NeuroBio & Behavior
Book Commentary: The Metamorphosis by Kafka
The Metamorphosis is a story of a young man, Gregor Samsa, who changes from a human into an unidentified insect. This piece of Kafka’s work is especially difficult to formulate a correct thesis revolving the underlying meaning, but many themes have been discussed. Previously, I have discussed Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis, through an anthropologic viewpoint, focusing on the effect of the family’s changing relationship with Gregor, which can help explain the structure of family and society on an individual. Throughout this commentary, I am going to connect Gregor’s metamorphic change to questions relating to depression, Descartes’ Dualist Theory, and the self.
Gregor is the soul breadwinner for his family, working as a travelling salesman. His mother is weak, his sister is too young to work, and his father had stopped working. After his transformation into the repulsive insect, Gregor no longer feels that he can accomplish his duty of taking care of his family and sending his sister to school. His inability to leave the room, allows him time to reflect on his past accomplishments, insignificant relationships, and his now out-of-reach future goals. His memories are being reflected, but his storyteller is unable to recreate these stories accurately because of his experience is being disconnected from his present unconscious. This leads to Gregor’s depression, hindering his ability to accomplish his own needs and desires (Lewis).
The opening and closing of doors is a common theme that can go hand in hand with his depression (Nabokov). The door symbolizes the mood of the family, juxtaposed with the level of depression of Gregor. At first the family left the door slightly open or came in often to clean and feed Gregor. As the story progressed, the family’s feelings become antagonistic toward Gregor, leading them to shut the door and keep Gregor inside. His sister who was once his primary care taker is the first to announce Gregor needs to leave the house (Archer). The major incident leading to the changing of feelings toward Gregor is when his father threw the apple that became lodged in is back. The apple proved to create stress for Gregor, causing his downfall as it deteriorated in his back and metaphorically his life.
The transition from man to bug is one that consumes many of Gregor’s thoughts and actions. Physically, Gregor is an insect, but mentally there is a divide between the insect and human thoughts. An example of the human mental thoughts could be when Gregor does not want his mom and sister to take his picture of the scantily clad woman. Another example is Gregor does not believe that an insect would be so intrigued by the sweet music played by his sister (Archer). Purely bug thoughts are that Gregor only will eat spoiled food and that his finds enjoyment by hanging from the ceiling. Although Gregor has these bug thoughts, he still worries about his family and is fixated on the hardships he has brought to his family. From these differences in perspectives of the mind and body, Descartes would argue that dualism in the material realm would be supported. On one hand there is Gregor’s subconscious affecting him as an insect physically and mentally and, on the other hand, his consciousness is still directing him as what he knows to be human.
His transformation can be linked back to self-ness and the bipartite brain. Gregor was once a socially acceptable person, but now he ceases to be. This raises the question whether he is still himself? If he is not his original self, does he now have the ability to have a new more complete self-ness (Bernardo)? Should he base his self on how well he fit into his family and into his culture; or should he believe he is more himself because he is living against the norms as an insect.
Within a brain there is the conscious mind that is the storyteller, which incorporates our personality, thoughts, and data processing. Then there is the subconscious mind that can make decisions when not using the I-Function. Gregor in the story ceases to be a socially acceptable person and he also did not have the ability to gain a new understanding of one’s self. An example of this is shown early in the story when he first becomes the insect. Gregor is shown not to be worried about his condition, but worries more importantly on whether he will make his train, a purely socially acceptable thought. Neurologically, I do not feel like Gregor has gained more selfness, because now that Gregor is an insect, he is receiving sensory inputs in his unconscious mind from an insects/humans point of view, but unable to completely act on them. This is because they conflict with ideas from his still partially intact human storytelling consciousness. Using a previous example, Gregor unconsciously moves closer to hear his sister play music, although his storyteller should have told him to stay in his room. Thus, Gregor is unable to create a self-understanding of himself, which may ultimately lead to his sulking behavior and depressive outlook.
Kafka’s story is a great example of how human lives can be so transitory. Gregor’s transformation into the unidentified insect shows the irony of having complete control on one’s life and then simply losing all of one’s life plans. As a result, Gregor battles many internal conflicts between his bipartite brain acting on both human and bug instincts, and not being able to connect his storytelling ability. This leads Gregor into episodes of depression and ultimately into questioning his existence.
Archer, Lincoln. "Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis'" Kafka's 'The Metamorphosis' 25 Oct. 2004.
Bernardo, Karen. "Kafka's "The Metamorphosis""
Lewis, Julia. "A Case Study of Depression." Weblog post. Serendip. 19 Dec. 2008.
Nabokov, Vladimir. "Vladimir Nabokov's Lecture on "The Metamorphosis""