The hunger artist sees his life as a performance to which he is devoted. His very identity is linked to his self-perception as someone who starves himself for his art, and he is constantly striving to fast for longer periods to prove something both to his audience and to himself. Although he is met with hordes of fascinated crowds early in his career, he eventually parts ways with the impresario and joins a circus, where both the circus staff and the audience largely ignore his feat. He is often deeply unhappy with himself and the lack of attention and respect he feels from others—it seems to be the only validation for which he exists, even while he abhors it. In this sense, the hunger artist is alienated from everyone else who encounters him—yet he is the mastermind of that alienation.
The impresario is set up as a foil to the hunger artist—he represents someone who is interested only in the business and fame side of things. Although he presents himself as the hunger artist's partner, he actually exploits the hunger artist, who will continue to fast as long as possible for the sake of his art and devotion to fasting. The impresario literally profits off the hunger artist's deprivations. The role of the impresario reflects the way in which people profit off other people's suffering for financial gain—something the hunger artist cares little for. The two part ways when the hunger artist begins to lose his profitability with the audience. However, the impresario also keeps the hunger artist alive so he may profit, force-feeding him when he reaches the point of death.