Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 511 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The narrator lives in Kristiania, the capital city of Norway, where he suffers greatly from hunger. When he awakens in the morning, he looks around his spartan, drafty room for something to eat but as usual finds nothing. He knows that his condition is becoming desperate. He has looked in vain for work, and he took most of his belongings to the pawnshop. His only other source of income is the occasional sale of a story or article to one of the local newspapers.
After getting out of bed, the narrator starts walking the streets of the city. He feels bad because old friends seem to shun him, thinking that he is going to ask them for money. He is embarrassed because he is unable to give even the smallest coin to a beggar. His sense of shame leads him to take his vest to a pawnshop that he did not visit before, after which he gives most of the money from the vest to the beggar.
While thinking about his writing projects, the narrator behaves erratically. He tells gratuitous lies to strangers and accosts two unfamiliar women, one of whom takes note of him. After a fruitless day, he returns home to find a letter from his landlady, in which she demands the next month’s rent. When the narrator awakens the next morning, he can feel the influence of artistic inspiration. While still in the grip of this emotion, he manages to write down a lengthy and, to his mind, promising sketch. Since he has no money left, he decides to move out of his room. Carrying his few belongings, he goes to a newspaper editor to sell his story. The editor is unable to find time to read the piece, however, so the narrator spends the night in the nearby woods.
The next day he is even hungrier. He tried to borrow money for food from friends, and he applies for work, but without success. He plans to spend the night on a bench. When he is interrupted by a policeman, he walks back to his old lodgings, where he finds a letter waiting for him from the newspaper editor, who praises his manuscript and informs him that he will pay ten crowns for it. This gives the narrator money for food and other necessities for a while.
Two weeks later the money is used up, and the narrator is starving again. He is hallucinating about finding money in the streets, about his current writing project, which seems extremely promising to him, and about the...
(The entire section is 956 words.)