Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” was written in 1922. The short story is about a man who uses fasting (a form of art) as a sense of fulfillment to himself. The foods of life, were not to his liking. Furthermore, his form of fulfillment was the sight-seeing and interaction with the fans. Fans were amazed by him. His ability to starve himself inside a “…small barred cage”(Kafka 9) was intriguing to most; everybody wanted to see him at least once a day.
The time and place of the short story is unidentified.The process of the fast would usually last up until the forty day mark. The Hunger Artist is a man who starves himself, not because he couldn’t eat; it was because he craved the attention as seen in his last moments of life, when he tells a fan “I couldn’t find the food I liked” (Kafka P. 9) meaning he couldn’t attain the satisfaction from his audience. As a reader we sense a form of confusion or darkness when reading the text. This form of satisfaction is far from bizarre.I would say, it is safe to say that each person has a personal interest that we like to do that one may find weird.
Although it may be bizarre to some people. Most people came to see the Hunger Artist; “At one time the whole town took a lively interest in the hunger artist; from day to day of his fast, the excitement mounted; everybody wanted to see him at least once a day”(Kafta 5-7). We live in a society, where “weird” sparks great interest. This was the Hunger Artists form of satisfaction, he was a attention fiend, he was fueled by the masses of people coming out to see him.We can relate this to a toddler and his older siblings. When a child does something that causes a positive reaction or response by another person (usually someone older) they tend to insist on doing it again. Why? because physcologically, the toddler feeds from this attention, very similar to the Artist.
The masses of people were amazed at the Hunger Artist. His one of a kind ability, amazed children “[The] children stood open mouthed”(Kafka 14).People would come in anticipation to see this bizarre figure labeled as the “Hunger Artist. ” His “palid [body] in black tights, with his ribs sticking out “(Kafta 16) were one of the many reasons why people would come with the family as a whole, to see this form of ‘entertainment’, if you will. Eventually, people who came to see the Artist in his fast, started to find this matter impossible. Fans took it so far that they felt a sense of obligation to see if the Hunger Artist was cheating or if this display was factual.The“watchers who sat up to the bars, [were] the ones not content with with the dim night lighting of the hall…they focused on him in full glare of the electric pocket torch given them by the impresario”(Kafka 47-49).
We can relate this to a magician, people usually tend to see what the magician is doing to fool the spectator, but usually the spectator wont find out what the magician is doing to fool the overseer. In exchange the magician would feed off this attention and continue in his expertise, similar to the Hunger Artists’ fasting.As time went on, like most things, the Hunger Artist lost his touch and people were loosing interest in the Hunger Artist. This lack of interest came about so suddenly. For meanwhile the aforementioned change in public interest [was] set in; it seemed to happen almost overnight…at any rate the pampered hunger artist suddenly found himself deserted one fine day by the amusement seekers who went streaming past him to other more-favored attractions;…(Kafta 17-20) The fans easily forgout about the enduring Hunger Artist, and for that, he had to settle for a new location.He had to go to a circus where conditions were even harsher and people were not recognizing him anymore. No one recognized him anymore and all that he worked for was flushed down the drain.
The artist was placed in the most isolated area of the circus in the dark, opposed to the heavenly light where he once was before he relocated to the circus. Suprisingly, one day an overseer who use to see the Hunger Artist in his prime passed by. He took a peek at the cage, out of curiousity, he recognized the Hunger Artist.The Artist felt a sense of guilt that he let down the fans and his reation to the overseer was “Forgive me everybody”(Page 276). As words were exchanged between the Hunger Artist and the “overseer”, it led to the explanation of why the Hunger Artist doesn’t cherish the so called “foods of life and tended to always fast for his sense of satisfaction from the attention. If I had found [the food I liked], believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like your 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;…(Kafta 10-14).
We can say the Hunger Artist only wanted the fan’s attention and he admires the appreciation of Others. The foods of life weren’t enough for him because the fan’s presense were his “nutrition”. One may question, “Why is the Hunger Artist this way? What may his childhood be like? Was he deprieved of attention as a kid?I find it quite ironic that in the last moments of the Hunger Artists life, he is last seen with an overseer. The overseer was shocked to see him and still thought he was crazy now, just like he thought he was crazy when he used to see him in his prime. This craziness is what dragged the masses in his prime to come see him in his during his time of ‘shine’ But now, that craziness has become a flaw and no one cared about him anymore. The attention he once craved has deminished.It is quite ironic that the author does this.
It’s like the Kafta wants the audience to know that in the end, even though the Hunger Artist has led to many overseers to label him as “crazy” he will still be remembered and has gained the respect of many. In the end, the Hunger Artist comes to his downfall and dies. They bury him with hay straws and he is left with what he arrived with once he was placed in the circus. It’s like the clock was ticking until his death call arrived and was replaced by a youthful black panther.Some people will never be understood in society. Some do amazing things and others do unsual things. In all honesty the Hunger Artist wasn’t looked at for his amazement.
He was looked upon as unusual, but the Hunger Artist fed off this attention. People just love to be curious espically to unusual things, we like to judge people and he was judged to be crazy. All in all, it is safe to say that in us all, we seek attention, some more than others, and the Hunger Artist wanted just that. He was a attention fiend.
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