Hunger, which was based on Hamsun’s many unhappy experiences in Norway’s capital city of Christiania, was one of the first modern psychological novels in world literature. Told in the first person, it is the story of a young writer of exceptional sensibility, who, stripped of all of his property and without any reliable means of support, is about to perish from extreme hunger. The book contains little action in the traditional sense. With the exception of the story of a few attempts to secure employment and the account of a brief encounter with a lady of the middle class, the text consists almost exclusively of reports of the narrator’s mental life during periods of starvation.
The experience of hunger was surely not uncommon among artists at the time and the social consequences of hunger figure prominently in the naturalistic literature of the Scandinavian countries. The importance of Hunger lies not in its subject matter but rather in the manner in which the author deals with it, for his focus is on a portrayal of the strange workings of the mind while in an altered state resulting from the lack of nourishment. To this end, Hamsun uses a stream-of-consciousness technique through which the reader is given access both to the perceptions, moods, and strange ideas of the narrator and to his reflections on his own state of mind.
The narrator views himself as a completely committed artist, and his concern is both to prevent...
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