The Symbolism and Depiction of the Artist’s Life in A Hunger Artist

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

The thesis that I choose is that the panther represents a vibrant life that is no longer available to the artist. The panther seems to be the complete and total opposite of the hunger artist. The artist belongs in the past, while the panther belongs in his own place. The hunger artist is thin, weak, and denying himself bodily concerns, while the panther signifies the force of nature’s energy, muscular and primitive. “A Hunger Artist” focuses on a man who is a professional faster. The Hunger artist captures awareness from the whole town. Everyone wanted to see the hunger artist almost everyday. He spends his days starving himself in a cage while people come to watch him( Garrison, 1).The panther’s “noble body furnished almost to bursting point with all it required seemed even to have brought its own freedom with it” (Kafka, 5). The most important word in this quote is “seemed”, the panther exemplifies animal nature, but it is still confined in the same cage that once held the hunger artist. He is tough and embarrassed at any proposition that his fast may not be convincing, that he could be slipping in food when no one is watching (, 1). As part of the act, several amounts of people stand at his cage every day to make sure that he is not ‘untruthful’, which makes him even more upset because the people don’t trust him (AGAMEMNON, 1). Nothing is more significant to the artist than keeping up with the honesty of his fasting.

In Kafka’s story, the experience of the hunger artist represents those of multiple artists, who must settle loyalty to their work with the value the public places on what they are doing. The hunger artist is attracted to the process of fasting itself (Garrison, 2). He wants to test himself and test his own physical boundaries. The audience’s captivations with the Hunger artist’s fasting is what the artist survived for. However, the panther is confined by the same stuff that held the hunger artist imprisoned. In the beginning of the story the hunger artist’s passion for attention is demonstrated when the narrator said ‘ much more to his taste were the watchers who sat close up to the bars … He was quite happy at the prospect of spending a sleepless night with such watchers.'(Kafka 1) Even the guards who were selected to watch over him were enough to satisfy the artist’s thirst for noticing him. When the Hunger Artist was no longer a place of entertainment a circus employed him as a small attraction (Garrison, 1).

The hunger artist was obsessed with fame and every chance he had to show off to people he took it. “He was quite prepared to spend the whole night entirely without sleep with such watchmen; he was prepared to swap jokes with them, to tell them stories about his nomadic life and listen to their stories in turn, anything just to keep them awake to be able to show them again and again that he had nothing to eat in his cage, and that he was fasting like no one of them could fast.” (Kafka, 1). The hunger artist assumes that the crowd will forever admire and honor him, he seemed to take the fans for granted. The hunger artist becomes more expecting of the crowd that he has around him (Garrison, 1). It’s interesting that Eating is the panther’s major concern, in complete difference to the hunger artist’s obsession with fasting which seems fulfilled at this time. There is a lot of symbolism in the story “A Hunger Artist” such as the cage, the panther and the clock. The cage has important meaning not only for the hunger artist’s connection to others but in a way for the hunger artist himself and the panther. The panther seems content enough to wander around its cage, particularly now that the circus staff make sure to please its big appetite.

The hunger artist feels confined while the panther feels the opposite and the cage represents this. His body and its physical needs are the final restraint on his determination to fast forever. By fasting, the hunger artist tries to step out of his skin, an act related both with death and religion (Garrison,1). This achievement constitutes the hunger artist’s idea of artistic perfection. The cage also signifies security, defending the hunger artist from those who do not apprehend him. On his side of the cage, the hunger artist may mourn his separation from others, but he chooses to isolate himself from others. The panther shows the conflicting side of the hunger artist. Everybody is now excited to see the cage conquered by an animated, powerful creature. It demolishes the food brought to him and doesn’t seem to care that it is inside a cage. The hunger artist lives in a state of an endless want, for both food and attention. The panther had a want for nothing.

In this story “A Hunger Artist” I believe that the hunger artist was never actually hungry. The food doesn’t seem like the issue and he was never interested. “Back then the whole town was engaged with the hunger artist; during his fast, the audience’s involvement grew from day to day” (Kafka, 1). Some individuals would come more than once a day to see the Artist act, some even booking special viewing seats to improve the artistic experience. The artist shows a hunger for recognition.

The hunger artist wishes to achieve something that no one has never ever achieved before. He wants to be the greatest faster in the world and informs people of that ‘how easy it was to fast.'(Kafka, 2) ‘It is the easiest thing in the world.’ (Kafka, 2) He starts blaming the people because they do not let him fast longer. I think that what Kafka wanted to know by this story is that humans can never really satisfy their desires. The hunger artist’s nourishment is never really being nourished. To view the hunger artist being nourished would put an end to that desire.

I think that the main theme of the text from beginning to end is isolation and suffering. No one understands the hunger artist’s art or appreciates his dedication, they’re just watching him because he is the talk of the town and everyone has at least seen him once or even more than once. The narrator says, “He was ready to exchange jokes with them, to tell them stories out of his nomadic life.” (Kafka, 1). But the more anxious the hunger artist becomes to fast, the less people are able to associate with him and appreciate him, the narrator says, “when they reached his cage he was at once deafened by the storm of shouting and abuse that arose.” (Kafka, 4). The people can’t relate to him therefore the hunger artist gets lonelier and frustrated because the audience don’t understand him and don’t understand why he is doing what he’s doing. Another main theme in this text is suffering because the hunger artist is suffering from the physical demands of his art. The story emphasizes his weakening body as he starves for a period of forty days with only tastes of water to help him survive.

I believe as the story progresses the biggest chance in the hunger artist is his desperation in wanting to fast for a longer period of time. The hunger artist wants to fast for longer in the start, it soon becomes an addiction, to show that he is the greatest hunger artist and that he can crush all the records. This vision becomes realism when he enrolls in the circus because he is allowed to fast for as long as he would like. This fear to be the best at his art is what ultimately leads the hunger artist to his death. I think through out this novel theme is what is structured by the author and it is basically what the story is about, this can also influence how the author changes the way the character’s act in the story. The hunger artist’s desire is to please himself and as death was approaching he said that he would be content to eat like everyone else but he couldn’t find food that he would be able to enjoy. The hunger artist, who spent his life attempting to attain spiritual gratification, is buried with the straw from his cage, and replaced by a panther. The panther doesn’t want or need anything in the cage. “And the joy of life streamed with such ardent passion from his throat that for the onlookers it was not easy to stand the shock of it. But they braced themselves, crowded around the cage, and did not want ever to move away” (Kafka, 5). No one notices or cares that the hunger artist isn’t around anymore.

The popularity of fasting as an art has decline over the years, just like any new fad people have in the real world today. Things never last for longer than a year there is always a new passion that someone may have. Society is continually growing and evolving so that even currently, what is popular today won’t necessarily be popular a few years down the way. In the case of this story, the fasting is expressive of the passage of time that brings about changes across all parts of society, such as things like art and entrainment. With art, most things are driven by preference and creativity, which is another motive as to why different forms of art are continually appearing and, commonly, other forms of art are disappearing.

I think that panther represents a vibrant life that is no longer available to the artist. The panther seems to be the complete and total opposite of the hunger artist. I think that the audience enjoyed seeing the panther more because it was more exciting to them and he was full of energy unlike the hunger artist who was slowly dying in the cage and was weak. The hunger artist was no longer the entertainment for the audience. I think that the audience also enjoyed the panther more because it wasn’t begging for attention and didn’t care if there was an audience showing up or not to see him. The panther seems to win recognition from the people without even putting any effort into trying to entertain them. I think that the hunger artist was too involved with trying to satisfy people that he lost his own identity. The vibrant life that the panther has, the hunger artist will never be able to have.


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