“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka is a short story that truly embodies the essence of characters and what they can go through over time. In the story a young traveling salesman by the name of Gregor wakes up one morning to find that he has mysteriously transformed into a giant insect. Rather than being worried about his inexplicable transformation his main concern is how he would be getting to work to support his family. Even though Gregor seems to detest his job we learn that he is quite an honest and self-less person and quite diligent as well. As the story progresses and Gregor finds himself confined in his room due to his families fears of him we see some important developments in his character and not just physically. We see how Gregor slowly becomes accustomed to his new form and how he takes to his new permanent surroundings as he begins to explore the mechanics of his body and the limits set upon him within his space. As the story progresses so does Gregors personality as we see him express concepts such as personal relations, spatial values, crowding and experiential perspective; all which are ideas displayed in Yi-Fu Tuan’s Space and Place. After reading “The Metamorphosis”, it’s child’s play to see how Kafka incorporates all these ideas of “space and place” to help shape the character(s) in his short story.
When Gregor first woke up the first thing he noticed was that something was quite amiss. He immediately notice that his body had changed as he now had “numerous little legs that never stopped moving” (Kafka 304) as well as a now flat, hard shelled back. Along, with is limbs Gregors eye sight changed as well as he could now only barely make out his surroundings. Gregor realized this when he noticed that his original assumption of it being grey overcast outside was actually wrong and that his eyesight was just impaired in a sense. Gregors new body defined his character perfectly as he was always subject to abuse from his boss. His boss always treated him like a lower being and was very pretentious during his time in the story. Rather than sending a messenger boy to check on why Gregor hadn’t shown up for work he personally visited Gregor’s home and accused him of stealing company funds that Gregor was entrusted to at the time. The boss even went as far as speaking for the other people in the family to show his towering control as he said “I am speaking in the name of your parents and of your director…” (Kafka 306). I wouldn’t be surprised if the boss was at fault for Gregors unexplained transformation because from what we’ve seen Gregor was treated as an insect even before the change. Overtime Gregor became accustomed to his body as he began to explore his space. This shows the concept of experiential perspective (Tuan 8) as Gregor began to experience the new things he was capable of in his small room. He began by walking around and later on climbing on the walls. He discovered that his favorite place to be was the ceiling because “he could breathe more freely, a faint pulsing coursed through his body, and his state of almost giddy absentmindedness up there…” (Kafka 317). Even though Gregor was a different existence altogether it never stopped him from exploiting the new limitations of his body. He expanded the tiny space he was confined to and made the most of it. Just imagine how much bigger rooms would be for people if we could fully utilize the large empty spaces above our heads. As Gregor found new things his attitude towards his situation began to change as the story progressed.
Being confined to his room meant that Gregor couldn’t possibly take care of himself as he was locked inside unable to reach any nutrients and of course the room itself would become filthier as time passed. Luckily for him his sister became his care taker and began to house for him in his room. Gregor was grateful towards his sister with whom he was very close to. She would clean for him and bring him meals even though she was frightened of him. At some point in the story Gregors mother wished to take care of him as well or at least see him. She had this brilliant idea of removing all of Gregors beloved belongings in his room to create more space for him. This was an invasion of Gregors personal space as it would destroy the remnants of his existence, the proof that he was in fact a human. His mother failed to respect his “spatial values” (Tuan 34) and ended up removing what little Gregor had left. When you invade someone space without permission there’s a high chance you’ll disorganize their personal spatial structure and put that person in a state of disarray. When Gregor learned of his mother’s intentions and saw her and his sister begin moving his stuff out he became very territorial and began slathering his precious belongings with his insect residues (?). Of course his mother went into a fit of hysteria when she saw him moving about and that lead to Gregor being confined into his room with very little care. After that point his sister stopped caring for him the way she did at first and began giving Gregor food he couldn’t consume and she even stopped cleaning the room. Though the room hadn’t changed much after his mother’s interference it somehow felt smaller and different. Gregor now felt truly trapped as he knew he was not receiving a sufficient amount of nutrients anymore.
As time passed Gregors family slowly started piling all of their extra belongings and garbage into his already small room. Extra chairs, rugs and tables and various other things found their way into the room and began crowding the space. Gregor wasn’t exactly up for walking much anyway but the obstacles in his way now made it nearly impossible for him to move about as he wished. Kafka utilized Tuan’s concept of crowding in this last portion of the story (Tuan 51). It was a different form of crowding though, not like the kind that involves people but the kind where objects give a sense of a space becoming crowded. It’s a terrible feeling enough to constrict breathing and make a person feel claustrophobic and quite miserable. It’s not difficult to see that during the story Gregor felt this way and as he layed there in his room, too tired to walk or move “his head sank all the way down, and from his nostrils came his last feeble breath” (Kafka 329). That was when Gregor’s character ceased to exist as he passed away in his room alone, forgotten and too miserable and tired to even move.
The entirety of “The Metamorphosis” was based around Gregors entrapment within his room and how his change of space and character affected him. We saw how his space expanded and contracted throughout the story and how other characters greatly influenced these elements. It could be said that Gregors character changed several times throughout the story and they weren’t even subtle changes. It’s a shame but it seems Gregors misfortune began because of the people around him and because of his generosity and of course he met his demise because the people around him were greedy. They wouldn’t share their space and so they sacrificed a part of their space to hold onto as much as they could. Gregor on the other hand lost everything and somehow lost more than he knew he could; though he did gain an learn many new things as he explored his changes in space a long with his physical changes. I’d say Kafka wrote a fine story that showed the limitlessness of “space and place” revolving around one unfortunate character.