Alienation

An acceptable physical appearance and ability to communicate is needed in order to be accepted by society.  The hunger artist in “A Hunger Artist” and Io in Ovid’s Metamorphoses both share the feeling of being alienated by society because of their physical appearance and their inability to express themselves and communicate effectively; Io adapt herself, but the hunger artist didn’t.

Both Io and the Hunger Artist’s physical appearance caused them to rejected from society.  The hunger artist’s physical appearance was diminished by his fasting and caused some people to avoid his performance.  “Fasting that had brought him to such skeleton thinness that many people had to regretfully keep away from his exhibitions because the sight of him was too much for him.” (Kafka 2) The hunger artist responded at first by enjoying the audiences’ shock, but then became indifferent. “Stretching an arm through the bars so that one might feel how thin it was and then again withdrawing deep into himself, paying no attention to any one.” (Kafka 1)  Io was physically transformed from a nymph into a heifer causing her to loose her physical identity, making her unrecognizable to her family. “Reflected in the stream, her jaws and horns, she fled in panic. None of her sisters knew her, And Inachus, her father did not know her.” (Ovid 23). Instead of isolating herself as the hunger artist did, Io stayed around her family in hopes that they would one day recognize her. “ But following them, she let them pet and praise her.” (Ovid 23)

When Io is turned into a heifer, she loses the ability too communicate and express herself effectively and needs to learn to adapt in order to reconnected with society. The ways she was used to communicating were no longer possible in her transformed body. “When she wanted to reach towards Argus her imploring arms, she had no arms to reach with; when she tried to plead, she only lowed and her own voice filled her with terror.” (Ovid 22) After some time, Io realized that   she couldn’t use verbal or body language to express herself, but could still use written text to communicate.  The act of writing is how Io revealed herself to her father.  “If she could talk, she would ask for help…all she could do was furrow the dust with one forefoot, and make an I and then an O beside it, spelling her name.” (Ovid 23) In the end, her ability to adapt her way of communicating lead to Juno returning her to her original physical state, allowing her to better express herself again. “Juno was appeased. Io became what she once was. And little by little gains back the use of Language.” (Ovid 25,26)

In “The Hunger Artist”, the hunger artist’s inability to communicate and express himself caused him to alienated and misunderstood by others. The hunger artist wants to fast for as long as he possibly can and set a world record.  But, the man he works for will only allow him to fast for forty days for business reasons. The hunger artist does not outwardly express his discontent with the time limit.  “The longest period of fasting was fixed by his impresario at forty days…at this very moment the artist always turned stubborn…Why stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days of it?” (Kafka 2) The audience would accept his stubbornness and troubled spirit as a side effect of his fasting, which caused him to feel more troubled. The hunger artist believed his troubled spirit was caused by the misunderstanding of his fasting, but never used language to express himself. He would shake the bar of his cage when upset, but his behavior was excused and explained incorrectly by his impresario. “He would apologize publicly for the artist’s behavior…because of the irritability caused by fasting.” (Kafka 3) The hunger artist viewed these statements as “perversion of the truth.” He didn’t express himself because he found it to be futile. “To fight against this lack of understanding was impossible…Just try to explain to any one the art of fasting! Anyone who has no feeling for it cannot be made to understand it.” (Kafka 3,4) Unlike Io, the hunger artist felt so alienated by society that he didn’t believe it was possible to reconnect with society. He did have a final attempt during his death, but it was too late for him.  “I couldn’t find food I like. If I had found it, I should have made no fuss…These were his last words.” (Kafka 5) These words were lost on the insensitive overseers. They buried his body and replaced him with a panther. His last words failed to connected with the overseers because the hunger artist didn’t express himself completely honestly. He didn’t   mean it when he claimed to    he would of stopped if he found food he liked because  “his dimming eyes remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast,” even in death.  (Kafka 5)

The main difference between Io and the hungry artist alienation is that Io believed it was possible to reconnect to society and the hunger artist believed it to be impossible.  Io had her desire to be part of her family again as motivation to adapt to her situation and find a way to express her true self. The hunger artist had no motivation to reconnect with society until his death because his alienation caused him to feel hopeless and belief that no one would ever understand him.

Io’s and the hunger artist’s physical appearance and their inability to express themselves and communicate effectively caused them both the feeling of alienation from society.  Io was able to adapt herself, but the hunger artist was not.

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