The Metamorphosis

People show their true selves not in ordinary, but extraordinary circumstances. We spend our lives studying the way we should think and the way we should act based on the context of our daily routines, and it is only when that routine is shattered that we can take a good look in mirror and tell exactly what kind of people we are. That is the case here. Gregor Samsa, a man whose daily routine consists of going to work and providing for his family, finds that he is suddenly unable to do so—and this doesn’t happen in an ordinary way. He isn’t fired, he doesn’t decide to quit, he isn’t caught in road rage, he doesn’t get food poisoning; of all things, he turns into a bug. He wakes up from a nightmare into a nightmare, and one so surreal that it takes a while for him to recognize his new reality. His daily routine his shattered, and with it, his hope for the future. He can no longer pay off his family’s debt, no longer court that woman he had a crush on, and most importantly to him, no longer be able to enroll his sister into music school. Now, he becomes utterly dependent on his family instead of the other way around. He spends his days amusing himself by crawling around his room—which begins to lose its furniture—and eats rotten food that he would before never have touched. Has he adapted? Has his extraordinary circumstance transformed into the ordinary? The story does not last long enough for us to know, as in the end, Gregor simply…dies. We are cut off from the climax that we wanted—regardless of what that climax might entail—and are instead given an anticlimax. The question remains, then: When Gregor Samsa looks into the mirror, what does he see?

Although Gregor’s story ends in an anticlimax, his family’s certainly doesn’t. We know exactly what the true form of his family is—it is, in every way, shape, and form, that of ordinary people. His family may not consist of saints, but neither do they consist of monsters. They were faced with the shocking nightmare of their son/brother and sole breadwinner turning into a cockroach, but instead of killing it outright, they kept it alive with the belief that it was still Gregor (was it?). They fed it and took care of it with great effort and despite the revulsion they felt at seeing it, and the sister in particular, recalling her love for her brother, worked the hardest of them all. They, too, adapted to their circumstance, in one way but not in another. They got their savings together, fired some servants to save money, and began taking jobs to make ends meet. Their daily lives of idleness transformed into daily lives of work, and in this relatively ironic fashion, they themselves transformed from human parasites into productive citizens. One part of their circumstances remained extraordinary, however; namely, that of the bug. They kept the bug, but they never got used to it—sister, mother, and father all remained repulsed, and it was only in the tolerance of their “good will” that they allowed it to remain. Just as time washes away pain, however, it washes away affection. The more they worked, the more their memory of Gregor faded, and eventually, they believed that they had “done enough”. They had put up with this extraordinary circumstance for long enough, and it was time to return to their daily lives. And they did. The bug died, the cleaning woman disposed of it, and they all simultaneously took a day off from work (a return to the old days of idleness) in order to discuss the future. They found out that their daily lives were actually going good. All of their jobs were steady, and the daughter was approaching the age for marriage—they were just thinking about ordinary things like ordinary people, and in their ordinary minds, Gregor was nothing more than a distant memory.

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5 thoughts on “The Metamorphosis

  1. Sam Tudor says:

    Lots of cool stuff here. I’m glad you pointed out the parallel of parasitic lifestyles. As Gregor moves from caregiver to parasite so his family does the opposite. Now you mention it, it seems obvious but it was an element of the story I hadn’t thought of at all.
    The loss of sympathy, the continuance of life, the temporary nature of ourselves, bug or not, is all really important I think. I have a question about your first few thoughts. You say that when context and routine are shattered we see who we truly are, as if there is some true form of us that is unchangeable. It makes me think of the idea of our “nature” or our “soul.” But I think our routines and events are what truly make us. If nothing ever happened to us, or if we didn’t live in a society we could conform to, could we really have a definition of self? I don’t think i’m wording that very well, but hopefully you know what I mean.
    Great blog as always.

    -Sam

    • Kevin Sun says:

      That’s a good philosophical argument that I can’t really address here as I wrote this blog from a psychological rather than philosophical perspective. From my psychological perspective, our routine behavior is dictated not just from conformity to society but conformity to ourselves as well–namely, our perceived past selves. Influences to our behavior begin extremely small and accumulate over time to become extremely large, resulting in the creation of, metaphorically speaking, an armor that we shroud ourselves in. Whenever we have a decision to make and an action to take, we reference that accumulation of personal and interpersonal conformity and allow it to guide us on our choices, arguably distorting our true (true as in unfiltered, primal) behavior. Of course, I’ve just grossly oversimplified the actual process; the reality is far more complex and far beyond my attention span, so don’t take what I said too seriously. It’s certainly something to think about though.

      • Kailer says:

        I have to agree with Sam, you have some really good points that are both clarifying but also lead to some more interpretation.
        I’m going to continue on the parasitic metamorphosis of the family, and Sam’s thought’s on routine because I’m not sure if what I’m thinking is on the right track or not…
        To me, it almost seemed as if the family had become societal parasites through routine, their routine made them who they are, but they also created their own routine. However, I think Gregor had just as much of an impact on their routine before he transformed, as he did after. He repeatedly thinks “oh what a nice life, house, meal I have been able to supply for my family.” I got the sense that the rest of the family had almost just fallen into the comfort that he had been providing. So, Gregor’s transformation into a bud was more of a catalyst for them to progress out of their parasitic lifestyle, into “a normal family”.
        Not sure if this helps or confuses you guys, but thanks for the good blog and comments.

      • Kevin Sun says:

        I see your point and agree with all of it except the implied statement that Gregor’s parasitic family is not “normal”. The father was retired, the mother was either also retired or a housewife, and the daughter was young. To say that they are parasitic is true, but to say that they are “not normal” would be to imply that quite a large percentage of the population is “not normal”–especially considering the time period this story was written in.

      • Kailer says:

        That is completely understandable and my mistake for even putting “normal” as a defining factor in the comment.
        Thanks for making things clearer!

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