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The Symbolism of the Metamorphosis: Analytical Essay

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In this essay, I will talk about how the main symbolism in The Metamorphosis is shown through the protagonist, Gregor, and his family. In that, we'll explore how his family is symbolic for capitalism, using him one moment, and then disregarding him once he is unable to help them anymore, to him himself, being unable to go out and about, being stuck in his room, ostracized by his work and his own family because of his newly found bug self. The main symbolism, however, ranges anywhere from the author, Franz Kafka having depression, to him having tuberculosis, even going as far as to leave it up to the reader on how to interpret it.

Key Words:

  • Depression
  • Tuberculosis
  • Capitalism


The Metamorphosis, written by Franz Kafka, carries much symbolism throughout it. From the beginning with Gregor, the main protagonist, waking up as a bug, lamenting on work, and how he can’t provide for his family, to later, his family providing for themselves, and resenting him. The main symbolism that can be identified by this story can be taken in two ways. These ways include how his family treats him from the beginning to how they treat him at the end, as well as him turning into a bug. To put it more simply than that, the story shows the symbolism of depression, tuberculosis, and how capitalism affects the working class.


“When Gregor Samsa awoke this morning… flickered helplessly before his eyes,” (Kafka, 1915 p. 713). This paragraph is the first one read in the story, and as soon as one reads it, it can be tied to Kafka’s fight with depression. His depression started around 1915, though his first thought of suicide was in 1912, which was also around the time he wrote The Metamorphosis. (Felisati & Sperati, 2005). For many years after his depression would worsen and often did he contemplate suicide, even once going as far as stating, “kill me or else you are a murderer,” (Felisati & Sperati, 2005, para 6). This statement was an exchange between Kafka and a doctor who was referred to in the passage as Dr. Klopstock. Although Kafka kept insisting, Dr. Klopstock declined and eventually Kafka recovered. Although depression does play a role in the story, it may not be the biggest in terms of symbolism, but Gregor is Kafka rewritten. Gregor’s lack of interest in his favorite foods, his need for a dark, isolated place, those all coincide with depression. Kafka himself would seek solitude when he was depressed, and would only go to clinics and sanitariums at the urging of others.


The first act of symbolism that we’ll explore is when Gregor wakes up as a bug. Instantly, he explains his position on his back, and how his back is hard like a shell, rendering him from getting up. (Kafka, 1915). This invokes a feeling of hopelessness to the reader, he can’t do anything, and thus it causes him to feel sluggish, and hopeless, as though he must constantly reassure himself that he can make it to the next train. This thought process is cut short when his acting manager visits his home to inquire as to where he is, and why he missed his train. After a generally one-way exchange between the manager and himself, he finally manages to open the door. This scares everyone in the opposite room once they see him. (Kafka, 1915). The person they once knew to be a hardworking man, is now a hideous bug. The symbolism shown here is theorized to coincide with Kafka’s own personal struggles. It is believed by some, that Kafka based Gregor’s current state on his issues dealing with tuberculosis.

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It is no secret that Kafka would become upset in his final days, as he felt useless, and he felt like he was just a burden, much like how Gregor did when he morphed into a bug. In Kafka’s lifetime, it wasn’t unheard of for families to lock their ill ones away, or to send them elsewhere, and according to certain online sources Kafka showed signs of tuberculosis as early as 1906, 18 years before his death, naturally upsetting him. (Felisati & Sperati, 2005). Many times throughout the years of his suffering with tuberculosis, he would often seek for relief in sanitariums and clinics alike. Most notably are the years 1909, 1903, 1920, and 1924. In 1924, he ended up in the clinic of Prof. Hajek in Vienna, Austria, but due to how far gone he was to the illness, they transferred him to a small sanitarium in Kierling, Austria. (Felisati & Sperati, 2005). He shows this in throughout the story whenever Gregor would be in the main living/dining room, this being equivalent to Kafka’s home, and then at times being forced back into his room, this representing the clinics and sanitariums.


The other main act of character symbolization is how Gregor's family treats him from the beginning of the story to the end. It is believed that this displays capitalism. Kafka often found issues with capitalistic views, this is noticeable from the beginning to the end of the story. In a capitalistic government, the working man is valued, but when he can no longer work he becomes a burden, and people tend to treat them badly or feel pity for them. This is highly noticeable when Gregor says, 'If I didn't have to curb my tongue because of my parents, I'd have given my notice long ago,' (Kafka, 1915 p.713). This suggests that his parents are the reason he has this job, and in fact, it isn't much later into the story, that one learns he has the job because his parents are in debt 'Well, there's hope yet… I'll do it for sure,' (Kafka, 1915 pps. 713-714). Much like the welfare system, his parents take advantage of his working by not having their own jobs. Though when Gregor turns into a monstrous bug, his family becomes weary, at first tolerating his presence, and sympathizing with him. His mother even going as far as getting upset when his sister begins to take stuff out of his room, “as if by removing his furniture we were telling him that we’d given up all hope of his getting better,” (Kafka, 1915 p. 729). She fears removing his stuff will make him less human. However, this all changes once she faints at the sight of him, and it causes his father to pelt him with an apple, having it get lodged in his back.

It isn’t before long that the family has new tenants living in one of the rented rooms, they, however, don't know about Gregor. When they do find out, his sister proclaims, 'Dear Parents… we can't go on like this,' (Kafka, 1915 p. 739). His sister who was the first to tolerate him is now the first to openly loathe him. As all his family goes on to explain that they have new jobs and that they are making more money now, and how they wish to get a new apartment, they make it a point to call out Gregor. They go on saying they wish he could understand them, and how it's unfair that he must live with them, and how they must take care of him. Even though he previously was the one taking care of them, it’s prevalent that they were quick to forget about how much he helped them once he was disabled in such a way. Of course, Gregor being able to understand them all along, he went and hid under the couch, and presumably died. This coincides with how capitalism tends to work. The middle class works and gets praised for it, but once they become ill, or unable to work, society is quick to forget that they were ever a part of, only deeming them as someone to be taken care of, whose new income is based on taxes and the help of others. Kafka had issues with capitalism, often thinking that it was designed to make things harder for the working man. (Inglish, 2017).


Although not the most heartwarming of tales, Kafka does symbolize many things throughout the story. Even more minor characters like the tenants or the acting manager seem to symbolize society and how it would react to him. Or even him hiding an art piece from his sister so that she doesn't take it out of his room whenever she is cleaning it for him, symbolizing that he heeded his mother’s words, and felt as though he needed to keep it around, to keep a sense of humanity. Him being a bug itself even symbolizes the uselessness he feels at being unable to help provide for his family.

In conclusion to all this, it is safe to say that The Metamorphosis is a short story worth reading. From being able to sympathize and understand, even theorize, with Gregor, to understanding his parent's reasoning but also knowing how it shares links with capitalism, The Metamorphosis is well worth the time. Although Franz Kafka was well known for his time, not even that could save him from being ostracized by his peers, whether for his depression and insomnia or for his tuberculosis that would later kill him in 1924.


  1. Felisati, D., & Sperati, G. (2005, October 25). Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Retrieved February 5, 2019, from
  2. Inglish, P. (2017, March 17). Kafka and Capitalism in Metamorphosis. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from
  3. Kennedy, X. J., Gioia, D., & Revoyr, N. (Eds.). (2013). Literature for Life - Vincennes University Edition English 102. Boston, MA: Pearson.
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