A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka: Summary

A Hunger Artist depicts the story of the world famous performer who performed the act of fasting for more than forty days at a time. The story is told from the perspective of unsatisfied, frustrated and alienated protagonist who does so difficult task for the sake of his identity. The main character is unsatisfied which is also the theme of modern world. The hunger artist is really worried about his esteem and deeds which he could not accomplish though fasting for more than forty days so as to attract people's attention.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

The artist feels bore to be captivated in the cage slowly and gradually however, he tries his best to entertain visitors. In the story, Kafka describes people's reaction on an artist which can be generalized to everyone's life. Every one of us is trapped in our responsibility as the artist is. Like the artist we ourselves are puzzled in our task. It is very difficult to satisfy our soul even though we seem happy.

The artist is absurd hero who symbolizes the true picture of modern world. Presenting the character who is always hunger for his identity in this regard Kafka has satirized the whole human race. At the very moment the author expresses sympathy to his character projecting him in very pathetic condition. It is tragic because he is the only satisfied spectator of his own fast himself. It is because people suspect on his fasting even though he is sincere for his job. In this respect, the hunger artist alienates from the world. Thus, Kafka depicts the real human suffering dragging his character to the extremity of mental dissatisfaction.

During Kafka's time the First World War was going on so people were very much depressed. The sense of identity was on the top most position. However, the identity was never revealed, people were compelled to face every miseries. 'A Hunger Artist', hence, depicts the reality of his time having a hunger artist as its hero. After forty two days of his fasting people lose their interest on artist. Gradually, sympathetic support begins to fall down. No people take his trouble seriously even though he goes on fasting until his death. Later on, the manager of circus places him outside animal cage in the request of audience. Now, he is completely frustrated to his deeds realizing its futility. There is no way out so he suffers quiet in the corner of a circus as a refugee. His suffering ends with his death. Hence, the hollowness of human existence is depicted through the untimely and futile death of the artist. At the very moment, the story projects selfish human psyche showing people's indifference attitude to hunger artist. There is no justification of human identify. It is quite similar with the hunger artist in the story. Hence, the story projects dark side of human existence too.

Towards the end of the story, the narrator says, "I have to fast, I can't help it, I could not find the food I like". Here, the word "food" does not signify the real food that we take every day but symbolizes the existential identity of the hunger artist which he is unable to get in the society. If he had got his existential identity in the society, he would not have taken fast. These lines reflects the absurdity of human existence. In his statement, it is clear that he suffers from the quest for identity. No food could satisfy his hunger throughout his life so he dies hungrily. His shadowed identity in a corner of circus completely vanishes after replacing old panther in his cage. Neither could he get reward of his fasting during his life nor any identity after his death. In this respect, the story projects tragedy of human life resembling with the blind fate of the hunger artist.

Published on: March 16, 2018

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Biography of Franz Kafka