around it with some surprise. She immediately picked it up—using a rag, not her bare hands—and carried it out. Gregor was extremely curious as to what she would bring in its place, imagining the wildest possibilities, but he never could have guessed what his sister, in her goodness, actually did bring. In order to test his taste, she brought him a whole selection of things, all spread out on an old newspaper. There were old, half-rotten vegetables; bones from the evening meal, covered in white sauce that had gone hard; a few raisins and almonds; some cheese that Gregor had declared inedible two days before; a dry roll and some bread spread with butter and salt. As well as all that she had poured some water into the dish, which had probably been permanently set aside for Gregor’s use, and placed it beside them.

The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

4. How committed are you to your job?

Also, can your commitment lead to negative situations?

Gregor is so committed to his job that he is devotion is important at the company. When he doesn’t show up that morning, the chief clerk arrives at his door. This worries him because the appearance of the clerk will mean that something is wrong with him. (He does not want anyone to know he is no longer a human but an insect.)

So, how committed to your job are you? Is it possible that your commitment can be a bad thing sometimes? If you delay a little, will they send you a query because ‘that’s so unusual of him’?

Gregor only needed to hear the visitor’s first words of greeting and he knew who it was—the chief clerk himself. Why did Gregor have to be the only one condemned to work for a company where they immediately became highly suspicious at the slightest shortcoming?

5. Are people worried because of your situation or because of the purpose you serve them?

Gregor can’t help himself thinking about his sister’s cry. He’s not sure why she is so quick to cry. In his head, he thinks she is worried about something other than his well-being.

As humans, we can fall into a mindset where we view genuine care with suspicion.

“So why did his sister not go and join the others? She had probably only just got up and had not even begun to get dressed. And why was she crying? Was it because he had not got up, and had not let the chief clerk in, because he was in danger of losing his job and if that happened his boss would once more pursue their parents with the same demands as before? There was no need to worry about things like that yet.”

6. How selfish are you?

One of the things that worries Gregor the most isn’t how to get better or how to return to human form. He is more worried about his parents’ fate if he loses his job.

For instance, would it have made more sense if Gregor — when the door opens, and he sees his family that morning — call for help? Imagine turning into a vermin and human resources has just appeared at your house. Would it be normal to ask for help or tell HR not to terminate your contract?

“You can see”, he said to the chief clerk, “that I’m not stubborn and I like to do my job; being a commercial traveller is arduous but without travelling I couldn’t earn my living. So where are you going, in to the office? Yes? Will you report everything accurately, then? It’s quite possible for someone to be temporarily unable to work, but that’s just the right time to remember what’s been achieved in the past and consider that later on, once the difficulty has been removed, he will certainly work with all the more diligence and concentration. You’re well aware that I’m seriously in debt to our employer as well as having to look after my parents and my sister, so that I’m trapped in a difficult situation, but I will work my way out of it again. Please don’t make things any harder for me than they are already, and don’t take sides against me at the office.

7. What happens if you can no longer serve your roles or purpose?

Gregor’s family depends on him, but this responsibility also gives him a sense of purpose. When the family starts to find other ways to survive without him, he begins to lose his will to live. There is a theory that he dies from sadness, not because of his transformation.

It was so quiet all around too, even though there must have been somebody in the flat. “What a quiet life it is the family lead”, said Gregor to himself, and, gazing into the darkness, felt a great pride that he was able to provide a life like that in such a nice home for his sister and parents. But what now, if all this peace and wealth and comfort should come to a horrible and frightening end? That was something that Gregor did not want to think about too much, so he started to move about, crawling up and down the room.

He could already hardly feel the decayed apple in his back or the inflamed area around it, which was entirely covered in white dust. He thought back of his family with emotion and love. If it was possible, he felt that he must go away even more strongly than his sister. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful rumination until he heard the clock tower strike three in the morning. He watched as it slowly began to get light everywhere outside the window too. Then, without his willing it, his head sank down completely, and his last breath flowed weakly from his nostrils.

When You Wake Up One Morning and Become Something Else

This is not a question about Kafka’s metamorphosis anymore. It’s a question about you, the reader.

Who were you five years ago?

Who are you now?

Maybe you will wake up one day — today — and realize this is not who you are… You have grown so different from what you really want. This is not who you want to become.

Don’t take the last paragraph too seriously. It’s just one of the questions that comes to mind after reading the book. But if you notice you’re thinking about it more deeply, maybe it’s time to consider it briefly.

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