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The key theme of the story is man's isolation. After Gregor's transformation into an insect, his entire family rejects him. Upon seeing the bug, Gregor's boss runs away. His father locks him in his room and later wounds him by chunking apples; his mother faints at the sight of him; and even Grete tires of caring for him, wishing he would go away. None of them think about how Gregor feels about his miserable transformation; instead, they are worried about the affects of the metamorphosis on them personally, especially since Gregor has been the sole breadwinner for the family. To add to his sense of isolation, Gregor must stand by and watch what is happening to the family in silence; he is powerless to speak, complain, or criticize.
Another main idea that Kafka discusses in The Metamorphosis is the enslavement of modern man to the forces of materialism. By turning Gregor into a bug that can observe his family from a different perspective, Kafka can show man's preoccupation with financial security. Before his transformation, Gregor is miserable at work, but he cannot quit since he is the sole breadwinner for the Samsa family. Nothing at work satisfies him, and his boss treats him worse than an animal, almost like a bug.
Unfortunately, Gregor does not have the courage to go out and find something better; he accepts his miserable existence in order to have financial security. Then his transformation occurs; he literally becomes an insect, the lowest form of life. Symbolically, Kafka is portraying the level to which a human being can be reduced in the modern world. It also symbolizes to what depths a man sometimes sinks before he begins to reflect on the meaning of his existence. Ironically, only as an insect can Gregor Samsa find the time or motivation to reflect on his own misery, to acknowledge his own desire, and to see the selfishness of his family.
A minor theme in the story is man's tendency to use other people. Gregor's family has always depended upon him for total support. When he becomes a bug and can no longer work, the other family members change from lazy, shiftless people into workers who support themselves.
An additional minor theme is man's tendency towards unrealistic dreams. As a worker, Gregor is miserable and dreams of a better life, but does nothing about it; as a result of his low form of existence, Kafka turns him into a bug. His metamorphosis forces the members of the Samsa family into the work force. After working for awhile, they all start staying home from their jobs, aimlessly dreaming about a better life. None of them, however, take any real steps toward improving their future. At the end of the novel, it is implied that Grete, because of her lack of ambition and purpose, will also become an insect, like her brother.
At first the mood of this short novel is bizarre and fantastic, created by Gregor's shocking transformation. Soon, however, the calm acceptance of his new state undermines the strangeness of it, and the mood becomes settled. Eventually, the remaining fantastic aspects of the tale give way to a sense of tragedy. Gregor is helpless and must simply sit back and watch the sad metamorphosis of his family as they turn against him in his new state. The tragedy is intensified by the fact that he must watch in silence, unable to speak and defend himself. In the end, he dies isolated and alone in his room and is swept out by the maid. There is an overwhelming sense of injustice about what has happened to Gregor and a scathing criticism of his uncaring, selfish family. Both add to the overall tragic mood of the tale.