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The opening line of the story is shocking and bizarre. "One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin." In other words, Gregor is transformed overnight from a human being into a bug. Although it is unclear whether this "metamorphosis" is literal or figurative, this transformation is undoubtedly the focus of the entire story. Gregor's lack of anxiety or panic upon recognizing his dreadful predicament is noteworthy. His conclusion that taking a later train to work will solve his problem is amusing. Taken literally, becoming an insect is reason to panic. His reaction suggests that the metamorphosis was subconscious; he did not literally change into a bug but rather gradually realized his status and felt like a bug.
Eventually, however, Gregor realizes that he is just being used by his family. After this reality sinks in, symbolized by his "agitated dreams," Gregory actually feels like a bug. He recognizes his isolation and alienation from society. The grand metamorphosis takes place, and eventually Gregor experiences a complete role reversal. He tries to catch the next train to work and to continue as he had before his realization. However, Gregor is so distraught that he cannot bring himself to get out of bed. Subconsciously he can no longer tolerate his family's treatment of him.
However, it is only after his oversleeping that Gregor can begin to acknowledge his wasteful existence. Gregor's oversleeping through "agitated dreams" represents his resentment of his pathetic situation. Before his transformation he would quickly jump out of bed to continue his miserable life without considering an alternative lifestyle. In his sleep however he is afforded the opportunity to momentarily escape life to contemplate his inner turmoil. The "agitated dreams" represent his pitiable existence; the oversleeping serves as the initial stage of Gregor recognizing this existence.
Gregor is not the only character in this story that experiences a transformation. His parents and his sister are forced to change as well in order to adapt to their new circumstances. Upon realizing Gregor's metamorphosis, his family leaves him in his room and isolates him, just as they had done in the past. His mother can't stand the sight of him, and they separate further. Gregor's father is forced to return to work and thereby assumes the role of supporting the family. As long as Gregor was working, his father was unwilling to pursue a career; rather, he was content to let Gregor support the family all by himself. Thus, Gregor's working allows Mr. Samsa to sit home all day doing nothing. It is only through Gregor's inability to work that his father is forced to assume the role of supporting the family. Consequently, Gregor's sickness and death facilitates his father's career development.
In his sickness, even his father cannot stand the sight of him and in disgust fatally wounds Gregor by throwing an apple at him. Kafka uses the apple to make a biblical allusion to symbolize the apple from the tree of knowledge. The apple represents Gregor's awareness of his pitiful existence. His father throws the apple at him to show that Gregor is being rejected by his family. This new reality of alienation and isolation drives him to his ultimately fatal mental state. His father's unhealthy dependence on his son leads Gregor to feel estranged. This alienation causes Gregor to manifest his feelings of worthlessness and isolation in a way that would affect his body. This mental breakdown eventually drives Gregor mad leading to his untimely death.
Unlike Mr. Samsa, Gregory's sister cares for him and attempts to nurse him back to health by providing him with food and encouragement. However, even she is unable to put up with him after a while. She comments that the "bug" cannot possibly be Gregor as if it were "he would have realized long ago that human beings cannot possibly live with such an animal and he would have left of his own accord." At that point, being completely stripped of his humanity and being, completely rejected by his family, Gregor's transformation to a bug is complete. Ironically, Gregor's miserable life of serving his family is better than the alternative. Once he can no longer provide for his family, life was not worth living.
After Gregor is dead, the Samsas are relieved, and they make plans for their daughter to get married. As long as Gregor was alive, his family is unable to proceed through life and move on. Rather, they depended on Gregor for everything and made no effort to be productive. Their troubled relationship with Gregor was thereby harmful to the entire family.
The numerous transformations in The Metamorphosis emphasize the importance of maintaining healthy relationships. The dysfunctional Samsa household relies on their son Gregory to support the entire family. This ridiculous role reversal not only causes Gregor to have a mental breakdown, but also prevents the rest of his family from pursuing their own careers. Only after Gregory's death is his family able to move on with life. Kafka uses the transformations in The Metamorphosis to reinforce the importance of maintaining healthy relationships. When people get caught in abusive relationships, their entire families fall apart. The important lessons that Kafka teaches in The Metamorphosis continue to have relevance today.