Looking inside Kafka in A Hunger Artist

Looking inside Kafka in A Hunger Artist

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Looking inside Kafka in "A Hunger Artist"


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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The folly in people around the hunger artist, there superficiality and inconsistency as followers of the performance, is reflective of this vision of Kafka, that there can be no reader who can truly understand what he is experiencing, his thoughts and ideologies, that his stories cannot, at any rate, embody fully Kafka's true intentions, emotions and understandings. Like the Hunger artist who had exerted all his effort to show to the people how authentic and true he was with his craft, singing even just to prove that he was not cheating when the watchers leaves him alone, but all of it to no avail. "No one could possibly watch the hunger artist continuously, and so no one could produce first-hand evidence that the fast had really been rigorous and continuous; he was the sole completely satisfied spectator of his own fast."

The meaning of fasting as an art is reflective of Kafka's human spirit and of his ‘humanness.' Kafka lived a life of indifference, solitude and discontent, working for years on a job he did not even want and even detested, and having had very little social life during his adult years. It was in these monotonies, superficialities and trivialities of human life that he saw himself discouraged and helplessly disparate from; the many failed marriages he suffered (or not) and the tumultuous relationship he had with his father, left a deep impression on this story, the suffering of the hunger artist, not out of starvation, but out of the lack of appreciation and understanding. Kafka saw his human spirit and mind emaciated and deteriorated in out of the shallowness of the conventional, out of his own incapacity to fully satisfy his spiritual and intellectual needs, which seemed to be rather insatiable, with Man's known accepted logic, values and thinking, the many truths Man felt so sure about did not appeal to him- or nothing appealed to him at all. We see this in the last words of the hunger artist, when the overseer asked him why he can't help it to fast, "because I couldn't find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else." Kafka did not found any of the things in this world edible for his mind to take on. But Kafka found pleasure in living his life the way he did, deprived from all the things he saw was trivial and unessential, pouring all his strengths and genius into trying to put into words his thoughts, it was an honor for him- just as how the hunger artist found pleasure and honor in his art- thus, consequently producing a brand new style of writing and becoming one of the greatest influences of the surrealist literary movement.

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
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