A Hunger Artist
by Franz Kafka
(about 4000 words)
Whenever I read this story I’m struck by the number of ways it can be interpreted, from the literal story of a circus freak show, to a deeper, existential reading exploring the psyche of all artists. I’m not a literature major so I can’t judge this story academically. It is a damn good read though.
The hunger artist takes a special pride in his work. As an entertainer, he’s seen hundreds, perhaps thousands of people flock to him to watch him go days without eating. It is the easiest thing in the world for him, but no one seems to understand this. Still, he performs his show with strict diligence, only to see the numbers in the audience slowly shrink. Eventually, he is relegated to a corner of the circus near the animals pens, where he promises to put on a stunning, record breaking fast for the people. There is a small re-surge in attendance, but it is short lived. Soon, he is forgotten. When the manager of the circus finally rediscovers him, the hunger artist is on his death bed, starved by his own art, and ready to reveal the secret of his fasting.
Franz Kafka was born on July 3, 1883 in Prague. His early life was fraught with difficulty. His two brothers died when he was very young, his father was a bully and his mother unable to understand her son’s intellectual pursuits. Kafka excelled in his studies, but felt stifled by them. He originally planned to study chemistry, but soon switch to law school, where he also took courses in art and literature. After university, Kafka worked in insurance, struggling to find a balance between his work life and the time he needed to devote to writing. He eventually found a job that suited him, though was forced to eventually leave due to health complications. He eventually died of tuberculosis on June 3, 1924 in in Kierling, Austria.