Study Guide

A Hunger Artist Suffering

By Franz Kafka

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The Story

Nothing tormented the starvation artist more than such watchmen; they made him melancholy; they made his starving terribly difficult […] (2)

The fact that the watchmen don't understand him causes the artist a lot of mental suffering. Why does the artist ache for them to believe him?

[…] pale in a black leotard, with strongly protruding ribs, even disdaining a chair, he sat on spread straw […] (1)

This grotesque image of the artist's emaciated body should be appalling, but the crowd eats it up (pun intended). This may not be a strange as it sounds. Can you think of any gross spectacles that modern audiences can't get enough of (maybe something on reality TV…)?

[…] why stop right now, when he was in his starving prime – indeed, not yet even in his prime? Why did they want to rob him of the glory of continuing to starve, the glory not only of becoming the greatest starvation artist of all time, which he probably was already, but in addition, of topping his own efforts to an inconceivable point? (3)

The artist is tormented by the fact that no one seems to care enough about his art form to give him the chance to really go for it.

Those were his last words, but his shattered gaze retained the firm, if no longer proud, conviction that he was still starving. (9)

At the moment of his death, the hunger artist no longer has the desire for fame and glory that caused him so much mental anguish over his career.

To struggle against this stupidity, against this universe of stupidity, was impossible. (4)

It isn't just the others' indifference, but also their ignorance of his artistry that annoys the artist.

And when once in a while an idle passerby stopped to make a joke about the outdated number and spoke of cheating, this was the stupidest lie that indifference and innate cruelty could devise, for it was not the starvation artist who was cheating, he performed his work honorably, it was the world that cheated him of his reward. (8)

The hunger artist finally gets his dearest wish: to starve for as long as he can, without any restrictions. But no one cares to appreciate his achievement. So much for glory (see Quote 5 above).

[…] the roaring at feeding time caused him intense suffering and continued suffering. (7)

Despite his acceptance of the fact that he is just a sideshow, the animal feeding is a painful reminder of how irrelevant the hunger artist is these days.

[…] he was so emaciated only from dissatisfaction with himself. (3)

Surprise – it isn't the hunger that is making the artist so thin, but rather his inability to reach the heights of his art.

[…] inwardly his dissatisfaction continued to gnaw at him, and never, after any period of starving – you had to grant him this distinction – had he ever left the cage of his own free will. (3)

Get it – the artist's dissatisfaction continued to "gnaw" at him?

[…] he was tired, he was sitting comfortably in the straw, and now he was supposed to stand tall and proceed to his meal, the very thought of which was enough to make him feel queasy and nauseous […] (3)

Yet another passage that emphasizes that it isn't the hunger that gives the artist pain, but the end of hunger. This scene is even more ironic when we learn in the last paragraph that the artist starved because he couldn't find anything he liked to eat. His nausea in this scene doesn't have anything to do with his artistry, but rather his personal distaste for food.

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