Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Franz Kafka’s dark parable describes the hunger artist’s ritual of self-annihilation and shows the ironic use of dissatisfaction as a stimulus for art. The narrator describes two periods of the artist’s life—that of the past, when people took a “lively interest” in spectacles of fasting, and that of recent times, when fasting has lost its popularity. Even in the early days of his career, the hunger artist feels the ingratitude of his audience, which continually questions his honesty. To demonstrate that no trickery is used, the artist sings during his fast. The watchers only consider him more clever for being able to sing while eating. No matter how much he craves respect for his achievement, the artist cannot gain his audience’s trust. More important, the hunger artist cannot even please himself, for he knows that he is indeed dishonest, not because he breaks the fast—he never does this—but because he alone knows how easy it is to fast. The fast, then, is not an act of self-fortitude and spiritual purification but rather an expression of the artist’s disdain for life.
The impresario reveals himself to be as uncaring as the public toward the hunger artist. The impresario sets a forty-day limit to the fast, not out of concern for the weakened artist but because public interest cannot be sustained beyond forty days. The impresario is concerned only with promoting the performance just as the watchers are interested only in their own amusement.
Epitomizing the isolation of the hunger artist is the description of the artist’s defeated reaction to the impresario’s display of photographs. When the hunger artist reacts violently to a comforter’s advice that the artist’s melancholy springs from fasting, the impresario apologizes for the hunger artist, explaining that his moodiness and irritability indeed result from fasting. Photographs are then shown of the artist, who on the fortieth day appears almost dead from malnutrition. The hunger artist watches the audience accept the lie that his...
(The entire section is 834 words.)
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