Self-Destructive Behavior Depicted In Kafka's Thesis

Length: 15 pages Sources: 1 Subject: Art  (general) Type: Thesis Paper: #85183206 Related Topics: Hunger Games, Complacency, Most Dangerous Game, Art Of Fiction
Excerpt from Thesis :

He does his share of complaining but he does little else to remedy the situation. The truth of the matter is that Gregor did not enjoy much of his life away from work. He never expresses a desire to have more in his life nor does he express any regret, until he is a bug. In "A Hunger Artist," our hunger artist chooses to live a considerable amount of his life behind bars being a public spectacle. While he can communicate with onlookers, he is separated from them by the bars and the setting in which he finds himself only forces him to interact with individuals for a short amount of time. Once they have become satisfied with his spectacle, they move on and leave the artist to his own thoughts. Our hunger artist is aware of the world that exists around him but it does not seem to affect him in any way. He seems to be smug about his art and self-serving with his reason for behaving the way he does. Our antagonists willingly choose lifestyles that remove them society, a condition that is only worsened when circumstances reach a level of discomfort.

Both men would rather suffer than do anything else and, as a result, become their own victims. In fact, it might even be said that they enjoy their circumstances. In "The Metamorphosis," Sheldon Goldfarb observes, "Gregor begins to adjust to life as a multi-legged insect, he has a sudden 'sense of physical comfort'; once he is right side up, his legs become 'completely obedient,' as he noted with joy" (Goldfarb). When Gregor attempts to walk, he is relieved to discover he can move with such ease and he even begins to think his suffering might have ended. In addition, with his newly discovered abilities, Gregor "insect is having fun" (Goldfarb). Goldfarb continues:

Certainly, Gregor's life as a bug seems in some ways better than his life as a human being... As an insect, Gregor is free of his job and his family responsibilities. Instead of rushing off to work, he can stay home and play. Instead of taking care of his family, they take care of him. In some ways, his life as a bug is the life of the carefree child. He even heals faster than he used to, as a child would. Goldfarb it should be noted that nobody would ever seriously consider trading places with a bug; however, since Gregor had no choice is the matter since he wakes one morning mysteriously transformed, he might as well enjoy the new circumstance that has been presented to him.

In "A Hunger Artist," the artist seems to derive a certain amount of satisfaction, it not pleasure, from his circumstances as well. He wants people to admire his ability to fast and he wants to be admired because he must fast and cannot help it. In addition, when he becomes a part of the circus, he simply accepts that as part of his doomed destiny. At this point in his life, our artist is "past his prime, no longer at the height of his professional skill, seeking refuge in some quiet corner of a circus" (783) and while he wants to deny this fact and claim that he is at the top of his starving game, we know better. He continues to believe that he could "astound the world by establishing a record never yet achieved" (783). It is worth consideration how he is in his last moments. When a man might be willing to do whatever he could to continue living, our starving artist is still quite arrogant, making his final statement one that insults the onlooker who seems to be considered with his well being. Our artist was very much involved with self-destructive behavior because he never once wanted to try to change his life or his lifestyle. On his deathbed, he can only bring himself to say he went hungry because he could not find any food that he liked, hence his disappointment...


There is no other way to explain these men other than saying that they are self-fulfilling prophecies. Their behavior is self-destructive and when they are aware of this and do not act in a way that improves or enhances their lives, they are living out their own intended doom. Gregor may think he enjoys life as a bug but what drove him to that kind of existence is what lies at the heart of the equation. Our hunger artist is fully cognizant of why he is where he is and seems to be fine with whatever fate he meets.

Despite the terrible circumstances in which these men find themselves, they both men lack responsibility for what has become of their lives. In "The Metamorphosis," we can believe that Gregor had very little to do with what happened to him after he became an insect. We cannot hold him responsible for the fact that he awoke in the form of a bug, either; however, his life up until that point was basically unfulfilling. It is safe to assume that Kafka's message here is to make the very most of life before all of our chances are taken away from us. Gregor had years to improve his life. It would not have taken an extraordinarily large amount of effort to notice a slight change in improvement. As it turns out, Gregor was more responsible as a bug because he at least experienced feelings and did his best to express them. He felt anger and pain and he began to realize that he deserved to be heard. In "A Hunger Artist," we see the hunger artist's arrogance in the last paragraph of the story when the artist is easily replaced by a young panther. The crowd felt the sight was "refreshing to see this wild creature leaping around the cage that so long been dreary" (786). Steinhauer asks, "How is it possible to misread the last paragraph as a judgment of poetic justice for a life misspent? Is it not obviously a bitter comment on the obtuseness of the public, which has refused to patronize the spectacle provided by the hunger artist, but flocks to the cage in which the brutal panther prances about?" (Steinhauer). Steinhauer observes that the indifference of the public is what Kafka intends to comment upon. The narrator's summation that it is the public's fault that our hunger artist did not receive his reward only echoes the artist's haughtiness. While it seems a noble cause to blame the public for not appreciating the artist's art, we must ask how long an artist should continue reproducing art for which the public has obviously grown weary. The hunger artist may have found his niche but that does mean that the public is in any way obligated to patronize him. In short, out hunger artist cheated himself because he was not able to find a more suitable and profitable lifestyle.

Both men are miserable. While we might entertain the notion that Gregor experienced moments of happiness as an insect because it provided him freedom from the drudgery of his life, we can also know that those moments of happiness were fleeting and always followed by the terrible realization of what has happened. Gregor was not happy as a man and, ultimately, he was not happy as a bug. In the end, he suffered mercilessly because of his condition. His metamorphosis forced him into a deep loneliness of which he probably could have never dreamed possible. While he never left the house as a man, as a bug, he can never leave whether he wants to or not. All he has is the view outside his bedroom window and the only freedom that brings. We read that the view gives him "some sort of recollection of the sense of freedom that looking out a window always gave him" (Metamorphosis 758). He covers himself "completely" (758) so the sight of him will not frighten or repulse anyone. His parents "could not bring themselves to the point of entering his room" (759). These are images that would make anyone miserable and Gregor, the bug, is certainly no exception to these feelings. As much as he attempts to adapt to his new body, his family is experiencing a rough time and he is painfully aware of this fact the more time passes. Gregor is at a complete loss because he was unhappy as a man and unhappy as a bug as well. We can pity Gregor but we must also remember that while he did have the chance to seek out happiness, he willingly chose not to do so. In a way, Gregor cannot blame anyone for his condition because it is the result of his choices. In "A Hunger Artist," our artist seems to delight in the misery…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Freed, Donna. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. New York: Barnes and Nobel Books. 1996.

Goldfarb, Sheldon. "The Metamorphosis." Short Stories for Students. 2001. Gale Resource Database. 1963. Site Accessed November 22, 2008.

Kafka, Franz. "A Hunger Artist." The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction R.V. Cassill, ed. New York W.W. Norton and Company. 1981. pp. 779-86.

Kafka, Franz. "The Metamorphosis." The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction R.V. Cassill, ed. New York W.W. Norton and Company. 1981. pp. 740-78.
Steinhauer, Harry. "Hunger Artist or Artist in Hungering: Kafk's 'A Hunger Artist.'" Criticism. 1962. Gale Resource Database. 1963. Site Accessed November 22, 2008.

Cite this Document:

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"Self-Destructive Behavior Depicted In Kafka's", 25 November 2008, Accessed.7 December. 2021,

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