Study Guide

The Metamorphosis Identity

By Franz Kafka

Identity

Part 1

On the wall directly opposite hung a photograph of Gregor from his army days in a lieutenant's uniform, his hand on his sword, a carefree smile on his lips, demanding respect for his bearing and rank. (1.26)

Here we have Gregor in happier, human days. The photograph makes it seem as though the uniform itself invests Gregor with power, giving him that devil-may-care attitude. So it's no surprise that Gregor is almost deflated when he takes on the more abject form of a miserable bug (see Quote #10 in "Transformation").

Part 2
Grete Samsa

"You, Gregor!" cried his sister with raised fist and piercing eyes. These were the first words she had addressed directly to him since his metamorphosis. (2.26)

Finally, somebody says something to Gregor, but it's not a good thing. Grete throws his name at him as if it were an insult instead of a mark of his identity as her brother. This passage looks ahead to Part 3, where Grete refuses to call the bug "Gregor" and insists the family must find some way to dispose of it (see Quote #8 under "Family").

Mrs. Samsa

[His mother] caught sight of the gigantic brown blotch on the flowered wallpaper, and before it really dawned on her that what she saw was Gregor, cried in a hoarse, bawling voice: "Oh, God, Oh, God!" (2.26)

Gregor's "brown blotch" of a body is in stark contrast to the military portrait we discussed in Quote #1. Gregor's mother's response shows that to her, Gregor is a big brown stain first, her son second. She can't say anything to Gregor; all she can do is exclaim.

[His father] was holding himself very erect, dressed in a tight-fitting blue uniform with gold buttons, the kind worn by messengers at banking concerns; above the high stiff collar of the jacket his heavy chin protruded; under his bushy eyebrows his black eyes darted bright, piercing glances; his usually rumpled white hair was combed flat, with a scrupulously exact, gleaming part. (2.28)

Like Gregor in his military days, Mr. Samsa feels empowered in a uniform. The fact that it's a bank messenger uniform doesn't seem to matter – Mr. Samsa's still the man. His erect posture and vivid facial expression starkly contrasts with Gregor's abjectness.

Perhaps, however, the romantic enthusiasm of girls her age, which seeks to indulge itself at every opportunity, played a part, by tempting her to make Gregor's situation even more terrifying in order that she might do even more for him. (2.22)

Like the other members of the family, Grete is unwilling to ascribe to Gregor the ability to understand what she says and the ability to communicate in non-verbal ways. The novella here suggests that Grete's unwillingness stems from her "romantic enthusiasm," her desire to star in her very own fairy-tale, with Gregor as the horrible monster.

Part 3
Mrs. Samsa

"Dead?" said Mrs. Samsa and looked inquiringly at the cleaning woman, although she could scrutinize everything for herself and could recognize the truth even without scrutiny. "I'll say," said the cleaning woman (3.31)

As in Quote #6 above, the cleaning woman seems to have an unusually close tie to Gregor, at least closer than his family. It's the cleaning woman, and not any of the Samsas, who definitively declares Gregor dead. Perhaps she has some special knowledge of who – and what – he is in a way that the Samsas don't, even though he's part of their family.

The Middle Boarder

"Mr. Samsa!" the middle roomer called to Gregor's father and without wasting another word pointed his index finger at Gregor, who was slowly moving forward […] His father seemed once again to be gripped by his perverse obstinacy to such a degree that he completely forgot any respect still due to his tenants. (3.14)

After Part 1, there is precious little dialogue in the story, and, when there is dialogue, you get moments like these. (It seems that Gregor isn't the only person in the family who has lost the power of speech.) The middle boarder's calling out Mr. Samsa bears a striking parallel to the scene where Grete calls out Gregor's name (see Quote #4). We think of our names as being an integral part of who we are, but in both this quote and in Quote #4 we see names being used not so much to identify a character, but to point out an instance where the character doesn't seem to act like himself. In Quote #4, Grete calls out Gregor's name when Gregor is acting like a gross bug; in this quote, the middle roomer calls out Mr. Samsa when there's a breach in the way the household's run.

The couple Mr. and Mrs. Samsa sat up in their marriage bed and had a struggle overcoming their shock at the cleaning woman before they could finally grasp her message. (3.31)

At this late, late point in the story, it sounds almost too formal to call Gregor's parents "Mr. and Mrs. Samsa." Because we get most of the story from Gregor's perspective, his parents are usually referred to as "his father" and "his mother." By calling them by their names here, the story emphasizes that Gregor has indeed died – we're no longer going to get anything from Gregor's perspective.

[H]is parents – who had never rented out rooms before and therefore behaved toward the roomers with excessive politeness – did not even dare to sit down on their own chairs. (3.12)

Gregor's transformation also results in an upheaval in his family's social status. For the first time, they have to take in boarders to make ends meet. Unsure of how to treat their boarders, they cannot act naturally in their own home.

Grete Samsa

In the beginning she also used to call him over to her with words she probably considered friendly, like, "Come over here for a minute, you old dung beetle!" or "Look at that old dung beetle!" (3.8)

With the exception of Grete's calling out Gregor (see Quote #4), nobody calls Gregor by name again. The only person who says a word to Gregor is the cleaning woman, not any member of his family, and she calls him a "dung beetle." It's probably not as insulting if you actually are a vermin, and even though Gregor is annoyed, he detects the cleaning woman's "friendly" intent. It does make you wonder why the cleaning woman of all people should be the only character who makes such gestures to Gregor.