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In The Vegetarian by Han Kang, “Fat” by Raymond Carver, and “A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka, most of the people suffering from obese or anorexia are tortured souls looking for something beyond themselves or their circumstances. Their actions concerning food represent how they seek out this greater existence. In The Vegetarian the woman wants to lose the marks and paint that she has gotten from living and transcend into a pure existence unmarked by what she has become in life. I think that this captures the essence of what the others characters in “Fat” and “A Hunger Artist” are striving for, though perhaps not to the extent of losing everything that shaped them into the person they are.  

However, despite this common goal, there is a notable difference in the character’s behavior in their search for something greater than themselves. Should one starve, cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, or should one reach out and gorge themselves in living? Yeong-hye in The Vegetarian chose starvation, isolating herself in the hospital away from almost everyone but her sister. However, the man in “A Hunger Artist” also doesn’t eat for days on end and eventually dies from it, but he does not find the satisfaction in his decision or understanding from at least one other person that Yeong-hye had with her sister. Thus the ‘moral’ of “A Hunger Artist,” if one can call it that, is hiding away from the world is not the way to find self-satisfaction. One should connect with the world as the panther did to fill that need for something greater, not withdrawing.

This distinction from Yeong-hye’s choice is also seen in the short story “Fat.” Rita reaches out into the world to connect with an overweight man eating at her dinner. She sees his unhappiness and recognizes her dissatisfaction with her life and herself and knows that something will soon change even if she can not say what. The fat man himself also leans away from Yeong-hye’s choice. He chose to deal with his hunger by stuffing himself. Even with the peer pressure around, he is not stupid, could probably hear the fat jokes, and see the sly glances of disgusted amusement with every spoon full he took, he continues to eat because, “If we had our choice, no. But, there is no choice.”

In the end, it is not those with eating disorders that are unaware of the consequences of food. It is us ‘normal’ ones that are ignorant.

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