Study Guide

The Metamorphosis Part 1

By Franz Kafka

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Part 1

  • After "unsettling dreams," Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning and discovers he's been transformed into a "monstrous vermin" (1.1). He's not sure exactly what genre of "vermin" he is. But lying on his back, he notices that he now has a gigantic shell and numerous skinny legs that don't seem to do much.
  • He takes a look around his small room. Fabric samples from his job as a traveling salesman are spread out on a table. He sees a photo of a woman wrapped up in furs that he recently clipped from a magazine and framed up on his wall. None of these items offer a clue as to how he got into the state he's in.
  • Gregor tries to turn onto his side to go back to sleep—as anyone would do in this situation (!!!). But he can't quite get his new body to flip onto its side.
  • Gregor then thinks of how tough his job as a traveling salesman is, how travel is such a hassle, and how hard it is to get "intimate" with anyone (1.4). At this point, you probably want to poke his vermin head and say, "Dude, you're a bug." But we digress.
  • Gregor feels an itch on his body and sees some white dots. He'd like to scratch the area, but the idea of touching himself disgusts him, so he recoils.
  • Gregor goes back to bemoaning the life of the traveling salesman. Unlike the other traveling salesmen, who lead jolly lives, Gregor has to get up early because his boss is a real taskmaster. Gregor would quit if he could, but he has to work off the debt that his parents owe his boss.
  • That reminds him—he better get up to catch 5 o'clock train.
  • He looks up at the alarm clock and it's—6:30.
  • He wonders how it was possible for him to sleep through his alarm. He thinks he better get up and try to catch the train. But then he decides it's be no use because a messenger boy at the 5 o'clock train will have already noticed that Gregor is missing and report that fact back to his boss.
  • As he's ruminating away, the clock strikes 6:45.
  • His mother knocks at his door and asks if he's up. Gregor says he is, but notices that his voice has changed into a "distressed chirping" (1.7). He carefully enunciates every single word to tell his mother that he's just fine. His mother walks away.
  • Next his father and his sister ask him what the matter is. Gregor tries to tell them he's just fine. He hears his father go back to his breakfast, but his sister tries to get him to open the door. Gregor is, understandably, glad that the door is locked.
  • Gregor decides that the best thing to do is to get up and have some breakfast. Perhaps this whole bug thing is just a fantasy that will fade away, like a mild cold or stiffness from sleeping in an uncomfortable position.
  • None of his little legs, however, are cooperating. They wiggle a lot, but he can't control them.
  • He tries to squirm out with the lower part of his body, but bruises it against the bed. He notices that the lower part of his body is excruciatingly sensitive.
  • He tries to nudge his head out over the bed, but then freaks out at the thought he might fall on his head. He nudges his head back onto the bed.
  • He lies in bed, looking at his frantically wiggling legs. He decides that by 7:15, he just has to get out of bed.
  • He slowly starts rocking back and forth. He thinks that if he crashes on the floor, he'll probably terrify his family. He then thinks that the whole business of getting out of bed would be a lot easier with the help of a couple of sturdy people, say, his father and the maid.
  • Just as he's about to lose his balance from all the rocking, the doorbell rings. It's the office manager.
  • Gregor freaks out. He rocks a little too vigorously and plops onto the floor with a thud.
  • The manager remarks that something has fallen in Gregor's room, and heads to Gregor's room. Gregor's sister warns him from her room that the manager is there. (At this point we realize that Gregor's room must be sandwiched in between the living room and his sister's—his parents and the manager are on one side, and his sister is on the other.)
  • Gregor's father tries to explain Gregor's behavior to the manager. Gregor has been back from traveling for eight days, according to his father, but Gregor doesn't go out. He just sits at home thinking about business, studying train schedules, or making crafts with his fretsaw, including the picture frame on his wall.
  • Gregor's father asks Gregor to open the door, but Gregor refuses.
  • Gregor's sister, still in her room on the other side of his own, starts to cry.
  • The manager then asks Gregor to open the door. (The fact that the manager criticizes Gregor for merely giving one-word answers to his parents suggests that everyone can still understand what Gregor is saying, despite the change in his voice.)
  • The manager tells Gregor that his behavior is very suspicious. According to the manager, the head of the firm believes that Gregor's delinquency might have something to do with the cash payments Gregor's responsible for. The manager notes that Gregor hasn't been selling well lately either.
  • Flustered by his manager's allegations, Gregor forgets about his chirpy new voice. Gregor tries to explain that he's really not that ill—just a little dizzy (!!!). He'll be up in a minute. And he asks the manager not to worry his parents with baseless accusations. He asks the manager to head back to the office to let the head of the firm know that Gregor is on his way to explain himself.
  • During his little speech, Gregor manages to crawl over to a chest of drawers, feebly wiggling legs and all. He then hoists himself onto a chair, but this causes him a burning pain in the abdomen.
  • Behind the door, Gregor can hear the manager and his parents express their shock at his outburst. They don't know if he's ill or just pulling their leg. The manager says that Gregor has the "voice of an animal"' (1.22). His father calls to his sister to get a locksmith.
  • Gregor pulls himself toward the door, then lands upright against the door. He notices that his legs are oozing a sticky goo. He tries to turn the key in the lock with his jaws. But he must have clamped too hard, as a brown liquid starts to trickle from his jaws.
  • He manages to unlock one wing of his double doors. Since he can't open both doors at the same time, he opens one wing with his entire body, then slowly scooches his entire body out from behind the wing.
  • As his body gradually emerges in this way from behind the wing, his manager and his parents finally see what's happened and are utterly horrified.
  • Despite the panic of everyone around him, Gregor remains calm. He notices that the breakfast dishes and newspapers are still laid out on the table. A picture of himself as a dashing military officer hangs on the wall. The front door is open, and he can see out onto the stairs of the apartment building.
  • Gregor tries to explain himself to the manager. He begs the manager to defend him at the office; after all, traveling salesmen are often the subject of vicious gossip because they're away all the time.
  • The manager, "twitching" with revulsion, edges away from Gregor through the front door, and makes a break for the stairs (1.28).
  • Gregor decides that the manager must be stopped at all costs and convinced of Gregor's good intentions. He charges after the manager. His whole body flops onto the floor. For the first time that morning he actually feels okay as his hitherto useless little legs obey his will and move along the ground.
  • Gregor's movements, however, frighten everyone. His mother shouts for help, and, as she lurches around the room, spills some coffee. Gregor tries to calm his mother down, but at the sight of the coffee, can't help snapping his powerful jaws, which freaks out his mother even more.
  • Gregor tries to catch up to the manager, but the manager makes a run for it down the stairs.
  • His father takes his manager's cane, which had been left behind, and a rolled up newspaper and tries to force Gregor back into his room.
  • Gregor wants to let his father know that he understands what his father wants. But he hasn't figured how to turn his large body around to scuttle into his bedroom. But his father keeps making a loud hissing noise that, well, bugs Gregor.
  • His father unhelpfully threatens Gregor with the cane and the newspaper as Gregor waddles around to face his bedroom doors. But only one of the doors is open—Gregor can't make it through. His father doesn't bother to open the other door, but keeps harassing him.
  • Gregor finally hurls himself at the opening and ends up stuck at an awkward diagonal in the door opening, staining the door with more buggish ooze as he vainly tries to squeeze through.
  • His father gives him a big shove, and Gregor finally makes it through the door, still oozing.
  • Gregor hears the door shut behind him with the cane, and then silence.

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