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Franz Kafka As A Hunger Artist

2862 words - 12 pages

Through much of Franz Kafka’s writing, the reader can see how his personal experiences and viewpoints are clearly worked into his many stories. One of which stands out is his story A Hunger Artist. In this story Kafka speaks through the hunger artist of the alienation and isolation he feels in his own body, as well as the emptiness he feels as a result of the disconnected relationship he and his father share. Ironically this emptiness manifests itself quite literally at the end of Kafka’s life, when he dies as a result of tuberculosis of the larynx, which causes him to literally starve to death, just as the hunger artist in the story. It was said about his writing “the early manifestations ...view middle of the document...

” (Kafka 715) Though emaciated almost to the point of death, he quickly recovers and after brief recuperation intervals performs again and again.
Professional fasting eventually goes into decline, as audiences develop a taste for newer, more exciting forms of entertainment. The hunger artist is too old to take up a new profession, so he attempts to ride out the trend against fasting in the hope that it reverses itself. He then joins the circus and becomes a sideshow. People visit his cage in the circus-tent, but only because it is next to the entrance of the menagerie of animals, which the spectators are fascinated by. All's changed, now no tally is kept of the number of fasting days achieved. There are no guards. “And so the hunger-artist just went on fasting as he had once dreamed of doing, and it was indeed no trouble for him to do so, as he had always predicted, but no one counted the days; no one, not even the hunger-artist himself, knew how great his achievement was, and his heart grew heavy.” (718)
So the world ends up robbing the hunger artist of his reward. Indifference replaces admiration, and he dies. The hunger artist, who spent his life trying to achieve spiritual satisfaction, is buried with the straw from his cage, and replaced by a panther. The panther wants for nothing. Though the panther is caged, it is so comfortable in its own skin that it projects an aura of freedom.
Kafka, on the other hand was not someone who was comfortable in his own skin. “The fact is that Kafka’s student years, roughly between the ages of eighteen and twenty five,…was a time…when he seemed determined to break down some of the walls of what he perceived as his prison…He wanted to be, not quite like everybody else…but enough like them to feel at ease in his own skin.” (Pawel 123)
Throughout his whole life, Kafka felt that his childhood had crippled him, reinforcing his belief of seeing himself as an outcast, living in a cage much like the hunger artist himself. Like the hunger artist, he too lived in a state of constant want for both food and recognition, as he longed for his father’s acceptance. From the very beginning of Kaka’s life, his family had been organized by, around, and for the benefit of his overbearing father. As a result of his father’s constant criticisms, Kafka began to criticize himself, as he felt crushed by his ever present burden of guilt, which he turned into self-hatred.
“One of the most significant influences on Kafka’s life and work was his domineering father. Kafka’s stories often contain themes drawn from the burden of his father’s tyranny in his home life, depicting settings of confinement as well as convoluted systems of punishment and other expressions of seemingly all powerful authority.” (Miline 100) He blames his father for having robbed him of his childhood, never giving him the attention he is starving for, and like the hunger artist, he spends his whole life seeking it. The most sustained account of Kafka’s...

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