Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The lack of specific names for the hunger artist, the impresario, and the members of the audience suggests the symbolic nature of the story. The hunger artist may represent any artist or any person whose art or existence is grounded on a conviction of life’s meaninglessness. The hunger artist, as his name implies, craves nourishment. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the food desired is spiritual and that physical starvation is merely a metaphor for the soul’s malnourishment. The artist’s devotion to the art of starvation ironically demands that while consciously attempting to win understanding, he unconsciously must discourage human sympathy. He thus encages himself, turns himself into a grotesque, appeals to the sympathy of people who relish freak shows, refuses to verbalize his feelings, and in the end buries himself under straw.

Reflecting a tasteless, monotonous world, the performance proceeds by an absence of action. This passive art ensures the slow deterioration of an already fragile bond between the performer and his viewers. The many allusions to Christ emphasize the parodic nature of the hunger artist’s martyrdom. When the hunger artist at the end of a forty-day fast is helped from his cage by two frightened women, his outstretched arms form a cross. The hunger artist, however, unlike Christ, suffers not to affirm spiritual life but to reveal the absence of hope. The hunger artist’s consummate performance, the perfection...

(The entire section is 409 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Alienation & Isolation
‘‘A Hunger Artist’’ is the story of one man’s feelings of intense alienation and isolation....

(The entire section is 765 words.)