Although it is obvious from the text that Gregor awakes as a giant bug at the start of The Metamorphosis, the reader never learns the reason for the transformation. Its cause can only be gleaned from hints and symbolism interspersed throughout the novella, that tell about Gregor’s past life and circumstances. These references suggest that, to his family, Gregor never really changes except in the physical sense; they look upon him the same way before his metamorphosis as they do afterwards. Gregor has always been a vermin; his change is merely an ostentation of what he already is.
To his family, Gregor has always been like a vermin, treated with disdain and contempt. His family makes this known in several subtle, almost subconscious ways. One of the most important of these occurs near the beginning of the story when Gregor misses the train and the office manager arrives at his home. Gregor is still locked in his room and Mrs. Samsa, seeing his supervisor quickly exclaims that “...he’s so stubborn.” (Kafka 10), “and that there’s certainly something wrong with him, even though he says...there isn’t” (Kafka 10). This statement, which Gregor’s mother utters before the manager can do more than greet her, shows the subconscious revulsion and loathing she has for her son. While his mother shows her abhorrence for Gregor through her speech, his father shows it through his actions. Gregor starts working after his father’s business collapses, suffering for the sins of his father by working off his debts. Mr. Samsa, instead of acknowledging Gregor’s sacrifice and trying to make his labors as short as possible, hoards some of the money away. In doing this, he greedily takes money which would make the day that Gregor “can get rid of his job...much closer” (Kafka 28). Gregor is vermin-like not only to his family, but to his employers as well. When the office manager comes to Gregor’s home, he tells Gregor through his door that he views him as possessing “...incomprehensible obstinacy...” (Kafka 11), and that his “...performance of late is very unsatisfactory” (Kafka 12). These admonitions show how the company, in addition to Gregor’s family, is beginning to view him as an unwanted pest.
Gregor’s metamorphosis is not brought about by special circumstances but is rather the actualization of his existence as a vermin. This is made known to the reader in several places throughout the novella. At the very beginning of the book, “...Gregor Samsa wakes up...changed into a monstrous vermin” (Kafka 3). However, in its original German, ‘monstrous vermin’ literally means an unclean animal that is unfit for sacrifice. Gregor sacrifices himself for his family before the beginning of the novella, working hard to pay off debts and to feed his family. However, since they view him as something unclean, his inability to sacrifice himself manifests by turning him into a bug that can not work for money. Another instance that argues for this point is in the second part of the story when Gregor thinks to himself that “in no time his successes on the job are transformed...into hard cash that can be plunked down on the table...in front of his...family” (Kafka 27). With this statement, Gregor shows the reader how his human accomplishments can be transformed into inhuman objects. This situation mirrors his own in which his human efforts to aid his family transform him into something that they view as inhuman. This theme is revealed again when Grete tells her parents how “...Gregor realizes long ago that it isn’t possible for human beings to live with such a creature...” (Kafka 52). However, the reader learns earlier in the novella that Gregor had in fact lived apart from his family, “...locking all the doors during the night even at home,” (Kafka 6) as well as getting on the train before the rest of his family wakes up. From this we can see an unconscious urge in Gregor to separate himself from his family because they can not live with him, whom they view as a vermin.
Gregor’s transformation is the physical realization of his status as a social vermin, something unfit to be around humans or to benefit them. This vermin status is not sudden coming with his metamorphosis, but rather something that is with him in an intangible form since his family and company started taking him for granted. Gregor’s change is a delayed reaction that had been set in motion at the time that he became unclean; he had always been unclean and him becoming a bug was merely a manifestation of this.