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The Metamorphosis and “A Hunger Artist” are both works by Franz Kafka. The stories are similar in theme and are probably reflections of the author’s person. The protagonists in “A Hunger Artist” and Metamorphosis are their own antagonists and cause their own destruction. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa awakes to find himself transformed into an insect. The novel goes on to tell the day-by-day struggles of Gregor and details his alienation from humanity. Everyone, including his own family, rejects Gregor- “Mother, Mother,’ said Gregor softly… snapping his jaws several times in the air.
At this his mother screamed once more, fled from the table, and fell into the arms of his father.” The novel ends in Gregor’s death- “Come on and have a look, it’s croaked; it’s lying there, dead as a doornail!”
Gregor causes his own demise. He allows the rigors of his job and the pressures of his family to slowly eat away at his sole.
He remarks shortly after his transformation, “To the devil with it all!” Gregor despises his job as a traveling salesman where he must get up before dawn to travel- ‘Oh God,’ he thought, ‘what a grueling job I’ve picked! Day in, day out – on the road.” Debt incurred by his family ties Gregor to his job-“… once I’ve gotten the money together to pay off my parents’ debt to him – that will probably take another five or six years – I’m going to do it without fail.
Then I’m going to make the big break.”
“A Hunger Artist” tells the story of a man who makes his living as a side-show type act where he starves himself. The man is put in a cage under constant watch without food for forty days. During that term people come and pay to see the marvel of a man starving himself. However, the artist remarks in the story that people are not as interested in hunger artists as much as they once were. He ends up at a circus where people ignore him to see the more impressive lions and tigers. He goes unnoticed for such a long time, that no one notices when he disappears onto the floor of his cage.
The hunger artist is a man with many inner demons. He is discontent with his profession because no one actually believes that he can go without food for such a long time- “No one could possibly watch the hunger artist continuously…and no one could produce first-hand evidence that the fast had really been rigorous and continuous; only the artist himself could know that.” He is also discontent because he knew in his heart, and openly attests to the fact that fasting was the easiest thing in the world. A time comes where the people in the towns are no longer interested in the hunger artist. He takes his show to a circus in an attempt to find a new audience. There the people ignore him in the same fashion, alienating him. However, the hunger artist keeps fasting beyond the forty day limit as he had always wanted. He death comes with little dejection. After his death the overseer of the circus remarks, “Well, clear this out now,” and the circus workers bury him with his straw. He finally accomplishes what seems to be his ultimate aspiration.
There are many parallels between “The Hunger Artist” and Metamorphosis. In both stories, the main characters cause their own destruction. In Metamorphosis, Gregor allows outside forces to dehumanize him. In “The Hunger Artist,” the protagonist’s lack of contentment for himself and the eventual alienation he comes to realize brings him to kill himself. Gregor was also alienated after his transmogrification. Strangely enough, in both stories death is caused by starving. After Gregor’s death in Metamorphosis, his sister remarks, “Just look how thin he was. Of course he didn’t eat anything for such a long time. The food came out again just the way it went in.”
With so many strong similarities, it is hard to find many notable differences between the two stories. However, one significant difference is that in Metamorphosis, Gregor’s demise seems to be caused more by outside forces. Nevertheless, he is the one that allows these forces to destroy him. Another difference is that in Metamorphosis, it is Gregor’s transformation that alienates him. In “A Hunger Artist,” the alienation is caused by a disinterest in the art of fasting.
Franz Kafka’s works Metamorphosis and “A Hunger Artist” both have significant themes. These themes are very similar in nature and Kafka uses many of the same devices to represent them. One example is that the protagonists in both “A Hunger Artist” and Metamorphosis are their own antagonists and cause their own destruction.
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