Study Guide

The Metamorphosis Morality and Ethics

By Franz Kafka

Morality and Ethics

Part 1
Gregor Samsa

"The head of the firm did suggest to me this morning a possible explanation for your tardiness – it concerned the cash payments recently entrusted to you – but really, I practically gave my word of honor that this explanation could not be right" (1.19)

In addition to possible sexual deviance in Quote #1, Quote #2 suggests that Gregor may be guilty of misconduct at his firm. We never find out what really happened to those cash payments, although Gregor insists that he's done nothing irregular.

[The picture] showed a lady done up in a fur hat and a fur boa, sitting upright and raising up against the viewer a heavy fur muff in which her whole forearm had disappeared. (1.2)

Many critics feel that this portrait could be a reference to Leopold Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs. Yup, that's the text that put the masoch- in masochism, a condition where people find pain sexually gratifying. The fact that Gregor just recently snipped out this photograph and hung it up on his wall suggests that Gregor may be thinking lusty thoughts. The story also later comments that he has nice memories of a chambermaid on one of his trips – a sexual affair, perhaps?

Part 2

[H]e would have to lie low and, by being patient and showing his family every possible consideration, help them bear the inconvenience which he simply had to cause them in his present condition. (2.6)

Here we have one of the first instances of the term "consideration," which seems to stand for whatever is the right or the most appropriate way of dealing with the situation. Gregor suggests here that the best thing he can do is to not be a bother, which might be wise considering that everything he does is construed as an attack.

And hardly had the women left the room with the chest, squeezing against it and groaning, than Gregor stuck his head out from under the couch to see how he could feel his way into the situation as considerately as possible. (2.23)

Gregor is convinced by his mother's argument that moving out his furniture is tantamount to giving up on his human self. Despite his earlier recognition that his only option is to be patient and trouble his family as little as possible, Gregor can't help himself here and seeks a way to assert himself. Even though he's trying to act as "considerately" as possible, his actions end up infuriating the entire family.

[H]e saw, hanging conspicuously on the wall, which was otherwise bare already, the picture of the lady all dressed in furs, hurriedly crawled up on it and pressed himself against the glass, which gave a good surface to stick to and soothed his hot belly. (2.25)

This passage might support the sexually deviant view of Gregor – that is, if he weren't a bug. There's something comically lewd about this scene as Gregor relieves his "hot belly" against a picture.

[Gregor] saw his mother run up to his father and on the way her unfastened petticoats slide to the floor one by one; and saw as, stumbling over the skirts, she forced herself onto his father, and embracing him, in complete union with him – but now Gregor's sight went dim – her hands clasping his father's neck, begged for Gregor's life. (2.28)

The story lays on the Freudian melodrama pretty thick here. The mother is almost undressed as she embraces the father, "in complete union"? The language is unmistakably sexual. It's as if the story were trying to make the mother look as ridiculous as possible. However, she does serve a voice of ethical responsibility here, reminding the father that Gregor is still his son and still deserving of some, well, consideration.

[His sister] came in on tiptoe, as if she were visiting someone seriously ill or perhaps even a stranger. (2.7)

In the beginning, Grete seems far more considerate than later on in the novel, when she calls Gregor a "monster" and refuses to acknowledge him as her brother.

Mrs. Samsa

"Doesn't it look as if by removing his furniture we were showing him that we have given up all hope of his getting better and are leaving him to his own devices without any consideration?" (2.20)

Mrs. Samsa is perhaps the last member of the family to relinquish the idea that Gregor's transformation is irreversible. In this passage, she makes the case that Gregor is still deserving of their "consideration."

Part 3

"If it were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that it isn't possible for human beings to live with such a creature, and he would have gone away of his own free will. Then we wouldn't have a brother, but we'd be able to go on living and honor his memory. But as things are, this animal persecutes us, drives the roomers away, obviously wants to occupy the whole apartment and for us to sleep in the gutter" (3.25)

Grete here thoroughly rejects the idea that Gregor is owed anything. It's the family, not Gregor, who's the wronged party here. Grete's logic here has a big hole, however. She's saying that if the bug were Gregor, he would have realized that the family couldn't live with him and gone away on his own. But, in order to think that way, the bug would have to be Gregor; it would have to be human, which is precisely what Grete is arguing that he's not.

It hardly surprised him that lately he was showing so little consideration for the others; once such consideration had been his greatest pride. (3.13)

It probably doesn't surprise you much either that Gregor has become less considerate. The story asks us to consider why Gregor has become less considerate. It could just be months of isolation and neglect from his family. Or it could be the bug side of him taking over his personality. On the other hand, how inconsiderate is Gregor, really? Aren't his actions kind of limited by the fact that he's a bug?