When the Unlocked Door Remains Closed

The most poignant moment of Franz Kafka's 1915 novella The Metamorphosis occurs when the narrator remarks that nobody thinks to open Gregor's bedroom door to see him through his crisis, though the door is now unlocked. In time, Gregor no longer wishes to emerge from his room, to be seen. All connection with his family and his former self is lost.

Gregor the travelling salesman had gotten into the habit of keeping his door locked, even at home. He became private to the point of being paranoid. He is also invisible. Gregor the absentee member of the Samsa household--albeit the breadwinner--is unknown to his sister Grete and to his parents. The loss doesn't quite register with them.

This is the story of the man who wakes up as a bug. He literally embodies his emotional and psychological perception of himself: that he is vermin. He has become his own self-loathing. As this reality settles into his mind, he hopes his family will in some way respond to his need, to feed the unnameable hunger that gnaws at him throughout this ordeal.

Instead, they turn away. He is the dirty secret, the problem child, the social stigma they could do without, thank you very much. In no time, they forget that Gregor has been their sole source of financial support. The father beats him back into his room every time he emerges. His mother lacks the emotional fortitude to face the situation and faints instead. Grete, his sister, feeds him and cleans his room until he reaches out for her in his buggy way--by creeping toward her while she is playing the violin for lodgers.

Gregor's financial control of the family plays a role in the neurosis that afflicts each member. Not until he is free of their control can they realize their potential. That control cannot buy Gregor the food he requires--some form of emotional and spiritual nourishment in the form of genuine relationships--though he does somewhat sadistically enjoy being the center of their fleeting attention for a little while. The door had been locked for a little too long. Family connection lost its relevance. Here is the tragedy of modern life: we're all so busy getting and doing that we lose track of what it means simply to be.

The verb "to be," I learned as a young girl in English class, is not a very strong one. It's boring and should be replaced with verbs that suggest activity and emotion. So I was taught to value the business of being busy, busy, busy.

I've come to realize that being isn't so bad; it's being alone that can kill you.

This is the kind of starvation that killed Gregor.


  1. Your interpretation I think defines Metamorphosis very well.

    I am disturbed with the parallels to the monster of Virginia Tech, and his homelife. Both in Korea and in the suburbs of Virginia, his family regarded him as non-communicative, sullen, and the one who beat up his sister. They were relieved when he left for college.

    He was a bug to them.

  2. Thanks, Greg. Seems to me we live in a world that wants normal at all costs. "Here: take your pill and be normal." But some people can't handle that and really need to be allowed to be themselves outside of the everyday world. I think mainstreaming isn't for everybody, and this kid is a case in point. You know, I had my students write about Gregor. I asked who was responsible for his condition. It's a fun question because he's responsible. Equally, students said he was, his family was, society was. The question gets to the point that he made his choices, but the world around him influenced those choices. It's a work that really irked me following Virginia Tech. I'm glad we got through it quickly.

  3. *boggles*


    still we should reach out our hands & hearts

    although I am ashamed to add that I would not be the first one to do so if the situation occurred :(


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