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Themes

Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" explores the intense isolation experienced by the exceptional individual. The title character is fanatically devoted to his art, the unusual art of starvation. Even at the height of his popularity, no one understands his art or appreciates his dedication – they're just watching him because he's the latest fad. The audience's lack of understanding only ratchets up the artist's loneliness and frustration. But hey, isolation may be the price he has to pay for his originality. The story also suggests that the hunger artist may not be starving out of devotion to his art, but simply because he's a picky eater and can't find any food he likes. The alienation experienced by the hunger artist might also stand in for the alienation experienced by anyone whose desires are outside the norm.

Questions About Isolation

  1. What is the relationship between the hunger artist and his audience?
  2. What is the relationship between the artist and those with whom he works – his manager, the watchmen, the circus manager?
  3. Take a look at the way the artist is perceived by others: the watchmen, the spectators, the manager, the circus manager, the doctors, the women, and the children, to name a few. How do they view the artist? Do any of them understand him or his art?
  4. Does the artist get more or less lonely as the story goes on? What are some factors or events that aggravate his loneliness?
  5. Is being an artist necessarily a lonely existence?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" is a story about the intense isolation all great artists experience.

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