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Compare the protagonists in Hamsun’s Hunger and Kafka’s Hunger Artist

They are both starving, though KH is not doing it on purpose, at first. At points he decides to
get himself used to starvation. HA is doing it because he wants people to pay attention to him
and it is how he earns a living, the other, because he can’t afford it. Both are desperate for
attention in an alienating world. Both are starving artists, starving for their work. HA fasts 40
days – religion, KH very bipolar about it. Alienation – HA puts self in own literal cage, KH
largely social alienation. Religion, living space, self-torture, failing artists

I must be just incredibly thin. My eyes were sinking deep into my skull.
What, exactly, did I look like? The devil only knew why you had to be
turned into a veritable freak just because of hunger! (Hunger, p. 87)

At one time the whole town took a lively interest in the hunger artist; from
day to day of his fast the excitement mounted; everybody wanted to see
him at least once a day; there were people who bought season tickets for
the last few days and sat from morning til night in front of his small barred
cage… (Hunger Artist, p., 268)

Conscience, you say? No nonsense now; you’re too poor to afford a conscience. You’re
hungry, don’t forget, you’ve come on a matter of importance, the one thing most needful. (H 82)

“… during his fast the artist would never in any circumstances, not even under forceable
compulsion, swallow the smallest morsel of food; the honor of his profession forbade it. (HA 268
– 269)

I dragged myself out, sick with hunger and hot with shame. Why, this
would have to stop! Things had really gone too far with me. … I had
lowered myself to the crassest sort of panhandler. This one day had
brutalized my mind through and through, spattered my heart with
shamelessness. … And what good had it done me? Wasn’t I still without a
piece of bread to stick in my mouth? (H 91)

Nothing annoyed the artist more than such watchers; they made him
miserable; they made his fast seem unendurable; sometimes he mastered
his feebleness enough to sing during their watch for as long as he could
keep going, to show them how unjust their suspicions were. But that was
of little use; they only wondered at his cleverness at being able to fill his
mouth even while singing. (HA 269)

He thought it over again. I had already set my mind on going along, and I began to fear getting
chased to shore again. (H 196 – 197)

“… his inner dissatisfaction always rankled, and never yet, after any term of fasting – this must
be granted to his credit – had he left the cage of his own free will. (HA 270)

If only one had a bite to eat on such a clear day! … I lost my appetite instantly and felt nauseous
and drank some water. (H 6)

Besides, he was tired, he was comfortable sitting in the straw, and now he
was supposed to lift himself to his full height and go down to a meal the
very thought of which gave him a nausea that only the presence of the
ladies kept him from betraying, and even that with an effort. … (HA 271)

With ever-increasing rage, grinding my teeth in response to my fatigue, sobbing and cursing, I
continued to rant and rave, paying no heed to the people passing by. (H 88)

“… it could happen, especially when he had been fasting for some time, that he reacted with an
outburst of fury and to the general alarm began to shake the bars of his cage like a wild animal.
(HA 272)

I was completely taken up with my own tales, wonderful visions hovered before my eyes, the
blood rushed to my head and I lied like a trooper. (H 24)

This perversion of the truth, familiar to the artist though it was, always unnerved him afresh and
proved too much for him. (HA 273)

Hunger was raging fiercely inside me and I was in great pain. As I sit thus
looking into vacancy, a figure is gradually revealed to my fixed stare, one
that I finally see quite distinctly and recognize: it is the cake vendor by the
Elephant Pharmacy. …I walk over to the corner, aim for the woman and
take my stand in front of her. I smile, nod familiarly, and frame my words
as if it were a matter of course that I would be back some day. (H 192)

And when once in a while some leisurely passerby stopped, made merry
over the old figure on the board, and spoke of swindling, 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. (HA 276)

This empty room, where the floor rocked up and down at every step I took,
was like a horrible, broken-down coffin. There was no proper lock on the
door and no stove in the room; I used to lie upon my socks at night so they
would dry a little before morning. The only thing I had to amuse myself
with was a small red rocking chair where I used to sit in the evening, dozing
and musing on all manner of things. (H 4)

An overseer’s eye fell on the cage one day and he asked the attendants
why this perfectly good cage should be left standing there unused with dirty
straw inside it; nobody knew, until one man, helped out by the notice board,
remembered about the hunger artist. They poked into the straw with sticks
and found him in it. (HA 276)

Something began stirring in my brain, some thought in there scrabbling to


get out, a stark-starving mad idea: what if I gave a bite? And without a
moment’s hesitation I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my teeth
together. I jumped up … finally awake. A little blood trickled from my
finger, and I licked it off as it came. It didn’t hurt … I wept softly to myself.
The skinny lacerated finger looked so sad. God in heaven, to what
extremity I had come! (110)
The longest period of fasting was fixed by his impresario at forty days, beyond that term he was
not allowed to go, not even in the cities, and there was good reason for it, too. Experience had
proved that for about forty days the interest of the public could be stimulated… So on the fortieth
day the flower-bedecked cage was opened, enthusiastic spectators filled the hall, a military
band played, two doctors entered the cage to measure the results of the fast, which were
announced through a megaphone… Why stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days
of it? (HA270-271)

Define anti-hero

A character in a story that is at least partially developed, i.e. not a foil, who is not the antagonist
but possesses antagonistic, non-heroic qualities. Their flaws are also more pronounced than
the hero or antagonist.

Hunger

He wants to be seen as a heroic figure but hunger, fatigue and want drive him more than any
noble quality. He wants to be generous – he steals, he wants to be friendly – he accosts
strangers, wants to be helpful – dumps the cripple.

This empty room, where the floor rocked up and down at every step I took,
was like a horrible, broken-down coffin. (4)

However estranged I was from myself in that moment, so completely at the


mercy of invisible influences, nothing that was taking place around me
escaped my perception. (13)

I was completely taken up with my own tales, wonderful visions hovered


before my eyes, the blood rushed to my head and I lied like a trooper. (H
24)

It was as though a vein had burst inside me – one word follows another,
they connect with one another and turn into situations; … a wonderful
sense of pleasure takes hold of me. I write as if possessed, filling one
page after another without a moment’s pause. My thoughts strike me so
suddenly and continue to pour out so abundantly that I lose a lot of minor
details … I am working at full blast. They continue to crowd in on me, I am
full of my subject, and every word I write is put in my mouth. (30)

Here I was walking around so hungry that my intestines were squirming


inside me like snakes... as time went on I was getting more and more
hollowed out, spiritually and physically, and I stooped to less and less
honorable actions every day. I lied without blushing to get my way, cheated
poor people out of their rent . . . all without remorse, without a bad
conscience. … Rotten patches were beginning to appear in my inner
being…’ (45)
Seeing a public officer up the street, I quickened my pace, went right up to
him and said, without a shadow of a pretext, “It’s ten o’clock.” “No, it’s
two,” he answered, surprised. “No, it’s ten,” I said. “It’s ten o’clock.” And
groaning with anger, I took another couple of steps forward, clenched my
fist and said, “Listen, you know what – it’s ten o’clock.” (61)
With ever-increasing rage, grinding my teeth in response to my fatigue,
sobbing and cursing, I continued to rant and rave, paying no heed to the
people passing by. I began once more to torture myself, running my
head against the lamppost on purpose, digging my fingernails deep into
the backs of my hands, and biting my tongue in frenzy when it didn’t
speak clearly, and I laughed madly whenever it fairly hurt. (88)
I dragged myself out, sick with hunger and hot with shame. Why, this
would have to stop! Things had really gone too far with me. … I had
lowered myself to the crassest sort of panhandler. This one day had
brutalized my mind through and through, spattered my heart with
shamelessness. … And what good had it done me? Wasn’t I still without a
piece of bread to stick in my mouth? (H 91)

Something began stirring in my brain, some thought in there scrabbling to


get out, a stark-starving mad idea: what if I gave a bite? And without a
moment’s hesitation I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my teeth
together. I jumped up … finally awake. A little blood trickled from my
finger, and I licked it off as it came. It didn’t hurt … I wept softly to myself.
The skinny lacerated finger looked so sad. God in heaven, to what
extremity I had come! (110)
Good God, what an awful state I was! I was so thoroughly sick and tired of
my whole wretched life that I didn’t find it worth my while to go on fighting in
order to hang on to it. … I was strangely ruined, nothing but a shadow of
what I once was. My shoulders had slumped completely to one side, and I
had fallen into the habit of leaning over sharply when I walked, in order to
spare my chest what little I could. I had examined my body a few days ago
… and I had stood there and cried over it the whole time. … I am disgusted
with myself, even my hands appear loathsome to me. (129 – 130)
“I say to you, you holy Baal of heaven, you do not exist, but if you did exist I
would curse you until your heaven trembles with the fires of hell. I say to
you, I have offered you my service and you turned it down, you pushed me
away, and now I turn my back on you forever… I know I shall die and yet I
mock you… You have used force against me, and you do not know that I
never bend in adversity. Ought you not to know that? Did you frame my
heart in your sleep? I say to you, my whole body and every drop of blood
in me rejoice in mocking you and spitting on your grace. From this moment
on I shall renounce all your works and all your ways, I shall curse my
thoughts if they ever think of you again and tear off my lips if they speak
your name. I say to you, if you exist, the last words in life and death, I say
goodbye. And now I shall be silent, turn my back on you and go my
way….” (136 – 137)

I said to myself that no idiot could have done all this; I was, thank God, as
much in my senses as anyone. (164)

My mind cleared up, I understood that I was about to go under. I stretched


out my hands and pushed myself back from the wall; the street was still
whirling around with me. Bursting into sobs of rage, I fought my distress
with my innermost soul; bravely holding my own so as not to fall down: I
had no intention of collapsing, I would die on my feet. A cart rolled slowly
by. I see there are potatoes in the cart, but out of rage, from sheer
obstinacy, I take it into my head to say they weren’t potatoes at all, they
were cabbages. I heard quite well what I said, and I swore willfully, time
after time, upholding this lie just to have the droll satisfaction of committing
downright perjury. Drunk with this unprecedented sin, I raised three fingers
and swore with quivering lips in the name of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Ghost that they were cabbages. (188)
Then he put me to work. Once out in the fjord I straightened up, wet with
fever and fatigue, looked in toward the shore and said goodbye for now to
the city, to Kristiana, where the windows shone so brightly in every home.
(197)