by Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis Theme of Identity
It's hard to think of a more upsetting identity crisis.
Gregor's transformation into a giant bug touches on larger issues of identity for himself and his family. One way of approaching the identity issue is to consider whether Gregor is still Gregor if he looks like a bug. Sure, we as readers of The Metamorphosis have access to his thoughts, but his family doesn't.
So let's put another twist on the identity issue: is Gregor still Gregor if he has no way of communicating his thoughts to others? And why is it that the cleaning woman, and not the family, is so willing to ascribe to Gregor human qualities such as intelligence and intention? Who has the right to say whether Gregor is Gregor or not?
Questions About Identity
- Do you think Gregor is still human, just a bug, some kind of bug/human hybrid, or something else entirely? What evidence can you draw from the story to support your point of view?
- What is the role of appearances in the way the characters perceive each other? Consider, for example, Mr. Samsa's uniform, the boarders' long beards, and, obviously, Gregor's insect body.
- What is the effect that language and communication have on Gregor's identity? Does the fact that he can no longer form words mean that he's no longer human? Do you think the other characters should have been open to the possibility that Gregor may be communicating in other ways? Why or why not?
- How does your attitude toward the characters change when you use their names? For example, how does calling Mr. Samsa just "the father" or "his father" for most of the story affect the way you see the character? Why do you think Grete refuses to call Gregor by his name at the end of the story?
Chew on This
By showing how much Gregor's identity is affected by the others' treatment of him, the story shows how identity is socially constructed, rather than an inborn trait.
The most significant consequence of Gregor's transformation is not his insect form, but actually his loss of language; without language, Gregor loses the power to express who he is and control his own life.