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A Hunger Artist

Franz Kafka


Important Quotations Explained

1. When . . . some leisurely passer-by stopped . . . and spoke of cheating, that was in its way the stupidest lie ever invented by indifference and inborn malice, since it was not the hunger artist who was cheating, he was working honestly, but the world was cheating him of his reward.

This quotation, occurring toward the end of the story when the hunger artist joins the circus, epitomizes the misunderstanding that plagues the hunger artist throughout his career. The casual spectator’s “inborn malice” refers to the spectators’ heartless dismissal of the hunger artist’s suffering as well as to their inability to identify with anything outside their familiar view of the world. To these people, the hunger artist’s integrity is either false or a farce, and they quickly lose interest. This development suggests that crowds are fickle in their attention and demonstrates how alienated the hunger artist is from society. This passage is especially significant because the tone reveals the hunger artist’s viewpoint more than at any other place in the story. The hunger artist’s indignation indicates that he honestly remains convinced of his ambition’s worth. This delusional belief comes into serious question only a page later, as the hunger artist finally starves himself to death.

2. “If I had found [the food I liked], believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.” These were his last words, but in his dimming eyes there remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast.

This quotation, from the end of the story, exposes the contradiction implicit in the hunger artist’s work: he has given up food only to gorge himself on the appreciation he longs for from others. The only thing that the hunger artist claims to want is the public’s admiration. When this admiration, which has never been enough, is completely removed, the hunger artist has nothing on which to sustain himself and eventually dies. The hunger artist’s life is ultimately a sham. The transcendence he always yearned for was unavailable because he worked for it under a misperception: that fasting could bring nourishment. No matter how long he fasted, and no matter how much recognition he received, the end result could only be death. The spiritual nourishment he longed for, even if he had received it, could not sustain his physical body.

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