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A Hunger Artist Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Celeste Escobar, United States Jul 3, 2003
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“A Hunger Artist” (1924)
Frank Kafka

“The world and my innermost self have torn apart my body in irresolvable opposition.”
-Frank Kafka, 1917

This work of short fiction details the career of a hunger artist; a man who makes a living in a sideshow by going on prolonged, even dangerous fasts. Soon his work will be forgotten and, as he and his work is one, he will be forgotten himself. Ironically, he is to be forgotten just at the point where he is closest to perfecting his art. Stubbornly, he goes through all this enterprise without the recognition of his audience and not finding his so wanted food. Therefore, my conclusion of this story is that the perfect state is something not achievable for humans. Here are the facts that induced me to have this final idea.
First, his alienation with the world around him is constant. Especially, when his audience gradually begins to lose interest, the artist feels disillusioned by the things that are around him. As an instance, when people think that he is cheating in his art or the impresario tries to force him to eat, he feels such an anger that makes him more an outcast in his own environment.

Still, the artist carries qualities that characterize human beings. Its human side is illustrated by his vanity, which then drives him into an obsessed idea of performing “an act beyond human imagination, since he felt that there were no limits to his capacity for fasting?”(364). Another example, he thinks that “his public has pretended to admire him so much, why should it have so little patience with him” (364).

In addition, on the correct supposition that he does have an inner conflict of living without his “art”, would turn his existence unbearable at all. He wants to live, and in the context of this paradoxical narrative, the way to live is not to eat. His fasting becomes a necessity, the surrogate for his inability to live on earthly food. He was put on into his devotedly pursued profession by the absence of the unknown nourishment appropriate to him and his tastes. His audience needs to understand that his nature is to fast as a mean of survival rather than as an act of self-denial.

Paradoxically, his effort through all that suffering of deprivation of food until his death does not make him more attractive to the public or unforgettable. Indeed, there is no market for an artist who cannot really satisfy an audience. As an example, the wild beasts next to him in the circus catch the attention of the audience rather than the dying artist. Even more significant, when he dies at the end of the story a panther is put in his cage and nobody keeps in mind the superhuman achievement of this artist. At this stage of the story, it may be argued that the artist might have gone fasting until death because the world is blamed for not providing him with the right food. Clearly, this part shows how the outsiders ignore the presence of the artist.

Further, when he realizes that he lost his former magnetism, besides being frustrated, he becomes his own spectator. He stops the job of pleasing others now; he goes towards a direction of self-destruction because without the audience he lacks the affirmation of his outward existence. The turning point towards his complete disconnection with the humanity outside begins. This transition is possible through the means of his art that makes him bear life. Artistically speaking, his art of fasting goes in counter to human action and to keep on with it, he needs something further than earthly things to abstain himself from human temptations. He is a creature attempting to move even closer toward the forbidden borderline between life and death where the ultimate mysteries lie.

The artist and the animals are in parallel in the story. Symbolically, the artist says that for the public the choice was made too easy regarding their predilection for the animals. The people represent the affirmation of life or raw force by the many against the yearning of spiritual nourishment of the hunger artist. The public is amazed by the wildness and passion of enjoyment of these wild beasts; for the animals lack the weight of consciousness from which the artist is struggling within himself. Once more, the outsiders’ superficiality concerning the artist’s real intention is depicted at this point.

On the one hand, it is understandable the audience’s lack of engagement with the artist; he never opens himself to explain his true intention. Nevertheless, on the other hand, their indifference towards him is not fully justifiable because they could at least be aware that he is starving to death. The author highlights throughout the story the insensitivity and indifference of the overseers and the audience. In spite of this, nowhere he considers the artist an extraordinary because he is more sensitive, and nowhere has he ridiculed the people as shameful because they are unfeeling, or even cruel.

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Celeste Escobar

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