A Hunger Artist

Kafka, Franz

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jan-29-1997


A 'hunger artist' explains the decline of interest in the art of fasting. In the old days people would enthusiastically observe the artist as he fasted, some of them watching carefully for surreptitious snacking. In those times 40 days was the limit of fasting; on the 40th day, the artist's cage was decked in flowers as he emerged to the ministrations of doctors and the crowd's applause.

But the public now has lost interest. The artist left his impresario and hired himself out to a circus where his cage is placed near the cages of animals. He dreads the onslaught of customers, some of whom stop and watch him, but others rush right past him to see the animals.

At the end, the overseer finds the hunger artist among the straw when he enters the cage. Just before he dies, the artist admits that there was no honor in his fasting; he just never found the food that he liked. Had he found it, he would have stopped fasting. He dies and is replaced by a panther.


Fasting for the sake of fasting, for the beauty and purity of discipline itself? The fickle public who rush past the artist's austerity and quietude to view the powerful panther pacing? What is the subject (or the object) of this tale? Becoming nothing. Drying up like old straw. And what of the hunger artist's confession? Perhaps he suffered from anorexia nervosa.


First collected in Kafka's volume of short stories, Ein Hungerkunstler [A Hunger Artist] (1924). Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir.

Primary Source

The Complete Stories



Place Published

New York




Nahum N. Glatzer

Page Count