The Metamorphosis

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Mind vs. Body Theme Analysis

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Mind vs. Body Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Metamorphosis, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Mind vs. Body Theme Icon

When Gregor first wakes up as a cockroach, he's more concerned about how his transformation will affect his ability to carry out his duties than the actual physical fact of having turned into a repulsive insect. At first, it seems as though Kafka is making a funny, absurdist allegory about the disconnect between the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us. This is true on some level, but the mind vs. body theme in the story is deeper and more complex. Crucially, the difference between Gregor's human mind and animal body begins to fade as Gregor spends more time as a cockroach. Eventually, such as when he scuttles around frantically when his father frightens him, his thought processes seem human, but his conclusions are decisively insect-like. He struggles when his sister removes his furniture, which linked him to his humanity, but ultimately prefers the comfort of a bare room.

Gregor's mind follows his body in its descent into insect-hood—his physical shape determines his behaviors and preferences. The Metamorphosis, as a whole, makes a case not just that the body and mind are linked, but also that the body is the more powerful of the two. In Kafka's view, human reasoning is feeble and easily overcome by bodily realities.

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Mind vs. Body ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Mind vs. Body appears in each section of The Metamorphosis. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Mind vs. Body Quotes in The Metamorphosis

Below you will find the important quotes in The Metamorphosis related to the theme of Mind vs. Body.
Section 1 Quotes

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

The beginning of The Metamorphosis is famously unsettling. Apart from a vague mention of "uneasy dreams," Kafka gives us no reason for why or how the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, was transformed into an insect. This might be simply a standard attention-grabbing opening if we were to learn afterwards what led to this state of affairs. But we never do get an answer: the book simply proceeds from this set of assumptions, as we, together with Gregor, must scramble to deal with its consequences.

Indeed, even the way the beginning is phrased removes agency or motivation from Gregor's metamorphosis: "he found himself transformed" focuses only on the end result. From the very beginning, then, the book proposes a way of storytelling in which events unfold with little guiding, consciously driven motivation. Instead, Gregor's body seems to change of its own will, with his mind hurrying to catch up with this transformation and to grapple with what it means for his sense of self and for his family. 


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Section 2 Quotes

"What a quiet life our family has been leading," said Gregor to himself, and as he sat there motionless staring into the darkness he felt great pride in the fact that he had been able to provide such a life for his parents and sister in such a fine flat. But what if all the quiet, the comfort, the contentment were now to end in horror?

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa (speaker), Grete Samsa, Father, Mother
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor, listening from his room, has realized that his father is not reading to Grete as usual, and his thoughts turn to the great disruption that his transformation has surely made in his family's daily life – perhaps the first time that he fully realizes how significant a change has taken place. Still, he continues to focus on the pride and self-confidence that he feels as an independent young man whose family burdens rest on his shoulders. They have long depended on him to lead the family, financially and otherwise, and he has happily taken on this duty, enabling them to live in peace.

However, now he begins to recognize that such peace and quiet may not last forever. Indeed, he himself might be the cause of his family's greatest destruction, even though that is not at all his intention. Once again, the phrasing of this passage's last line suggests that consequences might unfold without anyone consciously desiring or promoting them – instead, events will simply take place on their own, following the logic of physical reality rather than complex mental desires.

…He must lie low for the present and, by exercising patience and the utmost consideration, help the family to bear the inconvenience he was bound to cause them in his present condition.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

As Gregor continues to struggle to bear this new burden – the reality that his family now has been thrown into disruption because of his transformation – his thoughts turn once again to his responsibility in taking care of them. Gregor is used to acting in such a way that his family is able to remain dependent on him. This is precisely how he has led his life as his family's primary breadwinner until now. Yet again, the apparent logic of Gregor's thoughts is, upon closer examination, suspect. This time it is Gregor himself who has caused the family's disruption, so it is strange for him to commit himself to helping the family deal with it. 

Gregor seems to reconcile this contradiction by insisting, at least implicitly, that he had nothing to do with his own transformation, and so he cannot really be said to have caused his family's "inconvenience" in a meaningful sense of the term. But as a result of this confusion, the passage remains uncertain regarding whether Gregor will truly be able to direct his own circumstances, or whether he will have to submit to the necessities of his new reality.

Nothing should be taken out of his room; everything must stay as it was; he could not dispense with the good influence of the furniture on his state of mind; and even if the furniture did hamper him in his senseless crawling round and round, that was no drawback but a great advantage.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor's mother has asked Grete not to move any of the other furniture in the room out of the way. Grete has been doing so so that Gregor has greater freedom to move around, something which, as an insect, he appreciates. However, upon hearing his mother's opinion, Gregor realizes that he has been wrong – or, at least, that he has been thinking like a bug and not like the human he once was. The presence of the furniture, he now reasons, will force him to continue to think like a human: in general, it will force him to continue to use his mind to direct his circumstances, rather than being guided by his feelings alone. 

Grete has seemed to gain a level of sympathy for Gregor in sensing what he, as an animal, wants: but Gregor must balance his sense of gratefulness to Grete with the constant struggle going on between his mind and his body. As his mother notes, if they move all the furniture away, it's as good as accepting that Gregor will never change back: for Gregor, this would mean conceding victory to his bodily instincts.

Section 3 Quotes

The serious injury done to Gregor, which disabled him for more than a month—the apple went on sticking in his body as a visible reminder, since no one ventured to remove it—seemed to have made even his father recollect that Gregor was a member of the family, despite his present unfortunate and repulsive shape, and ought not to be treated as an enemy, that, on the contrary, family duty required the suppression of disgust and the exercise of patience, nothing but patience.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa, Father
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

In a moment of anger and fear, Gregor's father had thrown an apple at him – ceding to the sense, even if unconscious, that this insect was not really a member of their family but only a repulsive nuisance. Now, however, he and the other members of the family seem to have regained, if not clarity, at least a sense of responsibility and uncertain sympathy towards Gregor. They are all still confused regarding whether or not Gregor is "there," his mind trapped inside the cockroach, or if not, what precise relation exists between the Gregor that was once a part of their family and the new being that has replaced him.

Still, the family seems to accept that, even if they cannot understand what the insect is, the creature still belongs to them, and they must treat it accordingly. Once again, without any satisfying answers to guide their actions, the family falls back on customary codes of behavior rather than attempting to solve the mystery of Gregor's metamorphosis. 

Instead of being allowed to disturb him so senselessly whenever the whim took her, she should rather have been ordered to clean out his room daily, that charwoman!

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa, Charwoman
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

The charwoman has taking to poking her head into Gregor's room and laughing at him every so often, calling him names and bothering him. He never knows when exactly the charwoman will enter, so he always has to be prepared to deal with her intrusions. Here Gregor seems to consider himself once again the head of the family, responsible for the others and capable of deciding what should and should not take place within the household. Now, of course, his insistence contrasts deeply with the actual state of vulnerability in which he finds himself.

The charwoman's constant intrusions, in addition, create a notable contrast to the way the family treats Gregor. She has no memory of Gregor as a human: to her he is just a huge bug, a nuisance, to be sure, but nothing to be afraid of. Her casual attitude suggests that she is less bothered by such a "repulsive" creature than the family, which is striving towards the middle class and the stability and propriety that comes with it. But her attitude also reminds us that the true mystery and difficulty of the family's situation is not that they have to deal with a large insect, but that they have witnessed a senseless transformation and cannot find a way to resolve the inevitable problems of selfhood and responsibility that arise.

"I'm hungry enough," said Gregor sadly to himself, "but not for that kind of food. How these lodgers are stuffing themselves, and here I am dying of starvation!"

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa (speaker), Gregor Samsa, The lodgers
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor watches how his family carefully looks after the feeding and well-being of the lodgers that they have taken on. Another stage in the family's development has taken place: while initially Gregor provided financially for the family, they were then forced to take care of Gregor. Now, with Gregor transformed, the family has replaced Gregor as a dependent with lodgers who can pay them.

Gregor contrasts his own sorry state with that of the lodgers, even though what they are given to eat no longer appeals to him. Gregor has slipped further into the habits and desires of the body he inhabits. At the same time, however, his mind continues, through memory, to connect his past with his present, as he is able to recognize how much his family's attitude towards him has changed.

He felt hardly any surprise at his growing lack of consideration for the others; there had been a time when he prided himself on being considerate.

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Related Symbols: Grete's violin
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Gregor has heard Grete playing the violin and has crept into the room while the family and their lodgers are gathered for her recital. He hasn't taken the time to clean himself, and he knows that he will only be more repulsive to the family. Here, though, he finds himself affected by a different set of pressures. Gregor seems to have lost the sense of responsibility and care for his family that had long continued to be present even in his new state. It was that sense of responsibility that caused him those feelings of "shame and grief," for instance, and made him frustrated that he can no longer fulfill the role that was always his in the family. But now, this loss of a sense of responsibility seems to suggest that Gregor is allowing his body to dictate what he does. 

Was he an animal, that music had such an effect on him?

Related Characters: Gregor Samsa
Related Symbols: Grete's violin
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

Moments earlier, Gregor scuttled into the room where his sister was playing violin as if drawn there without his will. In an earlier passage this movement is described as a triumph of Gregor's bodily instincts over the emotional factors of responsibility and thoughtfulness that defined his character as a human. Now, however, we see the attraction of the concert to him in a different light. What draws him to the room is, of course, Grete's music: he is unable to stop himself because he is so enraptured by her playing.

Such an overwhelming feeling as a result of a musical or artistic experience is familiar to many people: indeed, one might call it a particularly human trait. As a result, Gregor begins to wonder whether or not "he" is truly an insect – a question that implies a more fundamental question, whether or not he is the same person that he once was, and what it means for the "he" that is Gregor's consciousness to survive through different physical realities. While the book will never answer this question, here it particularly complicates the possibility of making a strong contrast between thinking human and instinctual animal.