A Hunger Artist

by: Franz Kafka

Motifs

Spectacle and Spectators

The Europe of the hunger artist’s time enjoys spectacle as a form of entertainment, which suggests that the society is one of mass culture and that individuals like the hunger artist are ruled by the crowd. The hunger artist turns the intensely private act of fasting into a spectacle and constantly seeks the public’s approval. He is not content with knowing that he has achieved feats of fasting; he needs to know that others believe that he has not cheated. Knowledge of his own greatness is worthless because only the crowd’s recognition can validate the hunger artist’s effort. Only by becoming a spectacle does the hunger artist become real. Ironically, the hunger artist’s reliance on spectators is why he never breaks his fasting records while he is famous: the public always forcibly ends the spectacle after forty days. By attempting to join the circus, the hunger artist is trying to ally himself with an even greater spectacle, but he falls out of the limelight. He fasts longer than ever, but there is no sense of victory because his final triumph is out of the public eye.