Feed on

Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” revolves around a hunger artist’s career, mainly focusing on how this individual starves himself for his audience, rather than a personal reason (being a disorder, religious purposes, or what has now become a popularized diet plan). While the plot of this story seems to be straightforward, there are many themes throughout the text which make for a much more complex message, which also relates to “The Vegetarian” in some aspects.

     First, within “A Hunger Artist,” there are many details pertaining to the artists’ starvation as an act which the protagonist speculates about, such as only being allowed to not eat for a maximum of 40 days (a regulation set in place by the impresario). Also included is the ritual which occurs during the artists’ mealtime. These details lead to the most obvious, but possibly the most important aspect of “A Hunger Artist”: the protagonist’s relationship with food. The hunger artist does not find it difficult, in the slightest, to go 40 days with no nutrition. In fact, he finds it quite easy to not eat for this amount of time. Once the ritual of being fed arrives, the hunger artist thinks to himself:


“…how easy it was to fast. It was the easiest thing in the world…Why stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days of it? …why stop now, when he was in his best fasting form, or rather, not yet quite in [his] best fasting form? …he felt that there were no limits to his capacity for fasting.”


     Clearly, the hunger artists’ relationship with food is one which is convoluted and (almost) non-existent. Because he is so familiar with the feeling of ‘hunger,’ a feeling which does not plague him in a negative way, and is actually seen to be comforting, he feels constrained by the impresario. This is also a relationship with food which can be somewhat applied to Yeong-Hye in “The Vegetarian,” and after reading both of these stories I was able to make this connection. The feeling of constraint regarding dietary choices seems to be largely thematic in both of these texts and relates seamlessly to the next topic: trustworthiness.

     Regarding the hunger artist’s relationship to food, there is always the question of whether or not the public that views him as an act believes if he is actually going 40 days without food. Kafka portrayed this to readers when he wrote


“Such suspicions, anyhow, were a necessary accompaniment to the profession of fasting. No one could possibly watch the hunger artist continuously, day and night, and so no one could produce first-hand evidence that the fast had really been rigorous and continuous; only the artist himself could know that, he was therefore bound to be the sole completely satisfied spectator of his own fast.”


     The protagonist of this story is seemingly concerned with the ‘belief factor’ that he is not eating. While he does not attempt to actively prove that he is not indulging in meals when there is nobody else around, his own knowledge of this fact provides him with enough satisfaction that he is doing what he is supposed to be doing (in this scenario, not eating). Alternatively, when taking a look at “The Vegetarian,” Yeong-Hye must prove to not only her familial members but as well as medical professionals, that she is getting enough nutrition. The reason as to why she is in a medical facility also relates back to the theme of honesty, as nobody trusts her enough to eat on her own. These are two contrasting viewpoints of the relationship to food that intertwine with honesty, a component of these two stories which I found to be extremely interesting.

     Finally, an important aspect concerning “A Hunger Artist” is the protagonist’s relationship to the public and his dissatisfaction with their reactions to his circumstance. This also applies to the overseer which is incorporated within “A Hunger Artist,” and the audience learns of the artists’ feelings on starvation as an art when the two characters have a brief conversation.


““I always wanted you to admire my fasting,” said the hunger artist. “We do admire it,” said the overseer, affably. “But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist. “Well then we don’t admire it,” said the overseer, “but why shouldn’t we admire it?” “Because I have to fast, I can’t help it,” said the hunger artist.”


     These are clearly two conflicting views the hunger artist had on his situation which he never genuinely portrayed until the end of his life. The relationship the protagonist had with the public relating to what he did with his “nomadic” life was a complex one and showed that maybe he did not believe that what he was doing was truly artistic, as it was being advertised. In fact, the act of starvation should not be seen as an attraction, but rather a debilitation, or a negative (maybe even positive?) mindset. Overall, the deeper themes within this specific story made for a very interesting and entertaining read, and I am happy to explore them in-depth.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.