As the story opens, Gregor Samsa has already turned into a gigantic insect. He notices this, but does not seem to find it horrifying or even that unusual, merely an inconvenience or perhaps a delusion. He worries mainly that he has overslept and will be late for work. He also thinks to himself about how unpleasant his job is and how he would have quit long before now if not for having to earn money to pay off his parents’ debts.
Gregor’s parents and his sister knock at his locked bedroom door and ask if something is the matter. Gregor tries to answer, but his voice sounds strange, like a “horrible twittering squeak.” He is also unable at first to control his new insect body well enough to get out of bed; his little insect legs wave helplessly as he lies on his back.
The chief clerk from Gregor’s job arrives, demanding to know why Gregor has not shown up for work. This irritates Gregor, who thinks it is excessive of his firm to send such a high-level person to inquire into such a minor deviation from duty. When the chief clerk, speaking through the door to the still unseen Gregor, criticizes him and hints that he may lose his job, Gregor becomes even more upset and makes a long speech in his defense which none of the listeners can understand. ”That was no human voice,” says the chief clerk. Gregor’s mother thinks he must be ill and sends his sister, Crete, for a doctor. Gregor’s father sends the servant girl for a locksmith.
Gregor meanwhile has decided that the best thing will be to show himself. With great difficulty, using his toothless insect jaws, he turns the key in the lock and then pulls the door open. At the sight of him, the chief clerk backs away, Gregor’s mother falls to the floor, and his father first shakes his fist and then begins to cry. Gregor is anxious to keep the chief clerk from leaving and spreading bad reports about him— Gregor’s main concern is still the possible loss of his job—but the clerk rushes out, yelling “Ugh!” and his father shoos Gregor back into his room.
Gregor in this section of the story becomes more and more insect-like. He discovers that he is most comfortable under the sofa and comes to enjoy crawling up the walls and hanging from the ceiling. He also learns that he no longer likes fresh food, but prefers the half-decayed scraps that his sister leaves for him. His sister is now the only one who takes care of him, but even she seems disgusted by him. Realizing this, Gregor arranges a sheet in front of the sofa to hide himself from her.
Thinking that it might be best for Gregor if he had more room in which to crawl, Gregor’s sister decides to remove his furniture and gets her mother to help. Gregor thinks this is a good idea too until he hears his mother say that perhaps after all it is wrong: it is signaling to Gregor that the family has given up all hope that he will return to human form. Suddenly feeling very attached to the symbols of his human past, Gregor rushes out from his hiding place under the sofa and decides to defend his belongings, especially the picture on his wall of a lady in furs, which he climbs on top of. When his mother sees him, she faints, and the ensuing confusion ends with Gregor’s father attacking Gregor by bombarding him with apples, one of which seriously wounds him. It is Gregor who now faints, but before he loses consciousness he sees his half-undressed mother rush into his father’s arms.
Without Gregor’s income to support them, the other family members, who formerly did not work, now all take jobs and as a result complain of being overworked and tired as well as of being uniquely afflicted—presumably referring to their having to take care of Gregor. Gregor meanwhile is still suffering from being struck by the apple; in fact, the apple has lodged in his back, no one has bothered to remove it, and the area around it has become inflamed. Gregor also feels neglected and loses his appetite, and has to put up with having his room turned into a dumping area after the family takes in three lodgers. As well, he is tormented by the new charwoman the family hires to replace the live-in servant they could no longer afford.
One evening Gregor’s sister plays the violin for her parents and the lodgers. Gregor is greatly affected by the music and thinks it is opening a path for him to some unknown sort of nourishment. He ventures out of his room, intending to reach his sister, all the while fantasizing about getting her to move into his room with her violin, where he would protect her from all intruders and kiss her on the neck.
When the lodgers see Gregor and for the first time realize that they are sharing a house with such a creature, they instantly give notice and say they will sue for damages. Gregor’s sister says it is time they got rid of Gregor; he is driving away their lodgers and generally persecuting his family, and he is not really Gregor anymore, just a creature.
Gregor retreats to his room, feeling weak and thinking that he must disappear as his sister wanted. He dies that night and is disposed of the next day by the charwoman. His death seems to energize the family, especially Mr. Samsa, who stops being deferential to the three lodgers and instead orders them out of the house.
The story ends with the three surviving Samsas on an excursion into the countryside thinking about their prospects. They decide that things are not so bad: their jobs are actually promising, and Grete has blossomed into an attractive young woman for whom her parents will soon find a husband.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Franz Kafka, Published by Gale Group, 2001.