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Hunger Artists

“A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka is a short story written in 1922 that tells the story of a professional hunger artist, or a performer who attracts spectators by refusing to eat any and all food for a specified amount of time.  It is speculated that Kafka was inspired by real life hunger artists, as the short-lived fad of fasting for an audience took place during his lifetime.  His character is also similar to an Italian hunger artist who attracted crowds all over Europe to watch him starve himself professionally.

The main character in “A Hunger Artist” is interesting because he seems to relish the challenge of fasting, and longs to go beyond the 40 days his impresario (manager) allows.  It becomes apparent, though, that one of the reasons why he fasts because of the attention he receives.  The 40 days seem easy to him, and he may have wanted to fast for even longer is so that he could gain more public attention.  He is disappointed that his impresario will not allow him to do so, even though it would most likely be very detrimental to his health.

An article that I found provides some background on hunger artists.  The majority of these people throughout the years seem to have performed fasts simply for public attention, and also to compete with one another.  Hunger artists in general strike me as “Kafkaesque” – a term inspired by Kafka’s life and works that means something is nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical.  “A Hunger Artist,” like his other works, seems to explore situations such as social isolation and unlikely circumstances.

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