A Hunger Artist
by Franz Kafka
The story only refers to the characters by their occupation – artist, manager, supervisor – and never by their proper name. This mode of characterization tends to give the story an allegorical quality, like a parable. Who knows the proper name of the Prodigal Son, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, or the Little Red Hen? These famous parables would probably read a little differently if we referred to the characters as Harold, Percy, or Henrietta. By referring to the characters by occupation, Kafka's story invites the reader to think about the story on a symbolic level. What idea does the artist represent? The manager? The panther? What lesson are we to draw from the story, if any?
On that note, we recommend you head over to "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory." See you there.
We rarely get any dialogue in this story. The first words we get directly quoted from the artist do not appear until the second to last paragraph. Instead, we depend on the narrator to tell us everything we need to know about the characters. For example, take a look at the scene where the hunger artist breaks his fast in front of a great crowd. The manager pretends that the artist banters with him and whispers words into his ear, words that the manager then relays to the audience. The narrator doesn't tell us what exactly the manager says, only that he lies. In general, the narrator explains the characters' behavior or motivations, rather than leaving the us to interpret the characters' nature from their words and actions.
Thoughts and Opinions
While there isn't much dialogue, the narrative does let us spy on what's going on in the characters heads. We get detailed descriptions of the hunger artist's thoughts and feelings about his craft, of the manager's rationale for the crowd-pleasing way he promotes the artist's work, of the audience's reaction to the hunger artist's performance. Because we get the thoughts and opinions of all the characters through the third person narrator, we can also see how characters misinterpret one another, like when the watchmen refuse to believe that the hunger artist is not starving, or when the circus supervisor deliberately refuses to take the hunger artist's words seriously.