"Hunger" is a term that defines the physical feeling or the need to eat. However, Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" places a different, stronger, and a deeper meaning to this word. The hunger in the story is not for food. As Kafka describes at the end of the short story, the Hunger Artist states that he was in never hungry, he just never found anything that he liked. The story's utilization of significant symbols, writing style, and imagery, are very precise to express the main theme in the short story about life, consciousness, and existence.
The story is about a hunger artist who always fasts for the people to entertain them but later found that he is struggling to keep his reputation and better himself. The people slowly started to lose interest in his act; people even think he cheats and eats food without anyone noticing, and his manager limits his fasting for forty days only even though the hunger artist strongly believes he can last much longer. One of the main symbols is the panther. The Panther is the complete opposite picture of the hunger artist. While the artist was skinny, yet the panther was big and full. While the artist just sat taking sips of water, the panther jumps around, as if it were "carrying its freedom around with it" (Kafka,10). And while the artist was, a picky eater, the panther eats everything the keeper feeds it. The Panther is an example of everything the artist sacrifices in pursuit of the glory of art: bodily pleasures, joy, and freedom. Another symbol in the story is the cage. The cage has symbolic meaning not only for the hunger artist's relationship to others but also for the hunger artist's relation with himself. The cage is a representation of the hunger artist's body, in which he feels like a prison. After all, the hunger artist's body and its physical needs are the ultimate limitations to his desire to fast all the time. The hunger artist's body is like a prison to him, and his only way of escaping the prison is a death wish.