Gender Roles in A Hunger Artist

Treatment based on gender in society can ultimately lead to the unequal treatment and discrimination on a certain gender. In Kafka’s A Hunger Artist, the hunger artist is portrayed as a male with rather disturbing physical features and the unbelievable willpower to continue to fast. When reading the story, I think it’s interesting to note how the hunger artist is treated as merely an object for entertainment purposes, whereas if the hunger artist was a female, the situational contempt for the entertainer may be exchanged to that of pity.

The hunger artist claims that he “captured the attention of the entire city” (Kafka). People view him as a form of presentation or rather a production of fasting at its worst. He’s described as “looking pale” (Kafka) with “his ribs sticking out prominently” (Kafka); however, if the hunger artist was female, I feel that the audience would express sorrow for her current situation. The hunger artist is viewed as a spectacle, yet the observers still aren’t entirely shocked by his physical state. It’s also mentioned that adults view him as merely a joke. When analyzing this statement, it is interesting to see how Kafka shows the hunger artist as being belittled although he is the one that is committed and affixed to a goal that he refuses to break. The observers are convinced he has cheated by eating, yet he states that he could fast far more than forty days if allowed. The treatment of the observers to the hunger artist would be different if he was depicted as women in that the observers would feel compassion for a female figure, whereas the male figure is treated as simply a joke.

In relating back to gender role stereotypes, males are viewed as being able to take care of themselves and be independent, yet women are depicted in contrasting ideals. Due to this nature, I believe that if the hunger artist was depicted as a woman, she would be viewed with sorrow and sympathy due to the fact that women are apparently helpless.

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2 responses to “Gender Roles in A Hunger Artist

  1. Samantha Cooke

    I agree. In today’s society, were the hunger artist to be female instead, the story would have been greatly changed in the way it was read. This should not be so – is there really so great a difference between a man and a woman in behavior, in motivations? – yet, because of the influences of current events, it would be read differently. While the male hunger artist was seen, as you stated, as a spectacle, an oddity, a woman doing the same would be considered mentally imbalanced. I wouldn’t say that there was exactly an issue of independence or lack thereof, but more of inner strength – the man would have the strength to ignore the food as a simple test of will, but the woman would seem to derive her strength to stop eating from self-consciousness. Their deaths, too, would be different – the man a completion of his art, and the woman a more tragic, yet pathetic end to suffering.

  2. Sophi

    This is an interesting point, but this can be seen from a different perspective.
    It is in a man’s nature to have a muscular, large physique, while it is in a woman’s nature to have a curvy, softer physique (than that of males). In the Hunger Artist, it’s possible that he is a joke to the audience because a man cannot be a man if “the entire weight of his body, admittedly very small, lay against one of the women” (paragraph 3). For a man to depend on a woman’s strength, when it is usually perceived to be the other way around, is comical.
    A woman, however, would be viewed with sympathy because it would be a crime against nature to have a female (a potential mother) with such an unhealthy, deathly skinny frame. In this case it is not a joke; she serves a great purpose in the world that is dependent on the uniqueness of her body structure, yet she is disappearing right before the peoples’ eyes.

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