Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” was first published in 1915. The short story depicts the struggle of a family trying to cope with the insect transformation of the antagonist, Gregor. While there are multiple themes displayed in Kafka’s text, the relationship between Gregor Samsa and his younger sister, Grete, is perhaps one of the principle themes in this short story. Once a close and loving relationship between Gregor and his sister, their bond slowly erodes over time as she grows older and the family matters continually worsen on account of Gregor’s metamorphosed appearance.
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In the second section of the story, after Gregor’s transformation, Grete is the only one of the family members to attempt to care for Gregor and seemingly really sympathize with his condition. Gregor’s Mother is shocked by his appearance, she cannot bear to see him, and his father is hostile and violent toward his son. Although still fearful of his new insect form, Grete still shows genuine affection for Gregor and on her own makes the decision to care of him consequently making her the only one to face Gregor on a daily basis. She feeds him and takes careful notice of what his new appetite prefers. In order to discover which foods Gregor liked and disliked, “she brought him a wide selection that she spread out on an old newspaper. There were old, half-rotten vegetables, bones left over from the evening meal covered with congealed white sauce, a few raisins and almonds, some cheese that Gregor had considered inedible two days ago, a slice of dry bread, a slice of bread and butter, and a slice of bread and butter with some salt” (pg. 290). Gregor greatly appreciates this as he is able to show his sister what foods he really does enjoy. Aside from becoming the self appointed caretaker of Gregor, Grete also assumes the role of Gregor’s spokesperson to the family. After attending to Gregor in the evening “she had to give a detailed report about how the room looked, what Gregor had eaten, how he had behaved [that] time, and whether perhaps some slight improvement was noticeable” (pg. 294) Grete serves as the only link between Gregor and the mother and father. Gregor is very grateful for his sister’s intricate care and he feels quite comfortable as an insect with high hopes that everything will return back to normal. In an attempt to again accommodate Gregor’s new needs, Grete decides it would be best to remove the furniture in his room in order to allow more crawling space for him. After convincing her mother this is a good course of action, they decide to remove the furniture while the father is not present due on account he may disapprove or
violently interfere. Although Grete’s actions were of good intention, her plan ends in disaster when Gregor attempts to stop the removal of his furniture and shocks his Mother provoking his father to attack and injure him. Thus ensues a great severance in Gregor’s relationship with his sister.
Signs of change in Grete’s demeanor and behavior toward Gregor are first seen toward the end of the second section in the story. Grete undoubtedly begins to forget that this insect is her brother and that he still manifests human feelings and desires. She becomes less sensitive in her actions when attending to Gregor’s “den” as it is now referred to. In one paragraph, Grete is shown frantically tearing the window open to allow fresh air into the dank and musty air filled room. She seems to even become less tolerable of her brother’s appearance over time. On one occasion “she came a little earlier than usual and caught Gregor as he was looking out the window, motionless and terrifyingly uprightâ€¦.but not only did she not enter, she also actually jumped back and shut the door” (pg.294). Completely inconsiderate of her brother’s feelings she has made it known to him that she can no longer bare the sight of his insect form. Gregor in a selfless act to save his sister from having to see him takes on the daunting four hour task of draping the sheet over the couch he hides under thus hiding him from anyone’s view. Even the first words “You Gregor,” (pg. 297) spoken by Grete to Gregor are those of anger and distaste with a raised fist after the mother had fainted at the sight of her son. After the events on that night, the family increasingly becomes more morose and distracted to pay much attention to Gregor.
In the third section, Grete, has earned a job as a salesgirl and begins to neglect taking proper care of Gregor. When feeding him she “[no] longer [considered] what might give Gregor some special pleasure, the sister now quickly pushed any old food into Gregor’s room with her foot before she rushed off to work both in the morning and at noon; then in the evening, not caring whether the food had only been nibbled at or -most frequently – left completely untouched” (pg.302). Grete, now working, puts her other tasks first and foremost before her brother suggesting he has become less important to her, that he is no more than a nuisance in the household. Gregor’s room is even described as filthy with the walls and floor covered in grime and dust and although it is Grete’s duty to clean the room it is done so in a manner so careless and with such great haste that it makes little or no difference. Gregor annoyed and angered by the state of his room “would stand in particularly offensive corners when the sister came in as if intending to reproach her” (pg. 302). He is quickly becoming more hostile toward Grete who now regards Gregor not so much as he brother but more of a routine chore. The arrival of the three boarders prompts the family to carelessly throw any unwanted items into Gregor’s room where they pile up around him allowing very little movement. His sister is now much more occupied assisting her mother and father with other chores and pleasing the boarders who are very specific and particular. Grete, along with her mother and father, has seemingly forgotten about Gregor by now.
Gregor lies in his room amidst the junk and garbage during the day now, his true metamorphosis into a horrifying insect nearly complete. One night, after the family and the three boarders have finished their dinner he hears the sound of Grete playing her violin from the living room. Attracted to the beautiful playing of the violin, he ventures out from his room “hardly
surprised that he had recently begun to show so little concern for others; previously such thoughtfulness had been his pride” (pg. 304). Gregor has grown shameless and inconsiderate similar to his sister. As he makes his way out to the living room to better hear the violin, he has strange disillusions of reconciling with his sister and taking her to his room to play violin for him. He imagines telling his sister he’s sending her to the Conservatory to study music and that “[she] would burst into tears of emotion, and Gregor would raise himself up to her shoulder and kiss her on the neckâ€¦” (pg. 305). There is still hope residing within Gregor that he can set things right and have the relationship with his sister he once had. Whilst imagining all of these false fantasies he is spotted by one of the middle boarders who is so disgusted by the sight of him declares he refuses to stay there any longer along with his two companions.
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This is the moment in which Grete has finally had it with Gregor and ultimately betrays him. Grete even abstains the use of her brother’s name when she cries to her parents “I refuse to utter my brother’s name in the presence of this monster, and so I say: we must try to get rid of it” (pg. 306). Gregor is no longer referred to by name or even ‘he’. He becomes ‘it’, not a person, but a ‘thing’. Grete no longer sees any human left in her insect brother, “[if] this were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that human beings can’t live with such a creature, and he’d have gone away on his own free will” (pg. 307). Upon Gregor’s arrival to his room, his fate is sealed with Grete’s turn of the key locking him within his room to die. In his final moments Gregor’s thoughts focus “back to his family with tenderness and love. His conviction that he must disappear was, if possible even stronger than his sister’s” (pg. 308). He peacefully comes to terms with his sister’s actions and dies within the early hours of the morning.
While Gregor has undergone and fatally suffered his metamorphosis, the family is now free to prosper and can now look forward to the hopeful future of Grete for “she had blossomed into a good-looking and well-developed girl” (pg. 310). Although Gregor’s physical appearance had changed, his personality remained the same. Grete on the other hand had changed also, not only in looks but in her personality as well. Once a loving sister, she eventually comes to seemingly hate Gregor, and condemn him. She has evidently replaced Gregor in the family being the new young and responsible child with a bright future like Gregor once had. Ironically the family he had wished and worked so much for – especially Grete – had ultimately caused him his demise. Gregor had planned to give Grete a bright future and see that she was successful in her pursuits, but when he needed her most, she had abandoned him. Although Grete’s neglect, abuse, and lack of care for Gregor had killed him, he still died peacefully with unconditional love for her.
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