Study Guide

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka in Disability Studies

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

For those of you not familiar with Kafka's disturbing story, The Metamorphosis is the story of an ordinary, young man, Gregor Samsa, who awakes one morning to find himself transformed into a bug. That's right. You heard us. A bug (a beetle-like thing, to be exact). And you thought Frankenstein's monster had a freaky body.

So, all right. No disease or injury is going to turn you into a bug—unless of course you're Peter Parker and you happen to get bitten by a radioactive spider. But we digress.

But The Metamorphosis has a whole lot to teach us about the way our bodies in the modern era are perceived and how they are treated. At its core, The Metamorphosis condemns the forces of industrialization, which turn workers into little more than drones, their bodies not much more than cogs in the industrial machine.

This is precisely the case with poor Gregor. He's not a factory worker, but his job ensures that those factories keep on running. That's because he's a traveling salesman, hocking those wares that keep modern industry in business.

And it's a pretty cruddy job: Gregor is constantly traveling. He's tired. His body hurts (we're talking bumpy, muddy roads, trains, and carriages—no traveling first class here). And his mind is restless and bored. After all, pitching textiles is not exactly mentally stimulating. Gregor's job is probably about as much fun as a root canal.

So why does he do it? Simple. He has a family to support. And we're not talking wife and kids. We're talking parents and a sister, each of whom, though physically well, seems to be simply unprepared for life in this new modern world (Kafka was writing in the early-20th century, when the genteel life of the Victorian era was shattered by World War I and the rapid social changes of an industrialized Europe).

While the rest of Gregor's family seemed more suited to tea parties and piano playing in the drawing room, it fell to Gregor to sacrifice body, spirit, and mind in a seemingly endless cycle of work just to ensure his family's survival. That is, until he turned into a bug. After all, who wants to buy linen from a beetle?

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