Existential Short Stories

Thoughts on ‘A Hunger Artist’

Upon reading this short story I was certain that it had some sort of an allegorical quality to it. The almost fantasy-like mood mixed with an individual against society conflict pointed me towards this conclusion.

I believe that this story was written to depict the life of the tortured, lonely artist, a “hunger artist” being the quintessential protagonist as he is physically feeling the pain of hunger and is physically asunder from society (alone in a cage). The hunger pains he feels are symbolic for the heightened emotional pain an artist might feel, metaphorically caging him/her from the normalcy of society. However, it is this pain that inspires the artistry, the perfection, so the artist does not want it to leave (just as the hunger artist wants to continue his starvation).

The role the audience plays in this story is important to the idea/theme of art as well. The hunger artist’s audience once adored his act, but then grew tired of it, just as society grows tired of a song, style, or piece of art above the fireplace.

“In the past few decades the interest in starvation artists has greatly declined. Whereas earlier it was very profitable to stage independent productions of such grand performances, today that is completely impossible. Times were different then.”

Only the hunger artist will forever understand and appreciate the true meaning of his work, live for it, and die for it.

(This reminds me of a quote from Slaughterhouse-Five: “No art is possible without a dance with death…”)

Thoughts on ‘The Wall’

I found ‘The Wall’ to be fascinating, mainly because of Jean-Paul Sartre’s ability to depict the last hours of life for three men with such vivid emotion. The sweating, the morbid thoughts, the anxiety and break down of characters. It makes me wonder if Sartre has experienced a similar feeling?

For example:

“…his mouth was wide open and his nostrils were trembling.”

“… which was stiff with sweat; at the same, I realized my shirt was damp and sticking to my skin. I had been streaming with perspiration for an hour, a least, and had felt nothing.”

  • The anxious mood is heightened by use of alliteration associated with perspiration

“He ran the whole length of the cellar with his arms in the air, then he dropped down onto one of the mattresses, sobbing.”

  • Sartre’s use of visual and auditory imagery is so strong that the reader can easily experience Juan’s collapse into insanity as if present

I was surprised (and found it slightly ironic), however, that Ibbieta never pondered whether perhaps his life would be spared, and he was the one to avoid being shot. This is just one of the many existential qualities of his character. Sartre makes it so clear that Ibbieta is existential from quotes on the first page:

“…my eyes began to blink because the light hurt them.”

“…the room was well-heated, which struck me as rather agreeable…”

And throughout the story:

“After all, these two bedizened fellows… were just men who were going to die one day.”

“…his life was no more valuable than mine. No life was of any value.”

Multiple uses of the word “indifference”.

Obviously the relationship between existentialism and death is an important theme in both of these stories, and I’m feeling an essay on this topic.



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