My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
About the author:
Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist and short story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic, typically features isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.
His best-known works include ‘The Metamorphosis’, ‘The Trial’, ‘The Castle’. The term Kafkaesque has entered the English language to describe situations like those in his writing. While Kafka’s works were published in literary magazines, he received little public attention during his lifetime. After his death, however, his work was recognized and it went on to influence a vast range of writers, critics, artists, and philosophers during the 20th century.
‘A Hunger Artist’ is about an artist who starves himself as an art. Back in the days, the hunger artist used to be displayed in a cage and a lot of people paid money to admire his art. But, the times have changed and people just don’t care about him anymore. The story is highly metaphorical and different interpretations can be drawn from it.
And when once in a while a person strolling past stood there making fun of the old number and talking of a swindle, that was in a sense the stupidest lie which indifference and innate maliciousness could invent, for the hunger artist was not being deceptive—he was working honestly—but the world was cheating him of his reward.
‘A hunger artist’ can be an allegory of an artist. When the artist is at the peak of his career, he is given immense attention and appreciation yet, there are people who misunderstand his art and doubt his talents. As time passes, people’s attention and interest gets diverted towards something novel or maybe better and no one cares about the washed-up artist anymore.
The obsession of an artist with realizing his full potential and his suffering due to not getting the recognition he deserves might lead him to isolate himself from the world. This can cause the artist to lose himself in his art and take it too far to the point of no return. Eventually, the artist just fades into obscurity. Kafka, an artist, might be writing about his own experience; he lived an isolated life plagued with problems and never received recognition in his lifetime.
It could also refer to people who don’t fit in with the norms of the society and hence, stand out even more. People who lead different lives due to what they do or who they are and they might feel isolated from the society and feel like they’re trapped in a cage only to be gawked at by everyone but understood and accepted by no one.
“Just look at you,” said the supervisor, “why can’t you do anything else?” “Because,” said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little and, with his lips pursed as if for a kiss, speaking right into the supervisor’s ear so that he wouldn’t miss anything, “because I couldn’t find a food which I enjoyed. If had found that, believe me, I would not have made a spectacle of myself and would have eaten to my heart’s content, like you and everyone else.”
The story of a hunger artist could also represent people who are forced to make different choices in their life due to the circumstances and they end up doing something they never wanted to do in the first place. Even though they tried to make the most of it, there’s this underlying regret and wishful thinking that things could’ve turned out differently.
This is a deep and thought-provoking story and I highly recommend it.