In The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka portrays the life of Gregor Samsa who unexpectedly woke up as a vermin one morning. The story explores how this impacts his relationship with his family and examines the hardships he has to go through now that he is a bug. It is argued whether Gregor is more human-like or more bestial after he goes through this “metamorphosis” because he still has human thoughts and emotions, even though he is physically a bug.
In the beginning of the novella, after just realizing he had turned into a bug, Gregor immediately starts to worry about being late for work (4). He is concerned with how he will continue to financially support his family since his parents are in debt to his boss, and becomes nervous that his boss will become suspicious when he is not at work and send somebody to his house to check on him. The reader can tell that prior to his metamorphosis, Gregor’s family already dehumanized him. When he changes into a bug, it is obvious that he was only important to them, especially his father, for the money he provided. His entire life pre-metamorphosis consisted of going to work and being at home. In a way, becoming a bug forced Gregor to be a better human. He discovers some of his identity and what made him human once everything was taken away from him. He has to choose to continue to love and care for his family when they do not want to deal with him anymore and express their disgust towards him. Gregor makes many sacrifices for his family, including crawling on the floor so he could not be seen from the window out of consideration for his parents (57), and also accepting his death at the end of the novella so they would not have to carry his burdens anymore. He gains a lot of patience and has to act how his family would want him to instead of what he naturally thinks to do “so that his family could bear the unpleasantness that he was forced to impose on them” (41).
While he has these emotions and thinks like a human, that does not change the fact that Gregor is physically a bug. It can be argued that Gregor himself believes he is more of an animal because of the desire he has for his human attributes back. He struggles with things that should be easy for him like communication (61) and even getting out of bed (2). When his sister brings him his favorite drink, he spits it out and realizes he only craves moldy scraps that humans would find disgusting (37). He finds joy in crawling up and down the walls and ceiling (58). Although he is having logical and compassionate thoughts, he cannot express them out loud like any normal human would be able to.
Throughout the novella, it can be difficult for the reader to decipher between Gregor’s human and bestial attributes. It can be resolved that Gregor is regarded as less than a fully-functioning human, but more than a pesky vermin. He still deals with everyday human problems involving family and the stress of work, but also takes on the physicality of a bug with an armored back and multiple little legs. As the story progresses, Gregor sees how disgusted his family is with him, and consciously makes an effort to adapt to his new body so they don’t have to see him.
The blurred line between humanity and bestiality can be attributed to the history of when the novella was written. Kafka may have chosen to turn Gregor into a bug to symbolize workers of the Industrial Revolution being replaced with machines that don’t need brains or dedication. The confusion could be very much intentional to capture how normal this chaos was during this time period.