Short Story Analysis

"A Hunger Artist" by Franz Kafka

Critical Biography

Franz Kafka, the author of A Hunger Artist and many other short stories, was born and raised in Prague, a capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was raised by successful parents and had a planned course in life to follow. He was often compared to his father, being the only surviving son, and he felt like a disappointment. Kafka lived a sorrowful life in his father’s shadow. It was filled with trials and ordeals leading him to retire with tuberculosis at 39. After he had retired, he wrote many fiction short stories. “In his works, Kafka presents a grotesque vision of the world in which alienated, angst-ridden individuals vainly seek to transcend their condition or pursue some unattainable goal” ("Franz Kafka"). His short stories consist of the hardships of life ending with disappointment. Kafka expresses his feelings of alienation in "A Hunger Artist" where the main character locks himself in a cage, separating himself from others. He continued to write these distressing stories until he died two years after retirement. Franz Kafka lived an unsatisfying life that seemed to reflect on his short stories.

"A Hunger Artist" Summary

"A Hunger Artist" by Franz Kafka is about a professional faster who was once a must-see attraction. People would come for days to watch him and talk to him. He would fast for forty whole days straight. No one was concerned about him or his health, just the show. Thus, he felt a profound loneliness even with all the fans he had gained. After years of performing, amusement-seekers stopped enjoying his shows. They would rather watch exciting attractions, so they stopped coming. He loved fasting way too much to stop, so he fasted as a circus attraction. People passed him by without notice on their way to the animals. Even the circus staff forgot about him until they found him dying in his cage. His bitter death did not affect the circus, though, as they cleared out the cage immediately for a bigger and better attraction.

Analysis of Theme

In the short story “A Hunger Artist”, there is one major theme that stood out to me throughout the entire story. The theme was, no matter how successful you are, you will continue to live a dismal life until you find happiness. This theme applies to “A Hunger Artist” in which the main character lives a dreary life through success and failure. The hunger artist goes from the biggest attraction in his city to working as a sideshow at a circus. His lack of happiness is the reason he is not truly successful throughout his lifetime. “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” (Kafka). Throughout the story, Kafka hints at the theme through actions and thoughts displayed by the characters. For example, the hunger artist needed someone to be the slightest bit concerned for him. “And if some good-natured person, feeling sorry for him, tried to console him by pointing out that his melancholy was probably caused by fasting, it could happen…” (Kafka). He could never be happy until he knew that people were worried that he was hurting his health and his mindset. Also, the hunger artist shows his knack for going without eating for weeks. On the brink of death, he states that he does not eat because he cannot find a food he likes. “Food, for obvious reasons, symbolizes life, and the hunger artist’s inability to find ‘the food that I liked’ symbolizes his inability to muster a passion for living” (“A Hunger Artist,” 102). The hunger artist’s lacking life was based on other people’s nonexistent interest in him. That is why no matter how much fame and popularity he reaches, he will remain unsatisfied and troubled at heart (“A Hunger Artist,” 104).

Works Cited

"A Hunger Artist." Short Stories for Students. Ed. Franz Kafka. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale, 2000. 99-121. Print.

"Franz Kafka." Gale Online Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale, 2016. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 May 2016.

Kafka, Franz. "A Hunger Artist." PDF File.