Kafka’s (Hunger) Artist

In Kafka’s story “A Hunger Artist” an omniscient narrator relates the story of a professional faster/ hunger artist, and this man’s struggle with the pressures that being an artist entails. Kafka’s story can be interpreted as a parable about being an artist because it captures both how rewarding practicing an art can be as well as an artist’s struggle with being misunderstood.

The character of the hunger artist exposes that being an artist is an extremely rewarding profession because of the recognition that you can receive. Kafka writes, “He was quite happy at the prospect of spending a sleepless night with such watchers; he was ready to exchange jokes with them…” Although the hunger artist is starving in his cage, he still wants to interact with others because he loves his art. It pleases him to know that people are watching because he, as an artist, desires recognition. There are many reasons why artists create their works, but the main reasons seem to be to attempt to satisfy themselves as well as to receive recognition from others. The hunger artist has put so much time and effort into his art that it lifts his spirits to know that other people appreciate his work. This therefore encapsulates the rewarding feeling that practicing art and receiving recognition for it can be and demonstrates the relationship between this story and artistry.

On the other hand, artists are never fully satisfied with their work and are always striving toward a non-existent perfection. This chronic dissatisfaction tends to isolate them from the general public, thus representing an artist’s struggle with being misunderstood. This is clear at the end of the story when the hunger artist explains that the reason he fasts is because he never found any “food” that he liked, and if he had he would have stuffed his face like everyone else. The “food” that the hunger artist is referring to is self-satisfaction. As an artist, he is never fully satisfied with himself or his art. Non-artists are not quite as obsessed with this idea of perfection and are therefore capable of being satisfied with themselves. Because these people find the “food” that they like, they do not understand the motives behind why the hunger artist does what he does. However, the artist isn’t like that, so he distinguishes himself from the others which in turn makes him feel more misunderstood.

Thus, it is clear that Kafka’s story is in fact a parable for being an artist. Kafka chose to demonstrate the successes and struggles of an artist with the example of fasting, because it is somewhat foreign to other cultures where fasting is not practiced as an art. This therefore makes the reader think more about how dynamic art really is. Kafka effortlessly relates the art of hunger to art in general. 193

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