A Hunger Artist Summary – Franz Kafka

A Hunger Artist Summary - Franz Kafka
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A Hunger Artist is a story made by Franz Kafka, first published in 1922. The story is also included in Kafka’s last story collection prepared for publication by Kafka himself, titled A Hunger Artist. The story is extremely bleak and fable-like, devoid of a clear moral lesson at the end.

Summary Of A Hunger Artist

The story narrates the tragic tale of a hunger artist, a man devoted to fasting by depriving himself completely of other aspects of life. It begins with reminiscences of a hunger artist’s former popularity, where families used to visit to observe his fasting process, once a popular event. However, the artist becomes greatly disillusioned as he feels that this spectacle, which was once the pride of his art, was never truly recognized as genuine art, and people struggled to believe he wasn’t cheating.

During this peak of popularity, it’s described how the public would watch the artist in shifts. Some guards took it lightly and intentionally tempted the hunger artist with food, which infuriated him. Others took it more seriously, conversing with him throughout the night and expressing gratitude for him in the morning, which was a source of pride for the artist. However, since no one was willing to observe him fasting for an extended period, his honesty was always in doubt.

During this time of popularity, a hunger artist is managed by an impresario. However, the impresario’s interest is more about safeguarding his investment than genuine concern. He determines that the hunger artist’s fasting period should not exceed forty days, which is the attention span of a town’s populace. This always angers the artist as he believes he can fast for much longer periods.

In fact, the hunger artist prides himself on being someone who never leaves his cage by his own free will – “that people should bow to.” At the end of the forty-day fasts, the impresario arranges extravagant celebrations, which are not in line with the spirit of the artist’s work. These post-fast “celebrations” end with the hunger artist being seated at a table while the impresario raises a toast to the audience.

As the years pass, the hunger artist’s popularity declines. Eventually, feeling that his greatest days are yet to come and seeking a new audience, he leaves his impresario and joins the circus world. However, he’s placed in a low-priority position near the animal cages. He’s hardly visible to the general public and mostly interacts with the audience during intermissions or when people are trying to leave. Ultimately, he can fast freely beyond the forty-day limit and achieve his greatest successes, but since there’s no one to observe and give meaning to his fasting, even the hunger artist himself doesn’t remember how many days he’s gone without food.

One day, a guard and other attendants peer into what seems to be a tidy cage and find a long-neglected hunger artist on the brink of death. He expresses his desire to be respected, but when they offer it to him, he scolds them. His last words are simply that he fasted because he couldn’t find any food he loves to eat.

As soon as the hunger artist died, the circus replaces him with a young panther. The panther, much more impressive than a hunger artist, becomes the new spectacle, and the story’s final image is of the audience gathering in admiration around the cage of this new exhibit.

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