A Hunger Artist | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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Course Hero. "A Hunger Artist Study Guide." June 7, 2019. Accessed September 22, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Hunger-Artist/.


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A Hunger Artist | Quotes


Back then the hunger artist captured the attention of the entire city.


The narrator tells the story from a point in the future, and here he looks to the distant past before the public's interest in the hunger artist began to decline. He sets the waning of this interest against the backdrop of what a lucrative business it once was in order to show how fickle the public's attention is, and how the hunger artist was considered a kind of commodity that ran counter to his sense of himself as an artist. The hunger artist both needs the audience to survive and resents them.


The honour of his art forbade it.


Although people like the impresario and the public see the hunger artist as a performer whose goal is to make money, the hunger artist sees himself as a serious artist—the money and fame seem secondary to him. He holds himself to a strict code of honor in his devotion to fasting, and it upsets him that people might assume that he cheats. For the hunger artist, the honor of his performance art is the reason to continue fasting. Ironically, no one else seems to hold him to the same standard.


Nothing was more excruciating to the hunger artist than such watchers. They depressed him.


Rather than be invigorated by the observers who are supposed to make sure the hunger artist doesn't eat, he finds the fact that they don't take their job seriously upsetting—they don't believe the hunger artist is truly fasting and so they sit away from him, pretending to look the other way as a kindness. Yet because the hunger artist takes his fasting seriously, the fact that they don't sincerely believe him makes him feel alienated from the entire ordeal. The hunger artist would prefer to be taken seriously, given the great lengths he goes to in order to continue his fasting.


No one could know [...] whether this was a case of truly continuous, flawless fasting.


The paradox of the hunger artist is that he devotes his life to the art of fasting, but the extent of his fasting can't be proven. This is because it is impossible for him to be watched around the clock, and therefore the only one who knows the truth is the hunger artist. This makes him the only "spectator" who could be satisfied with knowing the truth, yet the nature of his art demands a reciprocity with an audience as witness to his great feat of endurance. Franz Kafka hints at the philosophical conundrum that the hunger artist faces in being his only true witness.


He alone knew something that even initiates didn't know—how easy it was to fast.


The narrator highlights how alienated and alone the hunger artist is even within his own community. He seems to have attained a wisdom that other hunger artists haven't realized, and because he can't explain the ease of fasting to anyone else in a way they will relate to, it causes him a kind of suffering to be the only person with that knowledge. This only contributes to his self-perception of being misunderstood.


And at this moment the hunger artist always fought back.


The hunger artist isn't allowed to set his own fasting limits—the impresario caps it at 40 days because the audience begins to lose interest after that. The impresario drags the hunger artist out of his cage after 40 days is over, but the hunger artist fights back because he wants to continue. However, he is so weak from the fasting that fighting back is useless. This sense of being interrupted contributes to the hunger artist's sense of despair and alienation—the idea that no one truly understands him or what he is capable of.


Why did people want to rob him of the fame of fasting longer?


It's notable that for the hunger artist, his sense of fame comes from the idea of being able to fast for a longer period of time. For this reason, he can't understand why people like the impresario stop him prematurely. He also can't seem to grasp that the audience loses interest in his fast after a certain amount of time, or that people such as the two young women selected from the audience find him frightening to behold. Franz Kafka implies the hunger artist might only feel true satisfaction if he were able to continue fasting for as long as he can.


He felt there were no limits to his capacity for fasting.


The hunger artist seems to believe that if no limitations were placed on him he would be able to fast for as long as he desires. Here Franz Kafka highlights the idealism of the hunger artist, and how it runs counter to the expectations of the people around him as well as human biology. Since the hunger artist does eventually die from fasting, there are limits to what he can do. Yet the fasting seems to be a way that he seeks transcendence against bodily limitations. Although he never seems to find peace and satisfaction in his performance, he continues to push it farther because it offers him the possibility of contentment.


No one except the hunger artist—he was always the only one.


Here Franz Kafka conveys the ongoing dissatisfaction the hunger artist feels, which is also perhaps the reason why he continues to fast for even longer durations of time. After the impresario feeds him, the audience applauds and disperses, and "no one had the right to be dissatisfied with the event" because the hunger artist has been observed and has completed his fast. Yet it is telling that the hunger artist is always the only one who feels dissatisfied. The narrator has detailed the many reasons why this is: the hunger artist doesn't believe anyone takes him seriously, and he wishes to fast longer to prove there is no limit to his capacity for fasting.


His mood was usually gloomy, and it kept growing gloomier all the time.


Although it might seem the hunger artist would grow more confident and content the longer he performs, he only becomes gloomier as time goes by. The narrator points out that this is because he believes no one takes him seriously. This brings up the issue of why the hunger artist continues to perform if it has never brought him any kind of satisfaction. The answer may be that the hunger artist feels compelled to continue until he is able to find that elusive fulfillment or validation from his audience.


How was he to find consolation? What was there left for him to wish for?


The narrator shows how as time goes by, the hunger artist only becomes less fulfilled by his performance and relationship with the audience. Even at the peak of his popularity, he feels deeply alienated and misunderstood, and so there is no consolation for him. Yet rather than give up and choose to do something different, he continues to perform, even after his popularity declines. His only wish is to be taken seriously, and so he finds he has nothing else to wish for.


It was impossible to fight against this lack of understanding.


As the hunger artist tries to fight against the fact that the impresario lies about the hunger artist's ability to fast, he finds he is too weak to put up much of an argument. His sense of misunderstanding from the impresario and the audience only leads to his overall sense of alienation and despair that his art is not taken seriously. This conflict is at the heart of what causes the hunger artist's suffering.


It was as if a secret agreement against the fasting performances had developed everywhere.


Although the hunger artist debuted to large crowds and an interested audience, he and the impresario discover the interest in him has faded after a few tours. Although the hunger artist puzzles as to why this can be, given that his endurance remains the same, Franz Kafka implies that it is because of the fickle nature of capitalism and entertainment that leaves the crowd looking for something new to be entertained by. They don't fundamentally understand the hunger artist's performance, and so they cease to be captivated by it.


And this view from a distance still remained his most beautiful moment.


As the hunger artist finds himself relegated to a distant cage outside the main arena on the way to the animal exhibits, he finds the moment at which he can see the crowds coming towards him to be the most redeeming. In that moment he can imagine they are coming to see him, and he can also hear the audience argue over wanting to take their time to observe him. This gives him the illusion he requires to continue his art—that he has a witness to his suffering and endurance. For all the hunger artist's bleak moments of despair, this moment gives him hope.


If someone doesn't feel it, then he cannot be made to understand it.


By the end of the story, the hunger artist seems to accept that most people who come to the circus rush right past him on the way to see the menagerie of animals. He concedes to himself that people who have never fasted will never be able to understand it as both endurance and art, and it is useless to try to explain it otherwise. Yet the hunger artist continues with his performance, because he has no other purpose and meaning in life.

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