Hunger

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518

Wandering the streets with grandiose ambitions to write an opus on Philosophical Consciousness, the indigent narrator impetuously pawns his waistcoat to assist a beggar. He follows a strange woman whom he privately calls “Ylayali.” He moves out of his boarding house and ends up sleeping in the woods. Though he sabotages his own attempt to get a job in a grocery, the first section concludes triumphantly, with payment of 10 kroner for a newspaper article.

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Part 2 reverts to a mood of desperation and to the narrator’s introverted fantasies. Registering as a vagrant with the police, he spends a bizarre night in jail. After his release, he is disappointed in his appeals to a clergyman and to friends. The section concludes with an acquaintance pawning a watch for him.

When the narrator tries to beg a candle, the clerk mistakenly thinks he has already paid for it and even gives him change. Later, he proudly returns the money. “Ylayali” pursues him, but he spurns her affection.

While trying to write a blasphemous play, the narrator observes cruelty within the ostensibly respectable family that runs his latest boardinghouse. After being evicted, he takes a job on a ship and prepares to depart for England. It is not clear whether the ending is auspicious or ominous, liberation or flight.

The novel’s ambiguity is compounded by filtering everything through the febrile consciousness of a manic-depressive whose unreliability is manifest but who is also capable of great charm. His deliberately cultivated hunger, which marks him as an artist, sharpens his sensitivity and further alienates him from a complacent society of hypocritical thieves.

Bibliography:

Ferguson, Robert. Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987. An excellent biography of Hamsun. Presents a balanced and detailed overview of Hamsun’s life and places Hunger in the context of the author’s life and works.

Kittang, Atle. “Knut Hamsun’s Sult: Psychological Deep Structures and Metapoetic Plot.” In Facets of European Modernism: Essays in Honour of James McFarlane , edited by Janet Garton....

(The entire section contains 518 words.)

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