The wound inflicted by Gregor's father becomes infected, and Gregor finds it difficult to move: He has been reduced to the condition of an invalid, and it takes him long, long minutes to crawl across his room-crawling on the ceiling is out of the question-but this deterioration in his physical condition was fully (in his opinion) made up for by the fact that the door to the living room was being left open every evening.
The family sits in the evening with Gregor's door open while the father, still in his uniform, sleeps. Mrs. Samsa sews fancy underwear for a nearby shop, and Grete practices her shorthand and French in order to be able to procure a better job. During the days she works in a shop. The maid has been dismissed and the mother does most of the housework except for the heavier chores which fall to a daily charwoman. After putting the father to bed, the two exhausted women sit on the couch and mingle their tears.
Grete is especially stressed but she still continues to leave food for Gregor. She remains unconcerned that many times it goes untouched. There is no time to clean his room, and the charwoman, who does not fear Gregor, comes into the room and talks to him and calls him "dung beetle." In need of money, they have taken in three fastidious lodgers. The items that needed to be moved to accommodate them wind up in Gregor's room which the family has also taken to using as a sort of junk room.
The lodgers eat in the parlor while the family eats in the kitchen. They are treated with a great deal of respect, more like hotel guests. After dinner one evening Grete begins to play her violin and they ask that she entertain them in the parlor. However, they are not very impressed and soon begin to talk. Meanwhile, the music compels Gregor to leave his room and move into the parlor: "Was he an animal if music could captivate him so? It seemed to him that he was being shown the way to the unknown nourishment he had been yearning for." He creeps ever closer to his sister, and when the horrified tenants spy him they rise up and threaten to leave without paying any rent whatsoever. Gregor, however, is oblivious to their threats and remains intent only on being close to Grete. How dare the tenants, he says to himself, ignore his talented sister? He only wants to sit with her and tell her of his intentions to pay her instruction at the music conservatory.
Afterwards, at Grete's insistence, the distraught family decides something has to be done, and that this monster cannot be called their son and brother: "We must try to get rid of it. We have done everything humanly possible to put up with it and to take care of it, no one can blame us in the least." Gregor, after all, would have been thoughtful enough to leave if he really had his wits about him. After he returns dejectedly to his room, they bolt the door. Gregor by now is starving and lies filthy and in pain on the floor. He thinks "of his family with emotion and love." He dies that night, and the charwoman finds him in the morning. The Samsa family comes in to examine the dried up giant insect that was once Gregor and cry for awhile. The lodgers are surprised to find breakfast not ready and ever more shocked when Mr. Samsa orders them out immediately. The cleaning lady cleans up after Gregor and leaves.
Now the family can once again go out together, and sure enough the sun begins to shine. They all write letters to their employers and take the day off to go out into the country on a tram and talk about a brighter future. With Gregor gone, they can move to smaller accommodations and save money. Then Mr. and Mrs. Samsa take a closer look at their daughter who has grown into a well-formed young lady. They exchange a look, both realizing that the time has come to look for a husband for Grete.
As with most great works of literature, there cannot be merely one explanation of this bizarre story. Since its publication in 1915, critics have utilized various forms of analyses to interpret Kafka's meaning. To date, there have been over 130 separate published interpretations of the tale. To some critics Gregor doesn't "really" transform into an insect at all. His image of self is so low; his family life so empty, his work environment so oppressive that he merely thinks or feels he is an insect. For other critics, Gregor's empty life as a traveling salesman, cut off from family, friends and any sort of romantic encounter, at the beck and call of his employers, represents the alienation of modern life that many contemporary writers, for instance D.H. Lawrence and Albert Camus, addressed. Gregor is certainly alienated, as evidenced by his locking of the doors in his parents' apartment every evening. Freudian critics interpret the story in terms of father-son relations. Gregor the insect is seen as the author Kafka, who had a tumultuous relationship with his father. Mr. Samsa's attacks upon his son, once with a symbolic phallic cane and then again with apples that wound Gregor, are part of a battle between father and son for power and authority. Gregor fails to overcome the Freudian Symbolic Father and subsequently dies. The tale has also been interpreted as Gregor representing a failed writer cut off from his family and failing to carry his weight, so to speak.
What is apparent, however, is that by becoming a gigantic insect, Gregor escapes the dehumanizing situation in which he finds himself. Is this then merely a way out of prison for Gregor? Is he revolting against his horrid, unappreciative lazy family and his "dehumanizing" work responsibilities that were forced upon his young shoulders? Consider that when Gregor lies upon his bed at the opening of the story, with his big belly and little legs flailing in the air, his physical stance resembles that of a newborn baby, lying on his back unable to get up, unable to talk, and completely dependent upon his family for sustenance. The tables have turned and now the family must feed and clean up after him. In this regard, they hardly perform as well as Gregor did when he supported them: "I'd like to eat something," said Gregor anxiously, "but not anything like they're eating. They do feed themselves. And here I am, dying!" In addition, they make his room a junk room: "he was covered in the dust that lay everywhere in his room and flew up at the slightest movement; he carried threads, hairs, and remains of food about on his back and sides."
Simply, the Samsa family fails to take kindly to a son who will not support them lavishly anymore and are greatly relieved when Gregor is finally out of the picture-swept out like garbage by the charwoman in the ostrich feather hat. Now they can get on with their lives. They all have jobs and now that Gregor is dead, they can move to a smaller apartment to save money. This would seem like a reasonable, positive ending to Kafka's bizarre tale, but the author adds one tidbit more for the reader to chew upon. Why do the parents look so intently at Grete at the end of the story when they travel into the country? Are they indeed concerned that they fulfill their parental obligation and find a husband for their eighteen-year-old daughter or are they perhaps more concerned with finding another means of support for themselves, someone perhaps like a traveling salesman who will keep them in the luxurious manner to which they had become accustomed before their son turned into gigantic insect? Is that perhaps why the sun is shining for the first time in the entire story?
The Metamorphosis: Character Profiles