A Hunger Artist

by Franz Kafka
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Analyze the following passage in “A Hunger Artist”: “The food he liked was brought to him without hesitation by the attendants; he seemed not even to miss his freedom; his noble body, furnished almost to the bursting point with all that it needed, seemed to carry freedom around with it too; somewhere in his jaws it seemed to lurk; and the joy of life streamed with such ardent passion from his throat that for the onlookers it was not easy to stand the shock of it.”

The description of the panther in the last paragraph of Franz Kafka's story “A Hunger Artist” provides a sharp contrast to the freedom and discipline of the hunger artist. The panther appears powerful and vital but is a captive, while the hunger artist is weak and exhausted yet has found freedom.

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This quotation from Franz Kafka's story “A Hunger Artist” appears at the very end of the tale and provides a sharp contrast to the majority of the story. The narrative revolves around a hunger artist, a man who fasts for many days in order to provide a spectacle for crowds. This man would fast for up to forty days at a time, and he always marvels at how little people understand of him or of his motives.

Eventually, however, the spectacle wears off, and the hunger artist joins a circus where his fasting is usually ignored in favor of the greater interest the crowd shows in the wild animals. Eventually, people forget about the hunger artist altogether, and he slowly starves to death. Right before he dies, however, a supervisor speaks to the hunger artist, who tells him that he must fast, for he cannot help it. He could never find food he liked. If he had, he would have eaten the same as anyone else. With this confession, the man dies.

The last paragraph shifts to the new occupant of the hunger artist's cage. It is a young panther, and this creature is truly exciting. He has plenty of food, exactly what he likes the most, and he hardly notices that he is not free. His body seems free, for it is full and sleek and noble, and there is passion and a “joy of life” in this cat that spectators marvel at as they crowd around him. The panther exhibits a vitality that is appealing, even captivating (ironically, since the panther is really the captive and does not know it).

Notice the contrast here. The people used to be fascinated by the hunger artist's weakness and commitment. Now they are fascinated by the brute strength and ignorance of an animal. They used to admire the self-control of a person who did not eat and is held in the cage by his own free will and discipline. Now they crowd around to watch a panther who eats almost to bursting—simply because of his animal nature—yet remains a captive. These people have little concept of the depth of humanity or true freedom, for they are drawn to the power of a captive beast.

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