Like so many of Kafka's stories, "A Hunger Artist" manages to squeeze big philosophical questions concerning human nature and the meaning of existence into a relatively compact (and super weird) story. The artist's slow act of starvation brings up the question of what distinguishes human beings from animals. At certain points, the artist seems to be glorified as one who has transcended human bodily needs into a higher, spiritual or ideal existence. The problem is, it's unclear whether he starves himself because he freely chooses to do so, or because he has a sensitive tummy and is grossed out by most foods. The line that separates the hunger artist from merely instinctual, brute, animal existence is blurred.
Questions About Life, Consciousness and Existence
Take a look at the passages where the artist is described in mystical or religious language. Compare these passages to the passages where the artist is depicted as an animal or a creature. What do these passages tell us about what part of human nature the artist represents?
We are told multiple times that the hunger artist feels frustrated with the stupidity of his audience. Let's see it from his perspective first. How is he superior – physically, intellectually, spiritually – to his public?
Now let's flip that first question around: how is the public superior to the artist?
Do you think the artist is justified in thinking himself superior to his public? Why or why not?
How does the hunger artist's act compare to the young panther that replaces him? Why do you think the young panther is so popular with its human spectators?
Chew on This
Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" depicts an artist whose spirituality puts him at odds with his more materialistic public.
Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" challenges the notion that art is a more ideal version of life by associating art with the animal.