Morrissey once asked: “has the world changed or have I changed?” Were Gregor to pose this question, the answer would hardly keep us in suspense. And yet he barely notices his mutation, rather like the early scenes in Shawn of the Dead where pre-zombie life is almost indistinguishable from zombie “life.” What does it mean?
As Josella Tan points out, there’s an irony in the idea of metamorphosis — maybe it’s the world that changes after all. Gregor has literally crystallized into what he more or less always was: an insignificant insect. His greatest ambition, after all, is the “real, true, ordinary state of affairs” (p. 33). Here comes another irony: his family has been so parasitic on him that only his buggish immobilization shakes them into action, spurring father and mother back into the world of work, and his sister in pursuit of marriage. They have lost their livelihood, but now stand a chance at real life, something that Gregor first figuratively, than literally, loses. I’m reminded of a slogan I read once in an ad for IKEA office furniture: “when work is a pleasure, life is a joy.” Unhappily for Gregor the opposite is also true, and his mundane job as a traveling salesman puts him into constant contact with humans, but not with humanity. As Gregor laments, it is a “human contact that is always changing, never lasting, never approaching warmth” (p. 28).
Because the story is so clearly allegorical there are multiple interpretations that are available. There is no easy or obvious meaning in his sudden status as a bug, so let’s just relax and examine the many possible themes it can generate.