Feed on

Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” and Raymond Carver’s “Fat” demonstrate how society often defines people by their looks. In “A Hunger Artist”, public fasting is a popular activity, with many citizens traveling from all around the world to view the fasters in their cages as though they were zoo animals. In “Fat”, the opposite is true; most of the main characters spend the entire story ridiculing the unnamed customer for his size. In both cases, the identity of each character is their size and effects the level of respect that they receive from others.

Both stories can also serve as examples of how we sometimes tend to view such people as mere spectacles for our own entertainment; there are countless reality shows that revolve around overweight people and their journeys back to health. Likewise, models and actors are often idolized for their slender figures; they are the stars of innumerable commercials, magazine covers, and advertisements that all serve to pander to the public’s need for young, thin, beautiful people to obsess over and aspire to be.

Going back to this notion of identity, the way that these characters are treated—the fat man as a nuisance and the hunger artist as a hero—couldn’t be more different to their actual personalities. The fat man is portrayed as a polite, well-dressed gentleman, and the hunger artist is shown to be rather arrogant and cynical with no humility in the least. However, because of their looks, everyone else around them has already made up their minds about them. The hunger artist can be as unpleasant as he chooses, but because of the incredible feat he is undertaking, his admirers are unwilling to hold his flaws against him; the fat man can dress as nice as he pleases and be as polite as he chooses, but because of his size, the people around him assume that he is just some slob with no real value.

Both Kafka and Carver do a magnificent job of working social commentary into their stories; reading these stories today, this commentary feels even more relevant than ever before. However, there is a timelessness to both of these stories for their shared and simple message of not judging a book by its cover.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.