The spot light and people's recognition are not enough for the artist. It is consolation he is looking for and never finds it. The misunderstanding of his very art is the cause of his exhaustion. Like Kafka, the Hunger Artist is trapped in a vicious circle, unable to see the light of understanding in the world's eyes. What was always the cause of misery for an artist? Being misunderstood in his art was the worst that could happen. No one could bring consolation in his life and he acknowledged it as a condemnation of his state not able to give up his art and bound to it to the very end.
The story is written two years before Kafka's death and it is also one of the few he did not want to be destroyed after his death. It may be considered a reflection on his condition as an artist, unable to find consolation and condemned to a gloomy existence due to the progress of its alienation.
The story in itself is depicting a dream, nothing real, but the details are very realistically described, as Kafka used to do in his other stories. The setting is real: Europe, even if the time is uncertain. Despite the long periods of fasting that make the story unrealistic, the main character appears to be human when described drinking water that allows him to survive, for example the artist even has an impresario who arranges for the details of the show. In the beginning the "small barred cage" (Kafka, the Hunger Artist) the Artist would never willingly leave seems to be set somewhere in the dark, away from the open space, a small cage in another closed space, just like Kafka often found himself in. The cage inside a dark space, away from the open air are symbols of both his own mental constraints and those physically imposed by the living world, he could not avoid or escape. One could imagine a cave, but further on, the author describes the cage as being covered in flowers (already a tomb?), inside an amphitheatre. As beautiful as they were, they kept light from coming inside the cage and were symbols of death rather than life.
In the end, the grotesque show only finds a place in a circus and even there his days are numbered.
Kafka never found consolation or the will to live his cage, just like his Hunger Artist. The frail image of the Hunger Artist is according to his own physical state. Kafka was always different in his art, but as the Hunger Artist who confesses he would eat only he found something he liked, he was looking for consolation in normality, in a healthy life and a helpful physique. but, that was not the case. He was very fragile and too weak to fight tuberculosis that won the battle, in the end. Like the Hunger Artist, Kafka suffers of insomnia and sometimes has breakdowns. His nerves are as weak as his body.
The symbol image of a panther that will finally replace the Hunger Artist after his body was removed from the cage stands for Kafka's admiration for vitality and for a strong and healthy body he never enjoyed. The beauty of the beast comes from its strength and vitality and not from the mind. People watched and admired the beast in its beauty, after having ignored the poor weak creature that lived there for years, unknown, under a pile of straw. Both, Kafka and the Hunger Artist are condemned to a life imprisoned inside their own feelings and universe, unable to communicate with the world, kept prisoners by their inner universe, a microcosm inside a macrocosm. Again, like other characters of Kafka's literary work, the main character in this story is trapped by his own condition and by his lack of ability to escape it. Like his character, Kafka must travel across Europe, forced by the harsh pecuniary conditions he was in. Women are no relief, nor do they bring any alleviation to his troubled mind. He blames himself and the world for his impossibility to fit any natural order. The similarities are obvious.
1. Kafka, Franz. "A Hunger Artist." Johnstonia. 23 Mar, 2006. Retrieved: 13 mar, 2007. http://www.mala.bc.ca/~Johnstoi/kafka/hungerartist.htm
2. Nervi, Mauro. "Kafka's Life (1883-1924)." The Kafka Project. 3 Dec., 2006. Retrieved: 13 mar., 2007. http://www.kafka.org/index.php?biography