Mortality and Pleasure

Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist” is about a man who starves himself for the entertainment of others. He sees fame and adoration with his impresario but breaks off the connection and goes to work for the circus when the impresario won’t let him fast for more that forty days at a time. At the circus he places himself next to the menagerie and dies of starvation. That the hunger artist starves himself for the pleasure of others touches on our human desire to gain immortality through enduring commendation and fame and the innate sense of morbidity that fascinates the human mind.

.  The reader can apply the hunger artist’s relentless pursuit of immortality through lasting recognition to the real world. The hunger artist expresses his desire to be recognized when he works for the circus. He says, “At first he could hardly wait for the intervals; it was exhilarating to watch the crowds come streaming his way, until only too soon … without exception, were all on their way to the menagerie.”(Kafka). The hunger artist is slowly being forgotten and left all alone in his cage. He is no longer capable of achieving his dream of lasting commendation. He has melted away from the public eye, yes, despite this, he still craves attention and love. As he’s dying the hunger artist’s last words are “I always wanted you to admire my fasting … [b]ut you shouldn’t admire it … [b]ecause I have to fast, I can’t help it,’” displaying how desperately he craved admiration. This is the paradox between wanting to be admired and not feeling worthy of being admired. Kafka demonstrates to the reader  how people desire and cope with not achieving lasting fame and recognition.

Kafka’s narrative demonstrates through parable how the human race is enthralled with morbidity because it has yet to achieve immortality. This is demonstrated through the replacement of the hunger artist with a young panther. The hunger artist, his youth and vitality spent, is tossed aside carelessly and buried. When he is replaced by the young panther “even the most insensitive felt it refreshing to see this wild creature leaping around the cage that had so long been dreary”(Kafka). People came to see the hunger artist because they needed to watch a man dying in order to contemplate their own morbidity and short lived time. Eventually the mortality of the hunger artist becomes too much to bear to watch. The panther is young and healthy so people are content to watch the life drain away from the young panther. This is what fascinates us as a species, the aging and death of others.

Kafka’s short story shows the reader the mesmerizing inner nature of morbidity and pursuit of immortality through lasting recognition. This is revealed through the hunger artist’s replacement with the young panther after he dies and his constant need for attention and validation from the public. The inner human being is one that craves acceptance yet still sees others as people who are just going to die someday.

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