"The Hunger" by Hamsun Knut
After having read "The Hunger" by Hamsun Knut, I can fairly understand why the book is so intense. This review as any other on my website has no intention to cover a broad theoretical analysis of the book or make an in-depth analysis of the psychological principles involved but rather provide a nice contestation of the feelings and thoughts that the book provoked to me as a reader, what first attracted my attention and what the style similarities are between “the Stranger” by Albert Camus as reviews previous on my site. I will try to avoid all the redundant plot information and focus on the main characteristics that make this book very interesting in my tastes. Both books have an internal evolution of plot without any superfluous stylistic features. First of all, there is no external stimulus which dictates the hero what to do (e.g. fights, dialogues, murders etc) as met on the traditional novels, but on the contrary, the whole plot, the streams of thought and the psychological progress of the book is taking place almost exclusively inside the head of the author. The facts happening in the real world only constitute a starting point for internal turmoil and mental turbulence and form as part of the paranoia - if such - of the hero. The final conclusion that the hero wants to reach remains unknown and indiscernible to the reader and the hero himself keeps reaching the same mental state of self-contempt, since his process of thinking is circular meaning that the resolution tends to identify with the starting point of the thoughts mostly in the form of:
Self-contempt - external stimulus - revived self esteem and respect - self contempt.
His thoughts are mostly shaped as a reaction to what the external stimulus looks like rather than what it actually is. The hero hurts his finger but since there is not much blood, it means to him that the cut is not important. The hero observes very meticulously, comments diligently with amazing detail on the surrounding reality, reacts, curses and swears at people and objects, has all his senses and thinks ... A lot. All this presupposes a mentally healthy hero but still a hero who feels like he is going insane. What I am thinking is whether this superficial attendance to reality makes him insane little by little and contributes to his gradual factual detachment from life.
I am wondering whether it’s the body or the mind that is hungrier. The stomach is growling and is in pain but the mind has to suffer both the hunger of the spirit and the physical attenuation. The fact that the hero does have a large amount of attention focused on the external stimulus but refuses to identify with the feelings evoked implies the desperate psychological situation of his soul. The hunger starts as an internal situation and starts covering all external reactions and aspects of the hero’s personality as it spreads on his choices and dooms him to this evil circle mentioned before. The hero chooses to live in a room without any light, without a new sheet, without a new garment or anything that c k ould improve his life. He refuses to ask for anything from his fellow people even when he is about to collapse from hunger and despair. What is this? Is this heroism or is it just silly? The walls of his room are covered in newspapers, the floor is trembling when somebody is walking and there is no heat. As the introduction by Paul Auster suggests, the unnamed hero has taken care of every single detail to make his life unbearable. Every choice the hero makes prepares the ground for the lurking hunger of the body and the mind. When he is eating, he parallels the feeling of satisfying the hunger with that of crying a lot - the relief of eating comes through a procedure which is identified with its uttermost opposite - that of extreme sadness. Redemption comes through crying and in a very weird way; the hero is satisfied with crying and food. It almost means the same to him since in the book it’s not very rarely that he cries in his effort to keep the food down in his stomach. Other times, he feels like he needs to cry in order to exterminate this fierce energy boiling in his heart from all the internal hunger that burns his head. So hunger and crying possess a very close relation in the life of the narrator. It is actually through hunger that the hero can understand the world. He hates himself for accepting money from others and he is disgusted by the thought of stealing. And yet he does do it and then feels aversion to himself.
The interchange of thoughts and feelings occur out of a non-linear consciousness which is interrupted by anything that happens around the author during his stream of contemplation. Each thought is invoked by an external stimulus which is however lost after some seconds and it is replaced graciously by some past experience. However the conclusion is always the same: hunger. Following this, the efforts of the hero to make a complete thought and even write a complete contemplation down in the form of an article is distracted as is his life by his efforts to be hungry. The internal fight between self esteem and hunger make him fall in this pit where self respect and despair come face to face in a pre-destined fight.
The more the hero is trying to be a better person, the more disgraceful he becomes to himself. He indulges in honest actions just to prove it to himself while no one else cares. Yet, he tends to think that everybody is watching. He definitely starts to believe that he is a psycho or paranoid and maybe he is. Nobody can tell since boundaries are very blurry. The boundaries between the author and the nameless hero are also very flexible and obscure. I believe that in reality, the voice of the author is the cosmic conscience of a human who is slowly fading away from exhaustion. It is the human brain, transcending all social and political constructions and systems so as not to starve to death.
The hero strives for food in a starving world and for meaning in a meaningless world. This is also used as an allusion for his effort to reach some meaning via his writing. The writing makes his mind starve and the hunger also makes his stomach grumble. He is tortured by meaning, it is appointed to him as a quest to assign new meaning to the world – any meaning at all. Even the words he is inventing are a desperate effort to try and understand the world. The hero is ashamed of himself for not finding meaning but he cannot even try to do the opposite. His hunger stops him from doing so.
Knut’s magic novel is infinite. This review could be written all over again and keep going for ever. So is the hunger of the hero. His life is hungry for another’s life. He has already swallowed his and is seeking to suck down anything that reminds him of what life looks like.