Anorexics and Angels

January 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” and in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ” A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” an understanding of the cruelty of mankind is revealed through an examination of the themes and the characters in both of their stories. Although these stories are both written in two different styles, there are a few common threads within them that make them interesting to compare. By comparing these two stories one is able to fully understand the struggles incurred by those individuals who are different from what society considers being normal. The first area within these stories that shares this common thread is the theme of both stories. Kafka and Marquez both focus on society’s fascination with things that are different and unique. However, the theme does not stop there, because in both stories the individuals who are unique are both mistreated. In “A Hunger Artist,” the hunger artist is unique because of his ability to fast for long periods of time. In fact, people in towns would pay money just to have the pleasure of watching him do nothing in his cage, but starve. They wanted to make sure that he did not eat. In fact, they even hired permanent watchers whose only task was “to watch the hunger artist day and night, three of them at a time, in case he should have some secret recourse to nourishment” (Kafka 197). The children were also fascinated by the hunger artist’s ability to refuse food, however, “for their elders he was often just a joke that happened to be in fashion” (Kafka 196). Instead of respecting the hunger artist for his self-control, the public trivialized his “job.” He was placed among the animals at the circus, as nothing more than a freak show. The way the people in the towns treated the hunger artist shows that society abuses those people who are unique for their own entertainment. In the story “A Very Old Many with Enormous Wings,” the same theme of society’s cruelty is also displayed by an old man who looks like an angel. The individual in this story has no specific talent like the hunger artist. He just happens to be a man who does not fit into the “normal” mold of society. When he is found by Pelayo, he “was dressed like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth” (Marquez 441). However, the most abnormal thing about him is not these things, it is the fact that he has enormous wings. When Pelayo and his wife, Elisenda, first notice the man’s wings, their first reaction is to immediately conclude that the man must be an angel. Therefore, the neighbor woman suggests clubbing the man to death. This is a prime example of the “typical” reaction of society to abnormal things: dispose of them. Although Pelayo and Elisenda do not have the heart to kill the man, Pelayo decides to lock the man up in the chicken coop. Once word gets out of this so-called “angel,” people from all over begin to flock to the chicken coop to gawk at the “angel.” Once again Pelayo and Elisenda abuse the man. They charge people money to look at him, and in turn make a profit off of a human being just because he is different. Pelayo and his wife are not the only people who abuse the old man. The people who come to look at him also abuse him. The very first day the old man is found, Pelayo and Elisenda find the neighbors “tossing him things to eat through the wire as if he weren’t a supernatural creature but a circus animal” (Marquez 441). “[T]he cripples pulled out feathers to touch their defective parts with, and even the most merciful threw stones at him, trying to get him to rise so they could see him standing” (Marquez 443). The most awful thing they did to the man is “when they burned his side with an iron for branding steers” (Marquez 443). All of these things are done to this man, just because he does not meet the public’s stereotypes for how a “normal” person should behave and look. Since the people have never seen anything like this before, they automatically treat the man like he is not a human being, but rather an animal. Although the hunger artist has no physical differences, this is exactly the way he is treated too. People are intrigued by his differences, and treat him in an inhumane way. The theme of these two stories it not their only similarity. These two stories’ main characters also show similarities in their daily lives. The first similarity they share is the fact that they are both locked up for the public to view. The hunger artist lives in a “small, barred cage” (Kafka 196). This is so the public can view him at their leisure, and to ensure that he will not sneak food. The old man also lives in a “cage.” However, his cage is a little different from the hunger artist’s cage. He is put in the chicken coop. This was originally intended for safe keeping overnight. However, when Pelayo and his wife see the neighbors’ reaction to the old man, they decide to keep him in the chicken coop. The next area of similarity in their daily lives is the fact that neither of them talks to those looking at them. The hunger artist does not respond to any of the attention that the onlookers give him. Instead, he “sometimes [gave] a courteous nod, [answered] questions with a constrained smile, or perhaps [stretched] an arm through the bars. [H]e paid no attention to anyone or anything” (Kafka 197). The old man with the wings also chooses not to communicate with the people gawking at him. This greatly frustrates the local priest, Father Gonzaga, who determines that the man cannot be an angel since he does not respond to Father Gonzaga’s Latin. The old man talks only one time “in an incomprehensible dialect” (Marquez 441). It is plain to see that neither the hunger artist nor the old man has any desire to communicate with the onlookers. The third area of similarity in their daily lives is that fact that both men stay in their cages at their own will. The hunger artist chose his profession. He enjoys what he does. In fact, the hunger artist desires to be allowed to fast for longer than 40 days. He feels, “[w]hy should he be cheated of the fame he would get for fasting longerÖsince he felt that there were no limits to his capacity for fasting?” (Kafka 198). To the hunger artist, fasting is an honor. The old man also stayed in the chicken coop at his own will. Pelayo does not have anyone guard the chicken coop, so the man is theoretically free to leave whenever he feels like it. The old man proves this by the fact that once the chicken coop is destroyed he still stays with Pelayo and Elisenda. He moves to the shed where he sleeps, and goes in their house during the day, against Elisenda’s will. This shows that both the hunger artist and the old man desire to be in the cages, even though they are both free to leave when they please. The final similarity in both characters’ daily lives is they are both popular until a new attraction comes along. The hunger artist is an attraction that people actually pay to see. They would have a parade for him when he ended his fast, and beautiful women would help him out of the cage. However, the people are only interested in the hunger artist until a new attraction comes along. This new attraction is the animals at the circus. The throngs of people only pass by the hunger artist on their way to see the menagerie. This happens with the old man as well. He is the main attraction for a while, but one day a better attraction comes along. This new attraction is a woman who has been changed into a spider. The crowds of people flock to see her, because “[t]he admission to see her was not only less than the admission to see the angel, but people were permitted to ask her all manner of questions” (Marquez 443). Since the old man does not talk to the people, the spider woman is more appealing than the old man is. Just like the hunger artist, the old man is only popular until something newer, and more bizarre comes along. Kafka and Marquez both address a principle of human behavior: the weirder, or more absurd something is the better the public will like it. Both of these authors offers a new insight into this principle by allowing the reader to view this principle through the eyes of the ëfreak show.’ By doing this the authors allow the reader to feel not only the fascination of the crowd, but also the pain of the individual being taken advantage of. Both of these stories make the reader rethink their views on entertainment at another human being’s expense.

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