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At the end of the nineteenth century, a new literary tradition began to emerge that we now popularly call existential fiction. Authors like Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Knut Hamsun began portraying absurd, vile, or illegal acts to highlight man’s free will, and highly unreasonable approach to life. They no longer created their heroes out of the traditional mold; their protagonists were no longer passive agents being carried through the story by plot lines, they became active agents of their own making. Insidious thoughts freely pass though the narrative, and interpretations and choices carry them through the story. These new heroes, though not always liked by the reader, appealed to readers because of their humanity.

Hunger was published in 1890, and is set in the port town of Kristiania, Norway in the 1880’s. This slim, four part book opens with the image of Kristiania as “a city that sets its mark on anyone who visits.” Written in the first person and autobiographical in nature (though not quite in fact), Hunger invites the reader to look upon the thoughts and actions of the narrator as he wanders the streets broke, hungry, often destitute, and always trying to come up with something to write in order to earn enough Krone to buy himself some food – though he just as often gives it away in order to satisfy ethical demands that are entirely his own. If Hegel is right that one must risk ones life in order to conserve freedom, then Hamsun’s character need not worry about his own freedom as he clings to life on the streets. He lies incessantly, he curses god, he plays the fool, he mocks cops, and in his mind, everything becomes a melodrama. Regardless of how many times we hear him blame God for his downtrodden fate, the reader recognizes that – for at least the life of the story – Hamsun’s character is the only one who is responsible for his lot in life. His God abandoned him in the same way that society has: indifferent to his existence. His utter solitude in the world causes him to frolic amongst the manic states of anguish and exaltation. The universe to which he responds is almost entirely his own creation, with villains and heroes born on a turn of thought.
This Nobel Prize winning book explores the depths of the individual psyche as hunger and solitude consume the narrator’s reason. Hunger is one man’s struggle against god and the human condition.

Distilled Version

The reader is invited to look upon the thoughts and actions of the narrator as he wanders the streets of Kristiania broke, hungry, often destitute, and always trying to come up with something to write in order to survive. Hunger is about one man’s struggle against god and the human condition. This Nobel Prize winning book explores the depths of the individual psyche as hunger and solitude consume the narrator’s reason. Hamsun’s lively description of madness will keep you reading.

And Revised

Written in the first person, and autobiographical in nature, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger is a story about a poverty stricken, hungry, and frequently destitute writer’s engagement with the city of Kritiania during the 1880’s. It traces the thoughts of the central character as he lies incessantly, curses god, plays the fool, mocks cops, and finds mostly failure in trying to write an article for the local paper that will earn him enough just to feed himself for a couple of days—though he just as often gives the money away. This is a struggle of a man against himself.

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