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Theme of Dichotomy between Mind and Body in The Metamorphosis: Critical Analysis

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Franz Kafka was a German novelist and short story writer who was born and lived in Prague, Czechia. Kafka was known for his particular style of writing. His novels often consisted of isolated protagonists that were faced with surreal conflicts. Many of his stories have even been considered to be somewhat autobiographical. Kafka often shows dichotomy through his writings and the existential dilemmas men face. In his novella Metamorphosis, published in 1915 dichotomy is presented as the dilemma that exists between the mind and the body. The mind-body problem is the question as to how the two sides of man, the physical, and the psychological function together, and if one overpowers the other. To study this duality, it is important to look at different aspects of Kafka’s Metamorphosis as this inner conflict is present throughout.

Right from the beginning of the novella, Kafka presents the reader with a surreal event. The protagonist, Gregor, wakes up to find himself transformed into some sort of insect. There is no explanation as to what has happened to him and Gregor surprisingly does not seem the slightest bit dismayed by the change that has taken place. He is instead more concerned by his ability to continue his daily routine of getting up and getting to work. “All he wanted to do now was to get up quietly and undisturbed, get dressed, and, most important, eat breakfast, and only then consider what to do next, because, as he was well aware, in bed he could never think of anything through to a reasonable conclusion.” Here is a prime example of how man can be over concerned by outside responsibilities and expectations that he can forget or neglect to be concerned with the self. In this first part, it seems as though Kafka is making a funny allusion about the disconnect that can exist between the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us. The absurdity of the situation is quite comical and yet rather sad. Kafka chooses to portray Gregor as an insect, a disgusting creature to which humans rarely become attached, “Gregor samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin.” His choice underscores the alienation that exists between the internal self and the persona the outside world is able to see or the person one obliges oneself to be. Throughout The Metamorphosis, the theme of dichotomy between mind and body becomes more and more complex. As the story progresses, Kafka portrays Gregor less and less as a human. Gregor’s mind and characteristics gradually fade as he becomes acclimated to his newly acquired insect body. His dehumanization is conveyed many times over throughout the story, one example being when he runs around in the apartment and becomes frightened by his father, his father than starts throwing apples at him. “Gregor froze in shock; there was no longer any point in running as his father had decided to bombard him.” Although being frightened does not seem unhuman-like, his conclusions are decisively insect-like. “Gregor wanted to drag himself away, as if he could remove the surprising, the incredible pain by changing his position; but he felt as if nailed to the spot and spread himself out, all his senses in confusion.” Another reaction Gregor has that underlines his transformation and inability to come to terms with his situation, is his difficulty to understand and cope with the idea that his sister and mother took away his furniture. “Had he really wanted to transform his room into a cave, a warm room fitted out with the nice furniture he had inherited? That would have let him crawl around unimpeded in any direction, but it would also have let him quickly forget his past when he had still been human.” His furniture, containing his personal items are the last thing in his room that really link him to his humanity. At the same time however, Gregor is somewhat relieved and feels more comfortable once the room is emptied. “Gregor needed a lot of room to crawl about in, whereas the furniture, as far as anyone could see, was of no use to him at all.”

Slowly, everything that represents who he was as a human, his work, his objects, anything one can connect to the external persona and appearance is taken away from Gregor stripping him of his external identity yet at the same time making him feel physically all the more comfortable.. As the story progresses, Gregor's mind begins to follow his body in its descent into insect-hood—his physical shape takes control of his needs and wants. Kafka makes his point that the mind and the body are highly correlated but that the body might be the strongest of the two.

As his bodily needs take over, he acquires a hunger for something that is unknown to him. When his sister attempts to feed him with things he would like in his human form, he no longer has an appetite for such food. “Quickly one after another, his eyes watering with pleasure, he consumed the cheese, the vegetables and the sauce; the fresh foods, on the other hand, he didn't like at all, and even dragged the things he did want to eat a little way away from them because he couldn't stand the smell.” This quote shows that Gregor preferred eating the foods that weren’t appealing to him before he became an insect. This change in taste is brought to the fore often in the text, representing a link between his body and his emotional life. Here the aspect of Gregor's mind that is still human continues to associate these known foods as something he would like to nourish himself with, but his body rejects them as they no longer appeal to him in his insect form. Indeed, he is in need or craving something that will “nourish” him both physically and mentally which again conveys the idea that there is not a strict split between mind/body, and what may seem appetizing is in reality a function of both body and mind at the same time, or of the body influencing mind.

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The inner conflict of a man to come to terms with oneself is also underlined through the relationships Gregor has established with his family. Throughout the story, As Gregor becomes more and more alienated physically, we witness the real dilemma that he has created in being such a reliable provider taking care only of others while forgetting to find time to take care of himself and become someone other than a provider. “Gregor realized that it was out of the question to let the chief clerk go away in this mood if his position in the firm was not to be put into extreme danger. That was something his parents did not understand very well; over the years, they had become convinced that this job would provide for Gregor for his entire life” Gregor and his family never really thought of what would happen if he lost his job; they always saw him as the provider. The most troublesome aspect of Gregor’s situation for him is not at all his metamorphosis, but the way in which his transformation will keep him from living up to the expectations of others. When his colleague comes to see why he has not yet taken the train to work, we see that the colleague does not listen to him and that Gregor will still not come to terms with what has happened. “I’ll get dressed right away; pack up my samples and go.” The blindness of his transformation is what is absolutely alien, not only to his colleague but also in the realm of the family. Though Gregor does not seem that much impaired by his transformation other than his inability to carry on his work life, his family gradually sees him more and more like an insect rather than who he really is; it is noticeable by the fact that they refer to him as Gregor to begin with but as time passes, they start to call him “it” as though he is no longer a person. “We can't carry on like this. Maybe you can't see it, but I can. I don't want to call this monster my brother, all I can say is: we have to try and get rid of it.” Here Kafka underlines how little his family knew or cared to know about Gregor as a person. Gregor’s alienation leads him to realize what his life really meant before his transformation and he came up with meaningless relationships and a need to provide his family with a pleasant, contented, secure life by sacrificing himself, by selling himself to his business. Through his ‘sacrifice’ Gregor had distorted his own self. But his sacrifice was meaningless. As the story progresses, he comes to realize that in reality, his parents did not need the sacrifice at all. His family has found ways to live without Gregor providing for them. In some ways his alienation freed him of his unwanted life yet destroyed what was left of him at the same time.

Kafka not only uses Gregor’s physical transformation to underscore the alienation existing between his unconscious self and conscious self, but he also uses the setting of Metamorphosis to underline this duality between the self-seen from an external point of view and from an internal point of view. Man is often trapped within his own mind unable to be who he really feels he is, only becoming what the outside world expects of him. In the Metamorphosis, Gregor is stuck in his room most of the time and never goes out of the apartment. His room can be seen as a symbolic form of his old life; a hole from which he cannot escape but at the same time a symbol of his mind. His bedroom is the only place he can stay, while the apartment and his family who live there, represent the outside world. His relationship with the outside world and family have been distorted much like how his body has become distorted. His previous view was that everything was set for him once he was done sacrificing himself to help his family out of debt. However as he is trapped in his new insect body and trapped in his bedroom at the same time, he is unable to perform his duties as a family provider - almost like a gift he is forced to be one with himself in his room, which in turn allows him to become aware of his real self, the undistorted version. His new life has made him come to terms with who he really was for his family and realize just how much he had hated his old life. “He could actually have used this surplus money to reduce his father's debt to his boss, and the day when he could have freed himself from that job would have come much closer, but now it was certainly better the way his father had done things.” He realized that he never liked his job and that this whole time his family was capable of providing for themselves. His becoming an insect - a disgusting creature without an inner purpose - is what he truly perceived himself to be and has now become. His new life has forced him to be aware of who he is mostly because his mind, thoughts and routine have remained the same but he is no longer in the same body and no longer living with the same circumstances which in turn help him, push him to a certain awakening.

At the end of The Metamorphosis, the insect that is now Gregor Samsa, has come to terms with himself and his lack of self-worth within his family, his life and now within his body. Gregor resorts to the only fate he finds suitable given his circumstances. He chooses to die.

He starves himself to death knowing that he is no longer a provider but a burden in the eyes of his family. Both his family and he are therefore freed. There are many ways that The Metamorphosis can be read and analyzed and a theme such as the dichotomy of the mind vs. body is only one of many that can be discussed when analyzing such a literary work as The Metamorphosis. While Kafka really emphasized the theme of identity through his novella, one must ask; whether this work of art was created from within and was to present what he himself, the author felt or whether it was simply an existential question that anyone might ask.

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Theme of Dichotomy between Mind and Body in The Metamorphosis: Critical Analysis. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from
“Theme of Dichotomy between Mind and Body in The Metamorphosis: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
Theme of Dichotomy between Mind and Body in The Metamorphosis: Critical Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Nov. 2023].
Theme of Dichotomy between Mind and Body in The Metamorphosis: Critical Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2023 Nov 30]. Available from:
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