The Metamorphosis Symbols & Literary Analysis

Symbols & Literary Analysis

In this article, you’ll find the examination of The Metamorphosis, written by our team. By exploring the story’s symbolism, you can get all the ideas right. Besides, see the style of The Metamorphosis.

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🖼️ Symbols in The Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is full of hidden meanings and metaphorical objects. That’s why analyzing its symbolism is essential for seeing the actual messages of the short story. Check the analysis below.

Portrait of the Lady in the Muff

The portrait of a lady in muff as The Metamorphosis' symbol.

One of the most crucial symbols in The Metamorphosis is the portrait of the lady in the muff. It is a complex symbol, so there are several ways to interpret the picture.

This wall portrait was cut out of a magazine and put into a frame by Gregor before the events of the book. It shows “a lady, with a fur cap on and a fur stole, sitting upright and holding out to the spectator a huge fur muff into which the whole of her forearm had vanished.” This picture is one of the first things Gregor notices when he wakes up after his sudden transformation.

In Chapter II of the novella, the portrait of a woman plays a central role, displaying Gregor’s inner battle between his human mind and insect body. When Grete and her mother are cleaning Gregor’s bedroom from the furniture, he climbs onto the print in desperation to show protest, as he sees it as one of the objects from his former life that he can save. This happens after the mother expressed her concerns for Gregor’s humanity.

Another interesting detail is the frame itself. Gregor made it with his own hands so that this frame might symbolize another aspect of Gregor’s humanity. Instead of making that frame, he could have spent time trying to find a partner for marriage or work some extra hours at his job, neither of which he has done. From this viewpoint, Kafka might ironize on his own life, where he spent most of his free time doing what he loved most, writing.

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Among the evident meaning of the picture concerning Gregor’s humanity, it also says a lot about his character. When he was still human, this glamorous picture caught his eye. Perhaps, Kafka tries to tell the reader about Gregor’s idealistic views on wealth. Gregor’s money is the cornerstone of the relationship with his family, so this portrait could symbolize his naive desire for richness.

In conclusion, even though the print of the lady in the muff is mentioned briefly in the novella, it gives the reader curious details about Gregor’s character. The picture is directly connected to Gregor’s fading humanity and his inner battle between body and mind. The image also relates to some aspects of Kafka’s life, as he included a number of personal experiences and anxieties in The Metamorphosis and its symbols.

Father’s Uniform

Father's uniform as a symbol of The Metamorphosis.

Among a number of symbols in The Metamorphosis, Kafka emphasizes Mr. Samsa’s uniform. It is an essential detail, as it gives an insight into Mr. Samsa’s character development and his relationship with Gregor. Through the uniform, the reader can make several conclusions.

Before the events of The Metamorphosis, Mr. Samsa looked incredibly unwell and old. He “used to lie wearily sunk in bed whenever Gregor set out on a business journey,” barely moved or went outside. Gregor saw him as a helpless being, which he was, and pitied him immensely.

Early in chapter II, Gregor discovers that the unstable financial situation in the family could’ve been resolved quicker. Mr. Samsa had some savings from his failed business, but instead of using them, he continued living off his son. That would’ve allowed Gregor to start his personal life and maybe change the job to something more enjoyable. However, the father decided to hide them and spend his time at home, doing absolutely nothing.

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Mr. Samsa starts to wear his uniform when he finds a new job at the bank after Gregor’s transformation. The costume is described as a blue piece of official clothing with gold buttons. It represents the father’s status as part of the working class and his newfound dignity.

At first, in chapter II, the uniform looks clean and sharp on Mr. Samsa. Gregor’s pity even shifts to respect when he first sees his father in full dressing. Mr. Samsa’s “strong double chin bulged over the stiff high collar of his jacket; from under his bushy eyebrows his black eyes darted fresh and penetrating glances; his onetime tangled white hair had been combed flat on.” For the first time in a long time, he is respectable and dangerous.

However, quite soon, Mr. Samsa’s uniform becomes overused and messy, as the father never takes it off after work. In the third chapter of the book, it is obvious that Mr. Samsa has become increasingly tired and frustrated with his job. Again, Gregor’s feelings for his father change to pity, as he “often spent whole evenings gazing at the many greasy spots on the garment.” The new look of the uniform could demonstrate both his age and exhaustion while hinting at the lazy life he used to lead when Gregor provided for the family.

Moreover, Mr. Samsa even sleeps in his uniform “in extreme discomfort and yet quite peacefully.” This excerpt suggests that Kafka might be talking about that uniform as a symbol of the economic order. The official clothing causes discomfort and loss of individuality while giving a person some sense of accomplishment. Thus, the individual becomes part of the system that gives him a feeling of peace and order.

The uniform also symbolizes the relationship between Gregor and his father. Mr. Samsa is openly aggressive towards Gregor from the start, the hurt done to Gregor increases. The change in the uniform’s condition reflects how the father’s attitude towards Gregor worsens and how he increases the damage done to his son.

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When the uniform looks new and bright, the father becomes dangerous and even hurts his son with an apple. When it gets stained and dirty, Mr. Samsa stops causing trouble to Gregor and hardly ever keeps his son in mind.

To conclude, Kafka included that uniform in his novella to show the realities of modern economic order. Story-wise, The Metamorphosis’ symbol demonstrates how, with passing time, attitudes change. Nothing holds steady in this world—neither the family’s affection for Gregor nor the father’s newfound productiveness and vitality.

Grete’s Violin

Grete's violin as The Metamorphosis' symbol.

The following symbol in The Metamorphosis is Grete’s violin. She often practices with it, as this is an instrument of her passion. The essential meaning of the symbol is the connection between Grete and her brother.

The violin is Grete’s favorite instrument. Before Gregor’s transformation, she used to exercise with it in hopes of getting into the professional musical academy, Conservatorium. Gregor, who loves his sister, wishes to pay for her education. These intentions are kind-hearted and selfless that show Gregor as an altruistic character who is affectionate towards Grete. However, his metamorphosis ruins all the plans. Plus, as Grete starts working, her violin practices become partially forgotten.

Nevertheless, in the last chapter of the novella, Grete plays the instrument once more for three lodgers who are staying at the household. The concert completely mesmerizes Gregor with its beautiful sound. Concerning Gregor’s reaction, there is one crucial question:

What does the violin symbolize in The Metamorphosis?

The violin represents the emotional link between the two siblings and their hopes and aspirations for a better future. Gregor’s love and support for Grete are revived. The melody reminds Gregor of his humanity and desires, makes him question his bug-like existence. However, the events of the concert take a dramatic turn.

What happens when Grete gives a violin recital for the three lodgers?

During the concert, Gregor gets so excited and hopeful that he crawls too close to everyone in the living room. One of the lodgers spots his dusty body on the floor. This kind of evidence is unacceptable for these strict and organized people. They declare that they will not pay anything for their whole stay.

Gregor’s appearance at the concert becomes the boiling point for Grete’s tolerance. She says that “things can’t go on like this” with the vermin in the house and that the family must get rid of “it.” She refuses to recognize a brother in this monstrous creature. As her mother accidentally breaks her violin, she loses all the hope for the existence of Gregor’s humanity.

In conclusion, the violin’s symbolism is concentrated around the relationship of the two siblings. Gregor is presented as an affectionate and kind person through that violin. Most importantly, its melody awakens the human part of Gregor’s mind.

Food

Food symbolism in The Metamorphosis.

When creating The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka decided to put a number of symbols in it. Even such a thing as food has a specific meaning, as it represents the way members of the Samsa family feel toward Gregor.

The reader first encounters food symbolism in The Metamorphosis when Grete brings some food to Gregor’s room after his transformation. Feeling sorry for her brother, the sister takes a fresh meal to Gregor, a “basin filled with fresh milk in which floated little sops of white bread.” Gregor, initially, is delighted, as it has always been his favorite snack. However, he realizes that his appetites have changed and leaves the food untouched.

Then, Grete delivers half-rotten chunks to him, which are devoured instantly by Gregor. Here the food represents that Gregor’s family starts to him like an insect, not a human. Gregor’s inner battle between his mind and body begins with his dietary habits.

Consequently, the change in Gregor’s diet impacts Grete’s attitude towards her brother. Food represents the relationship between the two siblings. Grete’s disgust increases over time, making her believe that her brother is no longer there. Thus, the worse the food, the worse the relationship.

Another important episode is the father’s attack on Gregor. While trying to “defend” his family, Mr. Samsa launches an apple at his son, injuring him quite badly. This could be viewed as a final breakdown of the emotional connection between Gregor and his kin. Also, the apple symbol in The Metamorphosis might have a biblical meaning. Mr. Samsa throws it at Gregor to defend his family from the “Devil” in vermin’s body.

In the Holy Bible, God exiled both Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden after Eve had committed a sin by eating an apple. Her will was overpowered by Satan disguised as a serpent. In the novella, Mr. Samsa may perceive the insect as the Devil who poorly impersonates Gregor to harm his family. Thus, he attacks it with the very same object that doomed the first humans.

As time goes by, in the third chapter, the Samsas grow tired of poor Gregor. Grete starts neglecting her duties of feeding him, caring less about when and what to bring him the meals. At first, she barely feeds him and, finally, stops doing it, annihilating their connection.

While neglecting Gregor, the family takes up a group of lodgers. Gregor watches as the family’s guests stuff themselves, causing his resentment to deepen.

To sum up, The Metamorphosis demonstrates that food is one of the most significant things in life that establishes and develops human relationships. In the novella, it exemplifies Gregor’s adjustments and his livelihood. He cannot eat human food anymore and starts to lose the emotional connection with his family.

Although Gregor soon adapts and accepts life as a scrap-eating insect, his family does not understand him. Kafka’s symbolism in The Metamorphosis opens the Pandora box of humanity’s most complicated psychological questions.

🏠 The Metamorphosis’ setting

The Samsa family apartment in an unnamed city. Franz Kafka may have intentionally not established the world outside to intensify the feeling of isolation. However, he hugely based the book on his personal life and experience. So it’s safe to say that the story probably takes place in Eastern Europe, where the author lived.

📚 Literary Analysis of The Metamorphosis

What is the tone of the novella?

As most of the novella is written from Gregor’s point of view, it has a rationalistic tone. Instead of being horrified by the transformation, Gregor remains concerned with his family. Kafka uses this kind of tone to express themes on existentialism.

Was The Metamorphosis a dream?

At the beginning of the story, Kafka clearly states that Gregor wakes up. Thus, the author creates a surreal reality, where he can explore many psychological themes. However, it is possible to assume that the story could be “a dream within a dream” phenomenon.

What inspired The Metamorphosis?

A lot of context for The Metamorphosis Kafka took from his own life experience. From an early age, he felt that the pressures on him were high, as he was the only boy there.

His father, Hermann, was the authority to everyone in the household. He pressured young Franz to become involved in business and law. Hermann never supported Franz’s passion for literature. It caused the boy to become a depressed and self-hating person. He never managed to build a healthy relationship with his father. In Metamorphosis, Kafka gives Gregor’s father all the traits similar to Hermann.

Due to all the pressures, Kafka became an isolated and lonely person. The job at a law company, which he picked up after graduating from the university, only added to this feeling. Kafka was forced to write the stories at night.

At the time, he was also struggling with his fiancée Felice Bauer. It was a distant relationship, which was complicated at least. He wrote her many letters that were left unanswered. Quite an alienated and lonely person, he acted demanding and paranoid, asking to describe her every step and feeling in detail. Once, he even decided not to get up until the arrival of the new Felice’s letter.

All the aforementioned struggles laid a base for the loneliness theme in The Metamorphosis and other short stories.

✒️ Style and Language

Despite the dramatic events of the book that correlate with the theme of existentialism, Kafka managed to fit quite a lot of humor into it. The sudden transformation itself is a great example of anacoluthon. Nobody expects the main character to turn into a bug-like creature.

The language which Kafka uses to describe Gregor’s new state and thoughts is straightforward. Instead of panicking, Gregor rationally thinks about his condition, which shows the irony that lies in his perception of the whole situation.

The scene with Gregor’s awakening is also humorous, as it takes him a big chunk of the first chapter only to maneuver himself out of bed. The reader’s apparent reaction to that is laughter rather than pity.

As for The Metamorphosis’ setting analysis, the conversation between Gregor and the family members through a door is a classic example of comedy in modern cinematography and literature. That situation later leads to another irony, which is hidden in the Samsa family’s treatment of Gregor. They are subconsciously worried more about his inability to work and provide for them rather than his health or monstrous look.

Gregor’s character is a completely opposite case. Throughout most of the story, his mind is occupied with his family and their well-being. In a way, Gregor is the most human of all characters in the book, possessing altruistic traits, even though he’s trapped in an insect body.

To summarize everything above, The Metamorphosis’ author’s literary genius is evident. In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, there are both humor and good irony, while the theme as a whole can be described as dramatic.

Franz Kafka was able to incorporate experimental genres into his work. Realism and fantasy; humor and drama; existentialism, depression, anxiety, human psychology, etc. All of these things are present in a masterpiece called The Metamorphosis. Kafka created his own genre called “Kafkaesque,” where absurdity borders reality. In The Metamorphosis, “Kafkaesque” is everywhere. Franz Kafka is one of the most influential writers of the XXth century, as his works will remain timeless and relevant through centuries.

Thank you for reading the article! If you’re interested in exploring The Metamorphosis’ themes or other features of the story, check other pages.

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IvyPanda. "Symbols & Literary Analysis." June 21, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/study-guide-on-the-metamorphosis/symbols-literary-analysis/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Symbols & Literary Analysis." June 21, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/study-guide-on-the-metamorphosis/symbols-literary-analysis/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Symbols & Literary Analysis'. 21 June.