Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Kristiania (Christiana)

*Kristiania (Christiana). Norway’s capital city (now Oslo) is the destination for many young writers who wish to capitalize on their supposed talent and become rich and famous. The young narrator of Hunger is one of those who struggles to make ends meet in the big and unfeeling city. He rarely has enough to eat, and his consequent hunger leads to erratic behavior. The room he lives in does not protect him from the elements. When he cannot find work, he is forced to sell his belongings at a pawnshop, borrow money from friends, or beg on the street. A pawnbroker is amused when the young writer attempts to sell the buttons from his coat.

The city is made up of many different types of people, including beggars, beautiful girls, policemen, pawnbrokers, editors, and managers. Struggling to get his writing projects sold, the narrator is worn down by the city’s indifference to him and his needs. He seems doomed to failure in this urban environment and must try to earn a living doing other work that he is not trained to do. The industrial city does not need artists. The narrator is not suited for city life. His own worst enemy, he is incapable of playing by the rules, of putting his life in order.

Hamsun based a good deal of the novel on his own desperate experiences living in Kristiania during the early 1880’s, as well as the time he spent in Chicago, Illinois, during the mid-1880’s. The...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

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. Norwich, England: University of East Anglia, 1985. In a complex and resourceful reading of Hunger, Kittang stresses the development of consciousness and its relationship to language.

McFarlane, J. W. “The Whisper of the Blood: A Study of Knut Hamsun’s Early Novels.” PMLA 71, no. 4 (September, 1956): 563-594. In this immensely influential discussion of Hamsun’s early novels, McFarlane devotes considerable attention to Hunger. Shows that Hamsun’s interest in the unconscious life of the mind was actually a tool for reaching a higher degree of verisimilitude.

Næss, Harald. Knut Hamsun. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A general survey of Hamsun’s works. Includes a section devoted to Hunger, as well as additional references throughout the text. Næss discusses the narrator-protagonist’s experiments with his own mind as a focus of narration.

Næss, Harald. “Who Was Hamsun’s Hero?” In The Hero in Scandinavian Literature: From Peer Gynt to the Present. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975. Discusses the protagonist in Hunger in the context of the heroes of other Hamsun novels. Næss stresses the sadomasochistic aspects of the Hunger narrator’s behavior.