The Metamorphosis Book Summary - The Metamorphosis Book explained in key points
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The Metamorphosis summary

Franz Kafka

A Novella on the Effects of Alienation on the Mind and Body

4.6 (86 ratings)
19 mins

Brief summary

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a thought-provoking novella that delves into the psychological and existential themes of alienation, identity, and the absurdity of life. It follows the bizarre transformation of Gregor Samsa into a giant insect and the impact it has on his family.

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    The Metamorphosis
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    Part I

    After a night of troubled dreams, Gregor Samsa finds himself transformed into a bug. He recognizes his bedroom and some of the things in it, like the textile samples from his job as a traveling salesman and a picture of a lady in furs. It’s still his room in the Samsa family flat but his body has definitely changed.

    He decides to sleep a little more and forget this bug nonsense. His mind wanders to his job and all of its stress. So much travel means he doesn’t sleep enough, doesn’t eat well, and doesn’t have any meaningful work relationships. If it wasn’t for his parents’ debt that he has to pay off, Gregor would have left this lousy job long ago.

    He tells himself he’ll quit in five or six years when the debt is paid, but for now, he has to get out of bed and catch the train to the office. That’s when he realizes he’s late to work and begins to panic.

    A knock on the door adds to Gregor’s dread, but it’s just his mother asking if he’s okay. He can’t answer because his voice has changed and he thinks it’s probably the first sign of a bad cold. Just another hazard for a traveling salesman.

    His mother, father, and sister are all worried that he’s late. They want him to come out of his bedroom but Gregor isn’t ready to be seen just yet. Plus, he’s not really sure how he’ll even turn the key or the knob to open his door.

    Then the doorbell to the family flat rings. The sound of rigid footsteps follows and Gregor knows it’s his boss, the chief clerk, checking up on him. The clerk tells Gregor’s mother business considerations must come before personal troubles and that Gregor needs to get to the office. He then reprimands Gregor through the closed bedroom door. The entire Samsa family listens in dismay as the clerk questions Gregor’s honesty and work ethic.

    No one can understand him but Gregor pleads with his boss to remember his past good work and to be gentle with his parents. He promises to get dressed, get on a train and get to the office. He even manages to roll his bulbous, armor-like body out of the bed and somehow open the door.

    The sight of transformed Gregor makes Mrs. Samsa faint. The chief clerk backs slowly to the door, trembling, and bolts from the flat. Gregor wants to chase his boss down and explain everything but Mr. Samsa has other ideas. He beats Gregor with a stick and newspaper, driving him back into his room. Gregor gets stuck in the doorway but his father pushes him through. The shove badly injures Gregor and he lies on the floor bleeding heavily as his father slams the door.

    ANALYSIS

    From the very first line of The Metamorphosis, the reader is immediately slapped in the face with the absurdity of this story, which reveals that Gregor has turned into a bug. What’s even more absurd, is that Gregor doesn’t react to the slap in the face. A supernatural event has occurred and he just wants to go back to sleep. Or think about his job. Or worry about money.

    This theme of absurdity runs throughout The Metamorphosis as the Samsa family focuses on the everyday details of their life rather than Gregor’s inexplicable transformation. This particularly resonated with early twentieth-century readers when the story was initially published. They’d just witnessed the horrors of modern warfare for the first time with the millions of dead in World War I, but they had to continue on with their lives as if the world around them wasn’t a bloody, smoking mess.

    Today, life in the early twenty-first century has taken on a similar feeling of absurdity at times as we try to lead ordinary lives during extraordinary challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, a climate crisis, a mass migration of refugees, police and school shootings, and political unrest all over the world.

    Part I also introduces us to the theme of alienation, which many critics consider the most important theme of the story. Gregor is clearly alienated after he turns into a bug – his mother faints at the sight of him, his boss runs away, and his father violently forces him back into the room. But we also learn that Gregor was alienated before his transformation. His job as a traveling salesman means he’s always alone on the road and his relationships are transitory. And his mother comments that he never goes out at night.

    Alienation was a major theme for many late nineteenth and early twentieth-century writers, like Fyodor Dostoevsky, H. G. Wells, and T. S. Eliot. They were responding to the soul-crushing march of the Industrial Revolution that drove people from rural farms and family businesses and into urban factories and sweatshops, leaving them alienated from nature and the people they loved. We see this kind of unhealthy obsession with industry and commerce in Gregor’s desire to work despite being a bug and the chief clerk’s insistence that business considerations should come before personal concerns.

    Now, 100 years later, similar feelings of alienation are still common. The average worker is underpaid and underappreciated. The only thing keeping many at their job is debt – just like Gregor – thanks to cost-of-living increases that far surpass wage increases.

    We’ve also developed an ironic way to feel alienated – the internet. This thing that was supposed to bring us together has, instead, left many feeling more isolated than ever as they long for online likes and friends, and feel like their lives are less than the glamorized, filtered lives that some present through social media.

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    What is The Metamorphosis about?

    The Metamorphosis (1915) is an allegorical novella about what happens when the main character, Gregor Samsa, is transformed into a bug. It grapples with the themes of alienation, the absurdity of life, and the power of change.

    The Metamorphosis Review

    The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915) is a thought-provoking novella that explores the profound transformation of a man into a monstrous insect and the consequences that follow. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With its deep exploration of alienation and identity, it delves into the human psyche, forcing readers to reflect on their own existence.
    • The book offers a unique perspective on family dynamics, as the protagonist's transformation challenges the bonds that tie them together.
    • Through Kafka's powerful symbolism, the story tackles themes of conformity, guilt, and the struggle to find a sense of purpose.

    Who should read The Metamorphosis?

    • Anyone interested in a compelling short story classic
    • People struggling with the absurdity of life or the feeling of alienation
    • Students of twentieth-century literature

    About the Author

    Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 to a middle-class German-speaking Jewish family of Czech descent. His writing often features bizarre or surreal situations, and the term Kafkaesque is commonly used to describe anything absurd. Kafka was known to be riddled with self-doubt and destroyed much of what he wrote, but not all. His other noteworthy books include The Trial and The Castle.

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    The Metamorphosis FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Metamorphosis?

    The main message of The Metamorphosis is a reflection on the alienation and isolation of modern life.

    How long does it take to read The Metamorphosis?

    The reading time for The Metamorphosis varies, but it usually takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Metamorphosis a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Metamorphosis is worth reading for its thought-provoking exploration of existential themes and beautiful prose.

    Who is the author of The Metamorphosis?

    The author of The Metamorphosis is Franz Kafka.

    What to read after The Metamorphosis?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Metamorphosis, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Trial by Franz Kafka
    • The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
    • Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
    • Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
    • The Wisdom of Life by Arthur Schopenhauer
    • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
    • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
    • Leadership Revolution by Lori Mazan
    • On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche
    • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein