He does not compromise his vision of art for material purposes, nor does he stop his performance when he realizes it is no longer successful or that his own life is in danger. Cathers character Paul is an outcast mostly by choice too; he is not interested in fitting in and does not even consider adapting to societys demands of him. The thesis of this paper is that in both cases, the protagonists are unwilling to compromise and choose isolation as the only way of achieving their own views on what their lives should be.
Paul and the hunger artist see isolation as a means to an end, in the sense that by being completely detached from the rest of society, they can maintain their feeling of superiority and their visions unaltered. The main character, the hunger artist, is the typical protagonist of Kafkas work: misunderstood, alienated, and victimized: To fight against this lack of understanding, against a whole world of non-understanding, was impossible (Kafka).
Despite his great success, the hunger artist never feels truly appreciated or understood by his audience, who look upon his art as merely a form of entertainment: this dissatisfaction kept gnawing at his insides all the time (Kaka). This is why he becomes haunted by feelings of isolation and alienation; his performance is neither recognized nor appreciated as an art form, thus the artist can never be fulfilled. Nevertheless, it is crucial to notice that this state is a sine-qua-non condition of the hunger artists artistic demonstration.
His choice to perform in a cage is relevant to understanding his feelings: isolation is, to great extent, self-imposed. The cage is the barrier the hunger artist needs to separate himself from his audience, i. e. the masses. It is a tool of individualization, a process that every artist seeks during his lifetime, in order for his work to stand out. The cage of the hunger artist has two functions, i. e. a refuge from the outside world, and a barrier separating the artist from the rest of humanity, represented by his audience.
His inability to fit in society gives birth to his art. Surprisingly, is it not his desire to be different that leads him to such an art form, but the other way around. He is dependent upon the publics reaction, in the sense that their lack of understanding of his art is actually the element which perpetuates it. The hunger artist enters a vicious circle because of his continuous need for validation from his audience.
The pain and suffering caused by the absence of this validation is precisely what generates more pain, and less understanding from his public, which in turn, give rise to more profound suffering from the artist: Yet for other reasons he was never satisfied; it was not perhaps mere fasting that had brought him to such skeleton thinness [¦], perhaps it was dissatisfaction with himself that had worn him down (Kafka). Although the story is absurd, the sequence of events makes it believable, and serves a higher purpose: it aims to show that the motif of the hunger is, in fact, the artists lifelong feeling of isolation and dissatisfaction.
Along with these feelings, the hunger artist also needs to maintain a feeling of superiority in relation to the masses that come to watch his performance. This feeling of superiority ensures that his art is not criticized by his audience since they cannot understand it. Nevertheless, this is also the reason for his eternal dissatisfaction, as his desire is to be validated as an artist, not merely an entertainer, but also to remain misunderstood so he can maintain his superiority and be exempted from criticism.
This could perhaps explain why the artist, even at the peak of his success, is still dissatisfied: troubled in spirit, and all the more troubled because no-one would take his trouble seriously (Kafka). The hunger artists art form is, metaphorically speaking, his own suffering. Confined to the small space offered by the cage in which he performs, the hunger artist has complete control over his pain, which determines him to push himself more and more, reaching the very edge of human limits in his constant search for his greatest masterpiece: Why stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days of it?
He had held out for a long time, an illimitably long time, why stop now, when he was in his best fasting form, or rather, not yet quite in his best fasting form? (Kafka). This endeavor will eventually bring the end of his life. In relation to the metaphor of starvation as artistic suffering, which in turn, leads to creation, the hunger artists performance is a display of his feeling of alienation with regards to society. He cannot adapt to the exterior world; this is why he does not eat, because he cannot find anything suitable for him.
Consequently, he fasts turning his act into a more involuntary than voluntary occupation: indeed, fasting is the only thing he can do considering his circumstances, and not a decision to inflict suffering upon himself. Pauls Case, published in 1905 by Willa Cather, tells the story of a young man named Paul who is a misfit because of his feeling of superiority and his pursuit of luxury and art, which are incompatible with his life and the world around him (Carpenter-Houde, 2004). His refusal to adapt to everyday life, which is the main theme of the story, leads to feelings of despair and frustration.
The flower is a symbol of Pauls attitude: its brave mockery at the winter outside the glass, (Cather: 64) symbolizes Pauls revolt against the homilies by which the world is run (Cather: 64). He does not find any common ground with the world around him; all he thinks about is escaping from it and living the kind of life that he thinks is right for him. Pauls rejection of society as a whole is actually reciprocal; he is not accepted by his teachers, nor does he find a way to fit in with his classmates.
Pauls teachers and peers symbolize middle-class society, the mass of people sharing to a great extent, the same ideals and goals in life, which are all very different from his: His teachers felt this afternoon that his whole attitude was symbolized by his shrug and his flippantly red carnation flower, and they fell upon him without mercy, his English teacher leading the pack (Cather: 4). Pauls attitude is one of isolation and contempt. He does not accept them either. I didnt mean to be polite or impolite, either.
I guess its a sort of way I have of saying things regardless (Cather: 6). Moreover, he expresses his shuddering repulsion for the flavorless, colorless mass of every-day existence (Cather: 19). He has a feeling of superiority and his isolation is a mere response to the narrow-mindedness of society; he chooses self-isolation and does not do anything to escape it: could not bear to have the other pupils think, for a moment, that he took these people seriously; he must convey to them that he considered it all trivial, and was there only by way of a jest, anyway (Cather: 33).
Paul cannot adapt to his life in Pittsburgh because his dreams are so different from the reality of his life Paul never went up Cordelia Street without a shudder of loathing (Cather: 19). His image of what his life should be is very strong, it borders on obsession. While he fantasizes about a life of luxury and beauty, he cannot stand the sight of it all; his ugly sleeping chamber; the cold bath-room with the grimy zinc tub, the cracked mirror, the dripping spigots (Cather: 20).
Apart from the red carnation which symbolizes his lust for the lifestyle he imagines, the defiance of everything society stands for, but also the frailty of life, there are a few other objects which oppose the symbol of the flower. These objects represent the mundane nature of life on Cordelia Street, a place he loathes and dreams of getting away from. The most significant are perhaps the cooking utensils, along with the kitchen odors (Cather: 19) that he always scrubs from his hands before going to his job at the theater.
Flowers, on the other hand, are the element which defines his isolation but also what makes it more bearable: he wears a carnation in his buttonhole, orders flowers as soon as he enters his room in the New York hotel, and in the end, the carnation becomes symbol of his demise: the last thing he does before committing suicide is to bury a carnation from his coat in the snow.
As in the case of the hunger artist, who keeps pushing for his greatest performance, caring more about his art than his own life, Pauls final act symbolizes his uncompromising nature, his unwillingness to conform to societys demands and his strong belief that his choices had been right despite the outcome. Carpenter-Houde, Renee.
Symbolism in Pauls Case. Hohonu: A Journal of Academic Writing. Volume 2. Number 2. 2004.