A Hunger Artist

The Hunger Artist Character Analysis

The unnamed protagonist of the story, the hunger artist is a man with one sole purpose in life: to starve. He believes this to be his one true calling, and he rejects all other worldly concerns to concentrate on his fasting. There was once a time—as there was in reality—when hunger artists drew huge crowds, and the reader learns that this particular artist had many years of great “success.” But although his shows are successful in the sense that they are well-attended and turned a profit, the hunger artist is never fully satisfied. People come to see him out of morbid fascination, or for “a bit of fun,” but not for the kind of deep and profound experience that the hunger artist believes his art is worth. Deep down, he embodies a contradiction: he wants the public to respect his art, but he also feels superior to them, and believes they can never fully understand his craft. He is proud of his ability to deny earthly pleasures and to suffer, but the world in which he pursues his art frustrates him deeply. Perhaps because of this, the hunger artist has never, “not after any feats of starvation—that people had to concede—left his cage of his own free will.” As interest in him dwindles, the hunger artist splits with his manager and takes his act to the circus, but is left to linger near the animal exhibits and rarely has any meaningful interactions with the crowd. He holds the conviction that he can fast well beyond the forty-day limit imposed on him by his original manager, and at the end of the story has the chance to see if that’s true. But this opportunity comes about only because at the circus he is completely neglected. With nobody paying attention to him, even the hunger artist can’t keep track of his fast as he wastes away into the straw of his cage. His dying words to the circus staff neatly sum up his contradictory way of life—he says he only ever wanted to be respected, and when they tell him that he is, he says that they mustn’t. He finally gives the enigmatic statement that he only fasted because he couldn’t find anything he liked to eat—which immediately seems at odds with the dedication to his art that he has shown throughout his life. Almost as soon as the hunger artist is dead, he is replaced in his cage by a panther. Compared to him, it seems full of life, and the audience finds it far more captivating.

The Hunger Artist Quotes in A Hunger Artist

The A Hunger Artist quotes below are all either spoken by The Hunger Artist or refer to The Hunger Artist. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Schocken Books edition of A Hunger Artist published in 1995.
A Hunger Artist Quotes

Over the last few decades, the interest in hunger-artists has suffered a marked decline. While it may once have been profitable to put on great public spectacles under one’s own production, this is completely impossible today. Times really have changed.

Related Characters: The Hunger Artist
Explanation and Analysis:
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…scorning the use of a chair he sat on the scattered straw, pale, in a black vest, with startlingly protruding ribs, now nodding politely, answering questions with a strained smile, or poking his arm through the bars so that its thinness might be felt, but repeatedly collapsing into himself, not caring about anything or anyone.

Related Symbols: The Cage
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He much preferred those invigilators who sat right in front of his bars, who were not content with the dim night-light in the hall, but aimed at him the beams of electric torches that the manager had left at their disposal…What made him happiest of all was when the morning came and a lavish breakfast was brought up to them at his expense, on which they flung themselves with the healthy appetite of men who had spent an entire night without rest.

Related Symbols: The Cage
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

No one was capable of spending every day and every night with the hunger-artist as an invigilator without a break, and therefore no one could know from the direct evidence of his own senses whether the hunger artist had starved himself without a break, without a lapse; only the hunger-artist himself was in a position to know that, only he therefore could be the spectator completely satisfied by his own hunger.

Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He had never yet—that people had to concede—left his cage of his own free will. The maximum period of starvation had been set by the manager at forty days, he permitted no longer stints than that, not even in major cities, and for a very good reason. He had learned from experience that by gradually intensified publicity the interest of a city could be kept alive for forty days, but at that point the public failed, there was a perceptible drop in the level of interest.

Related Symbols: The Cage
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

So then on the fortieth day the door of the flower-garlanded cage was thrown open, an excited audience filled the amphitheatre, a brass band played, two doctors entered the cage to perform the necessary tests on the hunger artist, the results were relayed to the hall by means of a megaphone, and finally two young ladies, thrilled to have been chosen for the task, came to lead the hunger artist down a couple of steps to where a small table had been laid with a carefully assembled invalid meal.

Related Symbols: The Cage
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Because by then the shift in taste referred to above had taken place; it was almost sudden; perhaps there were profounder reasons for it, but who cared to find them out; be it as it may, one day the pampered hunger artist saw himself abandoned by the pleasure-seeking public which now flocked to different displays.

Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

…the hunger artist gave perfectly credible assurances that he was just as good at starving as he had ever been…he was only now finally ready to throw the world into justifiable astonishment—a claim that, in view of the temper of the times, which the hunger artist was apt in his enthusiasm to forget, raised a smile with the experts.

Related Characters: The Hunger Artist
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

...the hunger artist starved himself as he had once dreamed of doing, and he succeeded quite effortlessly as he had once predicted, but no one counted the days, no one knew how great his achievement was, not even the hunger artist himself, and his heart grew heavy. And if once in a while a passer-by stopped, and mocked the old calendar and said it was a swindle, that was the most insulting lie that indifference and native malice could have come up with.

Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“I always wanted you to admire my starving,” said the hunger artist. “We do admire it,” said the overseer placatingly. “But you’re not to admire it,” said the hunger artist. “All right, then we don’t admire it,” said the overseer, “why should we not admire it?”

Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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The Hunger Artist Character Timeline in A Hunger Artist

The timeline below shows where the character The Hunger Artist appears in A Hunger Artist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Hunger Artist
The Artist and Society Theme Icon
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The story’s particular hunger artist was once one of the most successful in his field. Back then, “the whole town... (full context)
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Though some adults see him as “just a bit of fun,” the hunger artist is deeply and morbidly fascinating to children, who watch “open-mouthed, holding each other by the... (full context)
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As well as those spectators, the hunger artist is also watched by a publicly-nominated team of “warders,” who observe him around the clock... (full context)
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Much to the hunger artist ’s annoyance, not all warders are as respectful towards the authenticity and nobility of his... (full context)
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This lack of respect for his art torments the hunger artist , depresses him and generally makes his starvation much more difficult. Sometimes he gathers the... (full context)
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The hunger artist ’s preferred invigilators are those who don’t take their eyes off him, those who sit... (full context)
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Nothing makes the hunger artist happier than buying these warders a lavish breakfast the morning after, “at his expense,” and... (full context)
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This mistrust of the hunger artist is to be expected. No one person is capable of being with him all the... (full context)
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The hunger artist never leaves his cage of his own free will. It is always his manager that... (full context)
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...the audience. There are brass bands, the cage is “flower-garlanded,” and doctors theatrically examine the hunger artist . Two young ladies lead the hunger artist, against his will, to a small meal... (full context)
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This is how the hunger artist lives for many years: “in apparent splendor,” and drawing huge crowds. But the hunger artist... (full context)
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...a crafty solution to these angry outbursts. He explains to these concerned spectators that the hunger artist ’s fury is indeed the result of his lengthy starvations. Furthermore, the manager claims that... (full context)
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Once the popularity of hunger artist ry has fallen a few years later, the public talk about why this happened, surprised... (full context)
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Still dedicated to his art, the hunger artist parts ways with his manager and joins the circus—not even bothering to look at his... (full context)
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The hunger artist isn’t given a prominent position in the circus, and instead is “left outside in a... (full context)
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The hunger artist is too proud to complain to the circus management about the placement of his cage... (full context)
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Neglected by the circus staff and the audience, who would rather watch the animals, the hunger artist is finally free from the forty-day constraint previously imposed on his fasting. But because no-one... (full context)
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One day, an overseer on the circus staff comes across the hunger artist ’s cage, wondering why it isn’t being put to good use. Upon finding the extremely... (full context)
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...overseer of the circus quickly makes sure that they move on, and he has the hunger artist buried. They replace the hunger artist with a “young panther,” which quickly catches the imagination... (full context)