It’s Day 16 of the #A2ZChallenge. This year, I invite you to read and discuss short stories with me. Each day, I bring you a ‘Read of the Day,’ a short story in English, so that we can indulge in the joy of reading. You can visit my site daily for a short story with analysis and participate in the discussion in the comments.
Read of the Day
Today, we will read A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka. You can read the short story online here.
About the Author
Franz Kafka was a German-speaking Bohemian author who received little recognition for his writings when he was alive. However, his timeless writings such as Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis), Der Process (The Trial), Das Schloss (The Castle), Betrachtung (Contemplation), Ein Landarzt (A Country Doctor), and Der Verschollene (Amerika and The Man Who Disappeared) continue to influence many writers to date.
A Hunger Artist (“Ein Hungerkünstle) by Franz Kafka is a poignant story that reflects the famous Kafkaesque style.
The hunger artist reminds me of my childhood days when the news of politicians who undertook several weeks of public fasting was commonplace. We hear none of those gimmicks today. The public has moved on to newer sources of interest and entertainment.
The hunger artist yearns for name, fame, and glory. He achieves that for a momentary phase with his fasting bouts, much to his irritation. Given a free hand, the hunger artist would extend his fasting period to break his own records, and go down as incomparable in history. The hunger artist speaks for many artists today chasing a grand dream that might most likely prove futile in the bigger picture of life.
We see the hunger artist who’s also trying too hard to be different from the rest. It comes across subconsciously to the public, who suspect that he’s dishonest to his art, that his fasting is an act—a mere performance. On the other hand, the artist goes to great lengths to perfect himself in the art of fasting, hoping to win the love and respect from the people. He mistakes their attention as adulation for him. The artist is honest with them when he says that fasting is an easy feat for him. But they are suspicious of his actions until they move on to the next source of entertainment and forget all about him.
Kafka highlights the licentious nature of people and their love for artists. He also drives home the message that being different for the sake of being so is disastrous and meaningless. It creates more problems than solutions for an individual, and in this case, for the hunger artist.
For me, the story reminded me of Jesus Christ and his parables for its similar threads of irony and higher philosophy. Much like the biblical parables, there are no character names in the story. Interestingly, the hunger artist, our protagonist, plays the martyr, much like Christ himself, who’s also been a curious source mix of peace, entertainment, disbelief, and mockery. However, the hunger artist is also a different kind of a martyr than Jesus Christ.
It’s fascinating how Kafka explores the theme of hunger as it takes on different meanings and interpretations, delving into metaphysical realms.
What is your interpretation of A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka?
*I’m participating in the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge.