A Hunger Artist Essay, Research Paper
Symbolism of the cage in Kafka s A Hunger Artist
The cage is a symbol of many things throughout the story, most noticeably irony, but the cage is also a symbol of animalism in the artist and a symbol of security through change. Irony is a tool used by the author in the plot of the story, which yields a resolution that is the opposite, or at least very different than what was expected from the characters. The protagonist of the Kafka story is an ironic character because he feels the strongest when he fasts, and becomes nauseous when he eats food, whereas most people feel nauseous when they do not eat food. This is quite autobiographical, because Kafka suffered from tuberculosis and his weight would often fluctuate between 100-140 pounds. The dialogue is also rather ironic. The artist will make a statement, one that the people would not think of as ironic, and when they reply to him, they say what he does not want to hear. I always wanted you to admire my fasting, said the hunger artist. We do admire it, said the overseer, affably. But you shouldn t admire it, said the hunger artist.
Earlier in the story, Kafka tells us that the hunger artist was required to stop fasting; that his boss imposed a 40-day limit on the fast. When he is forced to stop fasting and is removed from the cage by ladies, Kafka points out that the eyes of the ladies, who were apparently friendly and in reality so cruel. is another example of this irony. Why? Because they are aiding him in his weakened condition as the fast ends, but they are cheating the artist out of his ability to fast even longer. He knows that he can fast almost indefinitely, since he felt there were no limits to his capacity for fasting. It s strange how Kafka s translators chose the word capacity, a word denoting fullness, when his stomach is quite empty. The cage supersedes these aspects because this cage brings him comfort in captivity and isolation, whereas normal people lose those qualities in confinement.
The cage also is a symbol for the plasticity of the hunger artist s animal-like behavior. It is often referred to in the possessive, his cage, and the hunger artist s cage. It is a fact that most animals in captivity, whether it is a panther in a zoo or just a domesticated dog, that when they have been confined to a certain area, they exhibit behavior that is possessive of that space. The artist sits down among the straw on the ground, sometimes giving a courteous nod drawing deep into himself, paying no attention to anyone or anything…but merely staring into vacancy with half shut eyes, now and then taking a sip from a tiny glass of water to moisten his lips. The author is trying very hard to show what an animal he is, with extreme detail, mimicking the way animals on display sit there while the children look on. He never leaves the cage on his own free will, he was comfortable sitting in the straw that s why he resents the impresario for always ending his fast on the fortieth day.
We the readers see more of this animalism in the hunger artist when the protagonist fasts professionally for the circus. His cage, and it is referred to as that several times in the large and first paragraph on page 201, is placed outside near the animal cages, where he belongs. Now people will see him when they come to see the other animals. Later, Kafka says, he had the animals to thank for the tropes of people that passed his cage.
The cage is also a symbol of stability throughout a trend. Not just in the trend of his profession, but in trends as an abstract. In the first paragraph, the elders of the children view him as a joke that happened to be in fashion. The artist is like the Backstreet Boys of early twentieth century Kafka ideals. Later, the narrator reveals in the mind of one of those children, grown up now, that he was telling stories of earlier years when he himself had watched but more thrilling performances, and the children, still rather uncomprehending. This is similar to when a father will take his child on a carousel, remembering how much he loved the ride when he was young, while his child will look towards the nest stationary horse. Unlike other objects of nature, this man gets stronger (in that he can fast longer and to an artistically better degree) with age. He is given the chance to fast as long as he desires with his contract from the circus, and he does.
As for the abstract, the cages symbolizes that when they might have stayed longer had not those pressing behind them in he narrow gangway, who did not understand why they should be held up on their way towards the excitement of the menagerie, made it impossible for anyone to stand gazing quietly for any length of time. This reminded me of a passage from Dante s Inferno, a section outside of hell which is still in the greater area of the Inferno, but it is not in the Inferno itself. This area holds the neutrals, the people who never stood for anything, people who were Luke-warm, people who did whatever everyone else would do. Their punishment in the Inferno is that they are constantly holding a sail (which bears no marking), that is constantly swept in a different direction, never standing still, because they never stood for anything. In Kafka s story, the people move with the masses, never standing still to gaze upon the artist, like the neutrals in Dante s Inferno, all the while the artist sits in his cage, (which at first, resembles hell in hat it is a confined space where the artist can never eat, but, ironically it is where the hunger artist is happiest) unaware of what passes him, immune to trends, and strengthens himself in the guise of weakness. Comparatively, the passing people are the neutrals, and the hunger artist and his cage are the Inferno, because while they have constantly been moving past him, he was there before them and will be there after they pass him.
Although this was not Kafka s exclusive literary strength, Kafka s strength in this writing was his use of symbolism. Given the fact that almost all of his fiction was somewhat autobiographical, this reader would like to know what it was in Franz Kafka s life that he symbolized with the cage in A Hunger Artist.
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