It won’t be too difficult for The Metamorphosis to capture students’ interest; after all, the main character of the novella, Gregor, casually wakes up one morning transformed into a bug. Why? The reader never finds out, and it is exactly this vagueness and intrigue that makes Franz Kafka’s story so perfect to dissect in a classroom.

Most critics and educational professionals alike will agree that The Metamorphosis is an allegory, so instructing students on symbolism, foreshadowing, irony, and humor is a must. Exactly what the story represents, however, is wide open for interpretation, so be sure to explore all possibilities through class discussion. Three of the numerous theories are:

  1. The novella is autobiographical and expresses the isolation Kafka felt as a both German in Czech Prague and Jewish during a particularly anti-Semitic time. He also had a difficult relationship with his father, which could have contributed to Mr. Samsa’s characterization.

  2. Gregor’s experiences mirror that of the Jewish diaspora in general.

  3. The events of the novel are meant to evoke questions about human decency (what qualifies as human? What qualifies as decent?).

Your students will likely want to understand why and how Gregor turns into a bug, but steer their attention toward the more answerable questions: How does Gregor’s family change, and what does their transformation represent? What does Gregor’s eerily calm reaction to his metamorphosis suggest about existentialism (a philosophy that became popular in the 19th century and was quite influential on Kafka’s writing)?

Below, find out more information on teaching The Metamorphosis.

Summary of The Metamorphosis

Key Facts

One seemingly typical morning, traveling salesman Gregor Samsa oversleeps and is late for work, alarming his family. Is he ill? Hurt? No—he has inexplicably transformed into a grotesque, human-sized insect. The novella traces Gregor’s internal thoughts as he becomes familiar with his new form; it also explores how this metamorphosis affects his parents and sister.

Content Warning: The Metamorphosis contains an incident of death.

What Your Students Will Love About The Metamorphosis

  • The enjoyably absurd plot
  • The amount of analyzable material packed into the short novella

Potential Student Struggles With The Metamorphosis

  • The lack of explanation for Gregor’s transformation
  • Large blocks of text without dialogue breaks

Learning Objectives for The Metamorphosis

  • Trace the change experienced by Gregor’s family members.
  • Draw conclusions regarding Kafka’s view of both totalitarianism and capitalism.
  • Support or refute the opinion that The Metamorphosis is a “timeless” story.
  • Note the significance of recurring pairs of three in the novella.
  • Understand the features of an existential viewpoint.

Literary Elements in The Metamorphosis

  • Allegory
  • Existentialism
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Persona
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • Verisimilitude
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Metamorphosis

Isolation — The novella explores the experience of “the other” through insect-Gregor’s isolation from his family and the world at large.

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Transformation — Putting aside the obvious bug transformation, consider that Gregor’s family members must adapt to life without Gregor’s earnings, and their roles and mindsets shift drastically.

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Existentialism — Kafka employs the idea that humans are directly responsible for their own development through conscious acts.

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Other Resources for The Metamorphosis

Order The Metamorphosis Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
The Metamorphosis Paperback Student Edition
The Metamorphosis Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable
The Metamorphosis Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Metamorphosis AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Metamorphosis Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Metamorphosis Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Metamorphosis Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in June 2016. It has been updated as of September 2019.