Representation and Conflict of Human Mind in The Metamorphosis

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

The human mind and body are fundamentally different while also being reflective of each other. In The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, written in 1915, Gregor —a very closed-off man— wakes up one morning to discover his body was inexplicably transformed to a human-sized bug, although his mind remains as it was before. The analogy of the interaction between mind and body is presented literally by Kafka, and it is gradually revealed that Gregor’s body reflects his mind and ultimately reflects the tragedy and reality of the human condition. This invites the question: how does the human mind evince the tragedy exemplified by Gregor’s physical transformation?

After his metamorphosis, his way thinking doesn’t change, tunneling his vision to focus solely on the idealization of his family. His mind has him trapped in his routine of a life: “Why else would Gregor miss a train! That boy doesn’t have anything in his head but business.” His severe focus on work is a result of his duty to his family as the breadwinner. Furthermore, his idiosyncrasies show similar intensity of determination: “He just sits here with us at the table, quietly reading the newspaper or studying the railroad timetables.” His time spent with the family is actually spent working for the family. He puts his work and the family before his own self: “It hardly surprised him that he was showing so little consideration for the others once such consideration had been his greatest pride.” Consideration is Gregor’s form of compassion, and his greatest compassion is for his family even though they show no reciprocation. He continuously focuses solely of work and only does so because of his idealization of the family and putting their wants above his needs.

Gregor’s bug body mirrors the state and manner he uses his human mind. An insect’s exoskeleton provides it with a certain toughness, an attribute that also describes his mind: “Paid no attention to the fact that he was undoubtedly hurting himself in some way, for a brown liquid came out of his mouth, flowed over the key, and dripped onto the floor.” The imagery shows the ruthlessness of his human mind acknowledging the pain but refuses to let it stop his actions. The refusal is a relentless effort he is willing to suffer, once again, for better of his family. As a result of this strenuous behavior, the mind degenerates, mirroring it, the body is finally drained: “Gregor’s body was completely flat and dry; this was evident now for the first time.” Kafka using third person, emphasizing the family’s realization, all his energy has been burned through because of his dedication to them. His body is therefore used as a representation of his mental state and his family taking advantage of such.

Gregor is still attached to his human values and attempts to preserve a normal human behavior within this change; he is essentially a vermin with human intelligence. When contemplating the furniture of his room: “Did he really want the warm room, so cozily appointed with heirlooms, transformed into a lair, where he might, of course, be able to creep, unimpeded, in any direction, though forgetting his human past swiftly and totally?” The rhetorical question shows the conflict between comfort as a bug and what could be normal human comfort. One wall of his room he decorated with symbols of human desire, a woman in furs: representing wealth and romance. During the removal of the furniture, his mind wants to preserve this symbol: “The picture of the lady all dressed in furs, hurriedly crawled up on it and pressed himself against the glass, which gave a good surface to stick to and soothed his hot belly.’ Ironically, he uses his body to do what his body as a bug would not like. The soothing feeling is imagined by the mind, giving it control and forcibly pushing the bug body to human values. The event of the emptying of the room is the conflict between the mind and the body but equally its interaction.

The climax of the story is Gregor’s metamorphosis into a bug, but this takes place before the beginning of the novella. His human self, past self, has set up a hostile situation and predisposed his body. The four walls of Gregor’s room each have a symbol of a closed portal, one double-door, two additional doors and one window. Gregor isolates himself inside these four walls as a bug and as a human: “Congratulated himself on his precaution, acquired from traveling, of locking all doors during the night, even at home.” The diction shows he finds happiness in isolation and is further emphasized by his line of work. On the other side of the doors lies his family and, at one point, his boss: his obligations. By locking the doors, he is freed on the inside while being on the outside of his family. A window creates the atmosphere of the overall room: ‘Gregor’s eyes turned next to the window, and the overcast sky-one could hear raindrops beating on the window gutter-made him quite melancholy.’ Although the window seems to bring him sadness, rain represents a sort of release which he achieves within the room, away from human responsibilities. His final action within the room is his death and his ultimate freedom. Overall, Gregor voluntarily imprisons himself in the room which, different from human values, his mind mimicking his bug form enjoys.

Franz Kafka illustrates the slow and progressive decline in Gregor, orchestrated by his family. The uniform is a sign of pride for Gregor; he keeps a photograph of himself in uniform. His father takes on Gregor’s role for the family, and the pride is tarnished: “As a result, his uniform—not new to begin with—started to look less clean […] Gregor would often spend whole evenings staring at the soiled and spotted uniform.” His father too, sees the pride in the uniform, in so he refuses to take it off. The dirty uniform represents the decay and shows the father’s actual lack of pride. Additionally, Gregor cannot care or feed himself; he needs his sister Grete for this nourishment, which she provides. The task slowly becomes a burden for her, and she leaves Gregor to starve: “’I’d like to eat something,’ […] ‘but not anything like they’re eating. They feed themselves. And here I am, dying!’” The comparison of his situation to humans and taunts him, which reinforces his feeling of starvation and neglect. The process of starvation and dirtiness is slow and continuously degrading. The family detaches themselves from the pride of being a family and therefore the obligation to care for their family member as he is no longer needed.

Gregor is obedient to the unsaid orders of his family, and his death is his last fulfilled duty to the household, his human life was devoted to serving the family and so is his bug life, once he realizes his burden in which he wishes to alleviate the family of such. Grete states: ‘We have to try to get rid of it. We’ve done everything humanly possible to take care of it and to put up with it.’ The use of ‘humanly’ hints at Kafka’s critique of society and what is truly human. Grete not only foreshadows his death but also plants the thought in Gregor’s mind of disposal. He commits suicide, but it is to sacrifice for the happiness of his family. Since starvation is the primary cause of his death, in reality, he began dying when he awoke as a bug, being unable to care for himself and not have anyone to do so. Additionally, bugs are common representations of death or decay, further foreshadowing a death. From the beginning of the novella, the reader has a hint of Gregor’s death which slowly grows over the continuation of his deterioration. The reader is aware along the entire arc of the story of Gregor’s elongated obedient death.

To recapitulate, Gregor’s mind, represented as the body of a bug is the essence of the tragedy. During his human life, the condition of his mind was tunneled to focus on providing for his family and not himself. He has set up a hostile environment for the bug, a lack of place and people. It is his bug body reflects the conditioned mind. A human mind and an insect body should naturally conflict, but this case proves that they continuously influence one another. The created prison of his bedroom is his place of seclusion and freedom of his duties. The purpose of his life used to be providing for the family which is paralleled in the purpose of his death. The title is the greatest indication of the similarity of mind and body for it is not a transformation but a metamorphosis, a furthering of what one already was. Gregor’s metamorphosis is ultimately the long-awaited tragedy of the state of his mind.


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