The Metamorphosis

From: What’s in a place name?

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

“What’s happened to me,” he thought. It was no dream. His room, a proper room for a human being, only somewhat too small, lay quietly between the four well-known walls. Above the table, on which an unpacked collection of sample cloth goods was spread out (Samsa was a traveling salesman) hung the picture which he had cut out of an illustrated magazine a little while ago and set in a pretty gilt frame. It was a picture of a woman with a fur hat and a fur boa. She sat erect there, lifting up in the direction of the viewer a solid fur muff into which her entire forearm disappeared.

Gregor’s glance then turned to the window. The dreary weather (the rain drops were falling audibly down on the metal window ledge) made him quite melancholy. “Why don’t I keep sleeping for a little while longer and forget all this foolishness,” he thought. But this was entirely impractical, for he was used to sleeping on his right side, and in his present state he couldn’t get himself into this position. No matter how hard he threw himself onto his right side, he always rolled again onto his back. He must have tried it a hundred times, closing his eyes, so that he would not have to see the wriggling legs, and gave up only when he began to feel a light, dull pain in his side which he had never felt before.

“O God,” he thought, “what a demanding job I’ve chosen! Day in, day out on the road. The stresses of trade are much greater than the work going on at head office, and, in addition to that, I have to deal with the problems of traveling, the worries about train connections, irregular bad food, temporary and constantly changing human relationships which never come from the heart. To hell with it all!” He felt a slight itching on the top of his abdomen. He slowly pushed himself on his back closer to the bed post so that he could lift his head more easily, found the itchy part, which was entirely covered with small white spots (he did not know what to make of them), and wanted to feel the place with a leg. But he retracted it immediately, for the contact felt like a cold shower all over him.

He slid back again into his earlier position. “This getting up early,” he thought, “makes a man quite idiotic. A man must have his sleep. Other traveling salesmen live like harem women. For instance, when I come back to the inn during the course of the morning to write up the necessary orders, these gentlemen are just sitting down to breakfast. If I were to try that with my boss, I’d be thrown out on the spot. Still, who knows whether that mightn’t be really good for me. If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would’ve quit ages ago. I would’ve gone to the boss and told him just what I think from the bottom of my heart. He would’ve fallen right off his desk! How weird it is to sit up at the desk and talk down to the employee from way up there. The boss has trouble hearing, so the employee has to step up quite close to him. Anyway, I haven’t completely given up that hope yet. Once I’ve got together the money to pay off the parents’ debt to him–that should take another five or six years–I’ll do it for sure. Then I’ll make the big break. In any case, right now I have to get up. My train leaves at five o’clock.”

And he looked over at the alarm clock ticking away by the chest of drawers. “Good God,” he thought. It was half past six, and the hands were going quietly on. It was past the half hour, already nearly quarter to. Could the alarm have failed to ring? One saw from the bed that it was properly set for four o’clock. Certainly it had rung. Yes, but was it possible to sleep through this noise that made the furniture shake? Now, it’s true he’d not slept quietly, but evidently he’d slept all the more deeply. Still, what should he do now? The next train left at seven o’clock. To catch that one, he would have to go in a mad rush. The sample collection wasn’t packed up yet, and he really didn’t feel particularly fresh and active. And even if he caught the train, there was no avoiding a blow up with the boss, because the firm’s errand boy would’ve waited for the five o’clock train and reported the news of his absence long ago. He was the boss’s minion, without backbone or intelligence. Well then, what if he reported in sick? But that would be extremely embarrassing and suspicious, because during his five years’ service Gregor hadn’t been sick even once. The boss would certainly come with the doctor from the health insurance company and would reproach his parents for their lazy son and cut short all objections with the insurance doctor’s comments; for him everyone was completely healthy but really lazy about work. And besides, would the doctor in this case be totally wrong? Apart from a really excessive drowsiness after the long sleep, Gregor in fact felt quite well and even had a really strong appetite.

As he was thinking all this over in the greatest haste, without being able to make the decision to get out of bed (the alarm clock was indicating exactly quarter to seven) there was a cautious knock on the door by the head of the bed.

“Gregor,” a voice called (it was his mother!) “it’s quarter to seven. Don’t you want to be on your way?” The soft voice! Gregor was startled when he heard his voice answering. It was clearly and unmistakably his earlier voice, but in it was intermingled, as if from below, an irrepressibly painful squeaking which left the words positively distinct only in the first moment and distorted them in the reverberation, so that one didn’t know if one had heard correctly. Gregor wanted to answer in detail and explain everything, but in these circumstances he confined himself to saying, “Yes, yes, thank you mother. I’m getting up right away.” Because of the wooden door the change in Gregor’s voice was not really noticeable outside, so his mother calmed down with this explanation and shuffled off. However, as a result of the short conversation the other family members became aware of the fact that Gregor was unexpectedly still at home, and already his father was knocking on one side door, weakly but with his fist. “Gregor, Gregor,” he called out, “what’s going on?” And after a short while he urged him on again in a deeper voice. “Gregor!” Gregor!” At the other side door, however, his sister knocked lightly. “Gregor? Are you all right? Do you need anything?” Gregor directed answers in both directions, “I’ll be ready right away.” He made an effort with the most careful articulation and by inserting long pauses between the individual words to remove everything remarkable from his voice. His father turned back to his breakfast. However, the sister whispered, “Gregor, open the door, I beg you.” Gregor had no intention of opening the door, but congratulated himself on his precaution, acquired from traveling, of locking all doors during the night, even at home.

First he wanted to stand up quietly and undisturbed, get dressed, above all have breakfast, and only then consider further action, for (he noticed this clearly) by thinking things over in bed he would not reach a reasonable conclusion. He remembered that he had already often felt a light pain or other in bed, perhaps the result of an awkward lying position, which later turned out to be purely imaginary when he stood up, and he was eager to see how his present fantasies would gradually dissipate. That the change in his voice was nothing other than the onset of a real chill, an occupational illness of commercial travelers, of that he had not the slightest doubt.

It was very easy to throw aside the blanket. He needed only to push himself up a little, and it fell by itself. But to continue was difficult, particularly because he was so unusually wide. He needed arms and hands to push himself upright. Instead of these, however, he had only many small limbs which were incessantly moving with very different motions and which, in addition, he was unable to control. If he wanted to bend one of them, then it was the first to extend itself, and if he finally succeeded doing with this limb what he wanted, in the meantime all the others, as if left free, moved around in an excessively painful agitation. “But I must not stay in bed uselessly,” said Gregor to himself.

The complete text of The Metamorphosis from Wikisource.



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