Hired by the Samsas to replace their live-in servant, the charwoman is a tough old woman who, unlike the other characters, is neither horrified nor frightened by Gregor’ s insect form. She even refers to Gregor affectionately as “the old dung beetle” and less affectionately threatens him with a chair. She is the one who discovers that Gregor has died and who cheerfully disposes of his body.
The chief clerk from Gregor’s firm comes to the Samsa house to find out why Gregor has not shown up for work. When Gregor delays coming out of his room, the clerk criticizes him for poor work performance and reports that the head of the firm suspects Gregor of embezzling funds. When Gregor finally emerges, the clerk flees in horror.
See Mr. Samsa
See Mrs. Samsa
See Grete Samsa
Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of the story, is a self-sacrificing, dutiful young man who is mysteriously transformed into a giant insect as the story begins. He lives with his parents and his sister, whom he has been supporting by working as a travelling salesman, a job he very much dislikes, but which he devotes his life to: he seems to have no close friends and no social life. There are hints of repressed resentment in Gregor’s attitude toward his family; he seems to feel that his sacrifices for them have not been properly appreciated. And despite his dutiful nature, he does not seem very close to his family, except for his sister, whose musical studies he has been planning to finance.
After his transformation, Gregor’s character changes somewhat: on two occasions, he puts his own desires ahead of what others want, first when he tries to defend his belongings in opposition to his sister’s plan to remove them, and second when he seeks to obtain the mysterious nourishment associated with his sister’s violin playing. In the end, however, he reverts to his self-sacrificing ways by willingly going to his death because his family wants to be rid of him.
Grete Samsa, usually referred to in the story as Gregor’s sister, is the family member Gregor seems closest to and is the one who takes care of him after his transformation. Even she seems disgusted by his new form, however, and she is the one who at the end demands that he be got rid of.
Before the transformation, the seventeen-yea-rold Grete leads an idle life and is regarded by her parents as “a somewhat useless daughter.” After the transformation, she becomes a sales clerk as well as taking on the responsibility of caring for Gregor. Tired out by all these new duties, she begins to neglect Gregor, but is furious when her mother cleans Gregor’s room, seeing this action as an invasion of her domain.
Twice Grete does things that lead Gregor to leave his room, for which he suffers serious consequences. First, her decision to remove Gregor’s furniture leads to a confrontation in the living room that ends with Gregor being seriously injured. Later her violin playing lures Gregor into the living room again, provoking the conflict that leads to his death. She is also the one who argues the most strongly for getting rid of Gregor. After Gregor’s death, Grete blooms, and her parents think she is ready for a husband.
Mr. Samsa, referred to only as Gregor’s father until Gregor’s death, is a failed businessman who has been idle for five years, living off what Gregor earns. He seems quite antagonistic to his son, fierce toward him, though at the same time weak: when he first sees the transformed Gregor, he shakes a fist at him, but then breaks down and cries.
It is the fierceness that dominates, however. The first two times Gregor ventures out of his room, his father forces him back in, the first time brandishing a walking stick and a newspaper at him, the second time bombarding him with apples. He does injury to Gregor both times.
After Gregor’s transformation, Mr. Samsa is also transformed; before, he was a sluggish man who hardly ever got dressed and who could barely walk; now he is a bank messenger in a smart uniform who is reluctant ever to take it off. He is still weak in some ways, though, waiting cap in hand on the lodgers, for instance, until Gregor’s death, at which point he becomes invigorated and is able to stand up to both the lodgers and the charwoman.
Mrs. Samsa, who is referred to as Gregor’s mother throughout except after Gregor dies, is perhaps the character most sympathetic to Gregor, and the most willing to come to his defense. When something first seems wrong with Gregor, she assumes he is ill and wants to send for the doctor. When the chief clerk is being critical of Gregor, she assures him that Gregor is a very hard worker. When Mr. Samsa throws apples at Gregor, Mrs. Samsa rushes to intervene.
On the other hand, Mrs. Samsa cannot really stand to look at her son in his transformed state: the first two times she does so she screams and faints. She is also not strong enough to defend Gregor successfully: she allows Grete to overrule her on whether to remove Gregor’s furniture; and when Grete and Mr. Samsa begin to discuss getting rid of Gregor, Mrs. Samsa has an asthmatic fit and is unable to intervene.
The Three Lodgers
Arriving in the Samsa household near the end of the story, the three lodgers are serious gentlemen who acquire power over the household. They always act together, as if they were a single character, though they do have a leader (”the middle lodger”). It is their request that leads to Grete’ s violin concert in the living room. When they discover Gregor, they give notice and threaten to sue, but when Mr. Samsa orders them out they leave quietly.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Franz Kafka, Published by Gale Group, 2001.