Study Guide

A Hunger Artist Isolation

By Franz Kafka

Isolation

The Story

[…] the prospect of those visiting hours, for which the starvation artist naturally yearned, since they were the meaning of his life, also made him shudder. (7)

Despite his feelings of alienation, the artist still aches for an audience. The very strong formulation – "they were the meaning of his life" – suggests that an artist without an audience is nothing at all. Why, then, does he "shudder"?

[…] he was prepared to joke with them, to tell them stories from his journeyman years, and in turn to listen to their stories, anything just so as to keep them awake, to be able to show them again and again that he had nothing edible in the cage, and that he starved in a way that not one of them could. (2)

The artist is eager to show the watchmen that he isn't eating, but he also seems equally eager for someone to recognize his uniqueness and the uniqueness of his achievement.

For he alone, and no other initiate, knew how easy it was to starve. It was the easiest thing in the world. He did not keep this fact a secret, but no one believed him. (3)

It isn't clear what an "initiate" is, except perhaps someone who knows more about the art of starvation than the average spectator. But even initiates don't believe the hunger artist.

[…] then again, he shrank completely into himself once more, concerned with no one […] (1)

Despite the crowds, the artist is still able to be completely absorbed in himself. Is the artist isolating himself? Is he responsible for his own loneliness?

And so he lived […] in apparent glory, honored by the world, but for all that usually in a melancholy mood, which grew increasingly so because no one was able to take it seriously. (4)

The artist's feeling of being misunderstood, even at the height of his popularity, makes him depressed and grumpy.

[…] sometimes during the hours of the watch, overcoming his weakness, he sang for as long as he could so as to show these people how unjust their suspicions were […] they were merely amazed at his dexterity in managing to eat even while singing. (2)

The artist's loneliness partly derives from the fact that no one believes that he actually starves. Even when he is under constant watch, even when he tries to show that he is not eating (by singing, for example), no one believes him. Why do you think that is?

[…] no one had any reason to be dissatisfied with what he had seen – no one, that is, except for the starvation artist, he alone, always. (3)

The artist wants to reach the limits of his art, to show that he can starve for far longer than forty days. But no one cares to watch. His artistic goals totally separate him from his audience.

Try to explain the art of starving to someone! Those who have no feel for it can never be made to understand. (8)

The only people who can appreciate the art of starving are… the ones who already appreciate starving. That makes our artist a very lonely man since he seems to be the only one left who can appreciate his own art.

[…] who knew where they would tuck him away if he tried to make them aware of his existence, and therefore also of the fact that, strictly speaking, he has nothing more than an obstacle on the way to the animal sheds. (7)

After his popularity declines, the artist is no longer celebrated for his idiosyncratic lifestyle. He's now reduced to an "obstacle," something that gets in the way of the real show, an animal menagerie. Ouch.

The Hunger Artist (a.k.a. The Starvation Artist)

"[…] I could not find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I would not have caused a sensation, and I would have stuffed myself just like you and all the others." (9)

These are the first words that we hear the artist utter in the whole story. He breaks his silence only to demystify his art: he starved himself because he was a finicky eater. But at this point, on the brink of death, no one seems to care.

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