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Thesis Statement: "The psyche of the people towards the hunger artist as a metaphor to the inconsistency, frailty and superficiality of human belief; through the eyes of Kafka as the hunger artist himself"
The story's use of profound metaphors, symbolisms and allegorical abstractions, are too intricately bound and woven so that a singular interpretation of "A hunger Artist" is a total impossibility. Therefore, this paper will try to tackle only two of the possible interpretations: the story as an autobiographical representation of Kafka himself, and his commentary on the flaws and frailty of human belief.
The story is about a hunger artist who professionally fasts for the entertainment of the people but later found himself struggling to keep his reputation and acclaim up, for the people began to slowly lose interest in his act; people even think he cheats by sneaking food; and his manager limits his fasting for forty days even though the hunger artist believes he can last longer. Without notice, the audience deserts the hunger artist. The hunger artist hires himself out to a circus and there people only watch him because he is near the menagerie, not because they are interested in him. He remains neglected until one day an overseer asks him if he is still fasting. The hunger artist asks for forgiveness and explains that people should not admire his fasting; he simply could never find any food he liked, but if he had, he would have eaten it. With that, he dies. The circus replaces him in his cage with a panther. Everyone is fascinated by the vitality of the panther, and they never want to move away.
Kafka sees himself in the hunger artist, his struggles as an artist himself, as a writer and as a human being- misunderstood and tormented- the apparent failure in understanding the true meaning of his works; the extent and depth of his parables and stories he felt can be truly understood by no one (at times even himself). And although most of his works were posthumous, Kafka might have foreseen a great difficulty from his future readers in trying to understand his works (this maybe why he had wished for all his works to be destroyed), - just as the hunger artist asked the people not to appreciate his fasting in the end- he saw the frailty of an average person's mind to see his story's true worth.
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"Looking inside Kafka in A Hunger Artist." 123HelpMe.com. 22 Apr 2019
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Now the psych of the people around the hunger artist as a representation of Man's own triviality and folly in his beliefs was depicted in the story by the reactions and perception of the people on the performance of the hunger artist. The people since the beginning saw the act as some sort of a joke, "for the elders he was often just a joke that happened to be in fashion." this is indicative of the unattainable worth behind Man's beliefs, may it be spiritual or mundane, Man often cling on to a particular belief that he has no true understanding of, though at the same time living in a false conception that he has understood and seen the truth behind this belief all along. Just as how the people around the hunger artist doubted his credibility and just saw him as an entertainment that happened to be in fashion. This can be related to Man's unpredictability in his own beliefs and convictions, that because Man's belief can only be understood in its most superficial and trivial sense, Man can never achieve perfection in everything he believes in, that in one way or the other, the Man's psyche and perception of morality, humanity, etc, will indefinitely be susceptible to change. And such beliefs can never be attained, thus, "To fight against this lack of understanding, against a whole world of non-understanding, was impossible." Although this can also be attributed to Kafka's helplessness and difficulties in his intention to make the world understand him and his thoughts, through his writings, that seemed to him an impossible task.
The sudden change on public interest, which caused the gradual disintegration of the hunger artist's popularity, is a perfect manifestation of Man's greatest follies and uncertainties. And lastly the panther, which replaced the hunger artist and was immediately loved by the people, is symbolic of Man's tendency to find relief and refuge from things that are easily understandable, blind, vicious, and more often, inhuman. Franz Kafka saw all of these- the weakness of the human mind in contrast to his insatiable intellectual and spiritual needs- both a hindrance to Man's and his true potentials in pursuit of what ought to be true and essential- To see and to feel the truths behind Kafka's works, yet he saw himself apart from everyone else, can only be done through trying to put meaning into his words. draft by rudyman