“A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka is a short story that has a lot more to it than meets the eye. At first glance, this story seems to just be about a man obsessed with fasting, but this story has more to it; it has character parallels and symbolism.
First, the hunger that the hunger artist willfully suffers has a double meaning: it refers to his urge of fasting as well as his unquenchable desire to defy human imagination by fasting indefinitely. Driven to relinquish the nourishment that the rest of humanity embraces, the hunger artist literally lives in self-denial, forsaking comfort, companionship, and, most important, food, all of which are necessary to survival. Thus, the hunger artist’s dedication to his art creates a thinly masked death wish. Unwilling to respond to the needs he has as a human being, let alone as a living thing, the hunger artist makes death the peak of his life’s work. The hunger artist is doomed to be unhappy because he depends on others’ understanding to confirm his performance, which is, by his own description, “beyond human imagination.” He feels deep disregard for his spectators, but because the nature of performance art requires spectators, the hunger artist is tied to the people he seeks to avoid. He comes to depend on the praise and wide-eyed amazement of his spectators as if they themselves were the food of life. When he experiences their doubt, cynicism, and indifference, he becomes frustrated, unable to understand that being an artist often means being alienated from others. Only at the end of his life does the hunger artist seem to approach an understanding of the paradox that defines his existence. “‘If I had found the food I liked, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.’ These were his last words, but in his dimming eyes there remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast” (340). At this point, he no longer thinks that the world is cheating...
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