The Influence of Pride on the Hero in the Story “The Hunger Artist”

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At the beginning of the story, the hunger artist is at the height of his popularity. He is drawing huge crowd to his performances and hopes to be best hunger artist ever. Despite, his success, the hunger artist is dissatisfied because he does not have complete control over his performance. His manager adds drama to please the taste of the audience. Suddenly, the hunger artist is no longer popular. Audience is not interested in watching a starving guy in a cage. The manager and artist tour throughout Europe, trying to find an audience , but they have no luck. No longer popular artist fires his manager and joins the circus, where he is just now a sideshow. The exotic animals are way more popular. While, in the beginning the artist still had some hope that someone would appreciate his act, it become clear that no one really cares. Most spectators who pass by his cage are in a hurry to get to animal menagerie. As time goes, the artist loses tracks of the days. He finally beats his forty days record, but no one, not even himself, knows exactly how long he has starved. The hunger artist entirely disappears from the public eye. The circus manager notices the artist cage, where the weakened artist is buries beneath some straw. In a final twist, a young panther replaces the artist. The panther is hugely popular with the crowds. The fact that at this point in time, the crowd prefers the panther over the artist makes his death seem even more pathetic.

Influence from reality: ‘A Hunger Artist’ is partially based on the real historical phenomenon of ‘professional fasting’. Breon Mitchell, in his article ‘Kafka and the hunger artist’ has brought to the light the history of a world famous hunger artist whose coverage in local newspaper may have inspired Kafka’s story. Mitchell points out that “almost every detail of Kafka’s story corresponds with reality is so close that Kafka could not possibly have written the tale without some direct or indirect knowledge of the best known hunger artist of his time”. The profession of ‘Professional fasting’ lasted from 1880- 1922, roughly the years of kafka’s lifespan. The first professional fast was accomplish by Dr. Henry Tanner , an American who was said to have gone for forty days under medical observation without food. The most famous of European imitators was Giovanni Succi on whom Kafka’s story was most likely to based. Giovanni performed for at least 30 different times upto 30 days in various European cities. Although not cages, but these hunger artist were generally displayed in some kind of confinement. However, in general these professional fasters had normal body types and looked relatively healthy both before and after their fasts. In light of this Kafka may have combined a different type of entertainer with the professional fasters in creating his character.

Analysis: starved for attention The problem with public spectacle is often that its flame of enticement burns out over time. This premise serves as the central focus in, A Hunger Artist. The author depicts the hunger artist’s eventual downfall through themes of isolation to society and his extreme hubris that only further separates him and makes his reasoning and ambition even more misunderstood by his spectators. The hunger artist relationship with humanity is weakened severely as time progresses. Within the text Kafka repeatedly mentions the hunger artist detachment through themes of isolation. He states, ‘ so he lived for many years, with small regular intervals of recuperation , in visible glory , honored by the world, yet in spite of that, troubled in spirit, and all the more troubled because no-one would take his trouble seriously’. Even though he is first glorified by the world for his spectacle, the lack of understanding for what it takes to do, what does make him uneasy in his mind and spirit knowing that the public is celebrating him for something they can neither comprehend nor relate to. Because they cannot comprehend what his talent takes, they are not fully fazed by what they see since they cannot appreciate the spectacle. Kafka illustrates this as: “…. and no one had any cause to be dissatisfied with the proceedings , no one except the hunger artist himself, he only as always”.

Isolation goes hand in hand with pride, a fact best demonstrated by the way in which the artist isolates himself due to his determination to accomplish his goals and focus only on his artistic purpose. So it is ultimately his excessive pride that fuels the public diminishing opinion of him. Kafka illustrates this immense ego in the following quote, “ he was ready to exchange jokes with them to tell them stories out of his nomadic life, anything at all to make them anything at all to keep them awake and demonstrate to them again that he had not eatables in his cage and that he was fasting as not one of them could fast here”, he brags about his abilities that his on lookers clearly do not possess. Despite the fact that his immense pride isolates him from society, it is also what allows him to push himself further and starve himself until a point where his talent becomes second nature on him leaving one to wonder that if something becomes so innate, is it even really a talent at all anymore or perhaps merely a learned behavior, born out of a need for acceptance and adulation. In “A Hunger Artist” two key themes, isolation and pride becomes readily apparent and ultimately lead to the artist’s demise. By understanding these themes and their relevance to the story, the reader is able to both empathize with and condemn the main character; as he allows pride in his talent to consume him and further isolate him from society.

Apart from the artist’s hubris, Kafka is trying to make some kind of hidden commentary. First of all, artist that is kept in “cage” often represent “restriction” and also there is a manager who is making money by the art of the artist. We have the artist who live their miserable lives in the society are taken advantage of by manager to sacrifice their physical needs for their art. And to conclude this, Franz Kafka was a big critic of the capitalist system at one point he even said that it is a system of mutual enslavement from top to bottom and this is harsh cry to humanity to stop living by strictly utilitarian principles of weighing pros and cons of a decision without taking into account our humanity. This is seen when the impresario after 40 days makes hunger artist stop not for humanitarian reasons but purely economic and when people lost interest in the hunger artist they simply let him die.

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The Influence of Pride on the Hero in the Story “The Hunger Artist”. (2022, Oct 04). Retrieved July 12, 2024 , from
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