In Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist”, Kafka uses literary devices such as symbolism, imagery, and allegory to cause the reader to engage in a deep critical analysis of the text and find other meanings through the author’s words. Kafka describes the story of a depressed and broken down man who was world famous for his public performances and was living off of publicly displaying his talent of fasting. It’s a story of a man’s feelings of alienation and isolation because of the way the people act towards him. The hunger artist spends his performances fasting in a cage on display before the people. He pushes his body to its limits and Kafka highlights the effect that the people have on him throughout his fasting arts.
One of many themes that Kafka highlights throughout the story is alienation from society. The hunger artist has a troubled relationship with the people who watch him and this leads the readers to believe that he lives apart from society, leading him to be misunderstood by the people. The hunger artist chooses to isolate himself from the world by being locked away in a cage. He understands how important his goals and accomplishments are and he is the only one who understands that he isn’t cheating himself. The more he pursues his goal, the less the people understand why he’s doing it which leads them to not see the hunger artist as a performance and become less important through their perspectives. The hunger artist is always going to be isolated from society because his talents and dedication to fasting that label him an artist are the things that keep him from being understood by the people.
Another theme that Kafka tackled in his short story was pride. The hunger artist’s had a lot of pride in fasting and it helped him improve and keep pushing his body. But ultimately is stops him for being able to accomplish his goals because of how it hurt his societal look and his relationship with people. His manifestation of his pride comes through the starvation he puts his body through, and is also what makes sure he will never be loved and approved of by society. His pride turns himself away from the people and only onto himself, and he further amplifies his alienation from society by locking himself up in a cage. In the end, pride does not guarantee glory and transcendence to the hunger artist, but instead, darkness. The hunger artist is in search of truths by attaining spirituality but by starving himself and cutting himself from society. He states “Why stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days of it?” which shows he is on a self-centered mission but is not being including in society by doing so. He is also trying to show off his talents to the public but later on his own hunger ended his life both mentally and physically. His dreams of being an artist left him all alone in a cage with nothing but his own thoughts.
Kafka also mentions a theme of fulfillment that the hunger artist seeks throughout the story. The artist seeks hunger but not for food, but for attention for him to be fulfilled with himself. Although he isolates himself in a cage essentially his entire life, he wants people’s undivided attention. He gets frustrated at his manager for not letting him fast for longer, he gets frustrated at people who play cards outside his cage at night instead of watching him, and he even gets frustrated at the animals of the menagerie that pull attention away from him. The artist would get frustrated at everyone for not paying attention to him and whenever anyone tried to help him get food in his body so that he wouldn’t starve, he reacted negatively towards them. The hunger artist goes to the extremes of fasting for self-fulfillment and seeks attention from society but purposely isolated himself in a cage which caused him to be seen as an abnormality to the people. His frustration also influenced his depression and if not for his desire for attention, perhaps the artist would have been able to live a relatively normal existence.
Furthermore, another theme that Kafka placed throughout the story is the dissatisfaction of hunger. The hunger artist enjoys being starved during the story, hoping that it will lead to spiritual satisfaction but instead, he gets quite the opposite and is left both physically and spiritually empty. When offered food the hunger artist declines the offer but this only reveals his self-denial and his need for another type of food like society to see him and recognize him as well as artistic perfection.