The grey bars and fence kept the two men caged in. Both men were on display for the world to view and look upon their unique yet impaired features: the broken wings of an angel who had fallen from Heaven and was now in a miserable state; the other had ribs and practically his organs poking out from beneath his skin because of his severely thin body. More and more people trickled in to view the men probably bringing their bags of popcorn along with them to further enjoy the experience altogether. The broken wings of the angel were sad yet intriguing, and the skinny figure of the Hunger Artist was grotesque yet impressive to the public. Because of the distinction of the angel and artist they were separated from the rest of the world and used as entertainment. In the short stories “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and “The Hunger Artist,” the two highlighted characters are seen as a Mona Lisa in their respective towns. The people in their cities pay to observe their broken condition and be entertained. Authors Marquez and Kafka, through their short stories, use their protagonists to portray the theme of a sacrificed identity that can be compared to Jesus Christ’s image: the hunger artist as an inverted version of Christ and the angel as a selfless divine being.
Taking notice of the hunger artist, he gives up his identity to obtain the art of perfection to the public eye through his physical body. He cages himself behind the bars and fasts for longer than necessary to try and get any person to understand and appreciate him. In contrast to how Jesus has given up His life for the world’s benefit, the artist is a transposed image of Christ and instead he gives his up body to be entertainment to the public. Yet, even though he intentionally sacrifices his body for the people, he does it for himself to prove he is a higher being than the rest of the world because fasting is so “easy” (Booth and Mays 335). Kafka discusses how the artist does not want to be “cheated of his fame” (336) so therefore he wants to continue his fast past the forty days he is limited to. His selfishness is the basis for his starving himself, so he can receive the applause and attention from the public eye – even if it actually grosses them out. When compared to the Son of God he is the ultimate image of perfection and his intentions are clearly to serve the people. Jesus, in Luke 6:17-19, goes to Jerusalem and heals “a great multitude,” and He depicts the image of perfection the hunger artist is striving to achieve by teaching and using His physical body to serve others. On another note, the text states how the hunger artist is limited to “forty days” when fasting, similar to the biblical number when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness and he fasts (Luke 4:1-4). For further proof, Kafka writes how the protagonist wishes for Heaven to look down upon him and “appreciate” his “frail condition” (336). By abstaining from food for longer than forty days he in a way is trying to prove he is better than God and he is supreme and can survive. Obviously that is not the case.
The angel in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” depicts Christ in how he heals, gives, and provides to the community he is in. The angel utilizes his divine being to be of use for the people who surround him. When taking a look at Pelayo and his family, who keep the angel in their chicken coop, his divine body is used as an attraction for the public and leads to blessing the family with a plentiful amount of cash. The family charges “five cents admission to see the angel” and they enclose their yard to keep their main attraction within their borders. Pelayo’s household has “crammed their rooms with money” gifted from the angel who is their thriving carnival act (271). Furthermore, a numerous amount of people come to be healed by the divine angel. This case is similar to how the woman who bled for twelve years in the Bible rushes up to touch Jesus to be cured and she immediately recovers because of His power and her faith in him (Matthew 9:20-22). Both the angel and the Son of God hold in their respective stories a divine being who restores the health of individuals in their community. In Mark 1:40-45 Jesus Christ yet again performs another miracle and cleanses a leper. In Marquez’s short story the angel heals a leper as well but instead of being fully healed his sores sprout sunflowers (273). Perhaps because the angel is broken and not in the best shape the people who come to him to be healed aren’t always cured completely, but they are still blessed by his doings, however. His “miracles” are witnessed by the community, yet he is unappreciated just like Jesus Christ in His ministry. Even after the many phenomena, the people still refuse the gospel and the literal earthly political kingdom Christ preaches is rejected. Similarly, when the angel finally has the strength to leave, Elisenda, the wife of Pelayo, is ungrateful and shouts how “it was awful living in that hell full of angels” (274).
The hunger artist and the angel each give a part of themselves to be of use of the community, and in both stories they are unappreciated. The hunger artist is replaced by a panther after his death and the angel is praised when he finally departs. Ungratefulness for the sacrificed identities is evident in these two stories as the audience reads them. From a general view the reader can comprehend the hunger artist uses the people to receive approval by how he fasts for longer than his normal time. Any time an individual disbelieves in the artist’s fast he is “made miserable” and is “annoyed” (334). This text depicts his need to feed on the affection and approval of his town and how he sacrifices his identity for himself rather than for the people. On the other hand, the angel lets himself be employed by the people so he is treated as a circus act and he sacrifices his identity to be seen and viewed as a beast who lives among the community rather than an angel. The people brand him and “burned his side with an iron,” mistreating the supposed angel (272).
From their reader magnifying glass, the audience of these two stories can conclude how both men sacrifice their identities to please the community. The hunger artist takes his life and uses it for entertainment for the people. The angel takes his life and uses it as healing for the people. However, one is willing to be trapped in the cage of his own will and the other is trapped by the town he falls upon. While the pair are seen as repulsive beasts who live among the people, their lives go unappreciated for their communities. The presence of their lives is at first appealing and appreciated, yet as time continues on they are pushed to the side and become mere annoyances. In addition, both of the stories contain text that can be compared with Jesus Christ and who He is. Though the motivations behind their actions are dissimilar as the hunger artist wants to be viewed highly and the angel doesn’t care to be in high regard among humankind, Jesus’ giving and sacrificial character and His diminished image entitled to him from His own people are evident in Kafka’s and Marquez’s stories.
Booth, Alison, and Kelly J. Mays. The Norton Introduction to Literature. Tenth ed., New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 2011, pp. 269-340.
Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Tenth ed., Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2011, pp. 1-60.