Symbols, Characters, Description: Kafka’s a Hunger Artist
Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” informs us about a street performer who practices the “art” of fasting for weeks on end. Despite his extensive popularity in the area, the artist remains displeased and frustrated with his work. He believes that his profession is never completely appreciated or respected since he cannot verify the integrity of his work. He remains discontented and begins to alienate himself from all aspects of the real world. Moving forward, his craft is no longer relevant yet he continues to abstain himself from all food and water; he eventually perishes away in his cage. Moreover, we normally perceive the idea of starving oneself for a cause as the most empathetic act a person can associate him or herself with. Hunger strike is the most emotionally enriched form of confrontation since it is harmless yet its main goal is to instigate the feelings of guilt, empathy, and change. However, despite the frail and woeful condition of the artist throughout the story, it is difficult as readers to empathize with him. Hence identifying him as a suicide, not a martyr.
There was no clear explanation as to why the artist was fasting. Since the story was told in a monotone, third person, and limited point of view, we do not have any depth on the character or his motives. We can, however, infer that he had a passion for his art and evidently enjoyed the attention he received from it. We can also deduce that he developed an obsession over fasting, as well as fear of anything changing around him. We are able to further recognize the artist’s suicidal tendencies by comparing him to the character, “Brooks Halten”, from Stephen King’s ” Shawshank Redemption”. Brooks was an inmate in shawshank prison from 1912 to 1955. He was assigned as the prison’s librarian where he dealt with the same people every single day for 50 years. He was eventually accepted for parole but he did not want to leave the prison. Despite his friendly and tranquil attitude, he broke down and attempted to kill a fellow inmate solely to get out of parole. We later on see that he committed suicide days after being released. The thought of returning to the world and dealing with society after an extensive period of being incarcerated, wether in a prison or a “cage”, is insufferable. Both characters are fairly similar in the sense that both of them were institutionalized and somehow forgot how the “outside” works. Their liberation becomes their capital punishment.
As “A Hunger Artist” reaches its end, we finally get to know how the artist feels about his situation and how he actually vocalizes himself. His last words were “I couldn’t find a food that I enjoyed..”. This statement conveys his feeling of hopelessness and despair while simultaneously shows that he still wanted to choose his last words wisely. The hunger artist also admits to his immoderate hanker after attention and is asked to be forgiven. He is, in all likelihood, talking to himself since no harm or burden was afflicted on anyone but himself during his act throughout all those years. He gradually began to feel more daunted and troubled and decided that he wanted to die, starving, in his cage, hoping that someday he will be remembered. He committed suicide doing what he believes is his true calling to his last breath. His demise can be simply explained with the saying ” It’s better to burn out than fade away”.
There is a link between fame and tragedy, and dying words particularly influence how you are known after your death. It is a possibility that the artist was holding idiosyncratic beliefs, comparing himself to the likeness of Vincent Van Gogh whom also decided to regrettably end his life. History can confirm that the epidemic of artists dying young, at the prime of their career and in an unusual or ironic way has become in vogue. The association of creativity and insanity has fascinated the public for the longest time. The most prominent figures in art and humanities such as Sylvia Plath, Dostoyevski, Hemmingway, and Beethoven all suffered from mental illnesses, melancholia, and isolation. Each of them experienced torment for the sake of perfecting their craft. This speculation can be directly applied on both Franz Kafka and his character, the hunger artist.
There is a clear acknowledgment as to why we classify the artist as a suicide and not a martyr. A martyr is someone who suffers and dies because he or she refused to abandon their principals and beliefs. We relate martyrdom to nobility, selflessness, and virtue, which are all traits that the artist so clearly lacks. There is no question on whether his death is considered a suicide or a martyr, however, we can argue his motives behind his sorrowful decision and how much are we able to empathize with him. The hunger artist’s nature and way of life is an embodiment of a contradiction. He is conceited and self-assertive but also shows a sense of inferiority. He complains about wanting people to respect and acknowledge his art but believes that they will never completely understand it. He shows pride in his discipline and ability to refrain from all amusements and luxuries yet he feels defeated by the world and his surroundings. His erratic nature clarifies his poor choices and mental instability, in that we can definitely empathize with his circumstances of delusion and psychological deterioration.
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