An Experience of a Struggling Writer in Hunger or Sult
Hunger or Sult was written by Knut Hamsun in 1890. Hunger was reflecting on Hamsun’s struggling as a young writer, so this novel is considered as his autobiographical works because it is based on his personal story/experiences. Hamsun wants to represent the writer’s hardships through the protagonist’s hungriness, shows the reader that what is it like when the writers have lost hope in writing, lost hope in themselves and how hard it is to entering the real world. Before he achieved success in winning the Nobel prize, he had also worked hard to establish his literary reputation. Because of this, Hamsun wants the readers to experience/understand his suffering and trying to survive in desperation. The three main themes of the novel are the conflict of the individual versus society, self-conscious emotions and self-control, which are the most significance common themes in this novel.
The novel’s unnamed narrator struggles throughout the story to find his position within society because entering the real world/society is never easy. He is trying to establish himself as a writer while applying for other jobs, but does not meet the requirements and society seems to reject him. He directly got rejected to be a fireman because he wears glasses and he could not get a job as an accountant because he got the date on his application wrong. He seems to be doubtful of whether he would ever get accepted for any jobs because he had previously been rejected for a few jobs. This causes the protagonist to have lower self-esteem. But he appears to constantly cling on to the things he has by a thread since he has no stable job. He has a bit more success as a writer as he actually sold some articles, but the main stories he wants to write never get completed and writing articles are usually never accepted. He wishes for stability, which is why he applied for a job in a shop and created fake identities to receive that same job. The protagonist develops an obsession with creating his own word and reality. He becomes a trickster through telling lies and inventing different personas to hide his true self. At one point in the novel, he invents a new word, “Kuboå” (Hamsun 65).
He’s very proud of inventing this new word and he feels it is of great importance, but he fails to find the meaning of the word and his failure results in a feeling of hopelessness. He is able to define what the word does not mean, but he fails to define what it does mean. This can be seen as the struggle of a writer trying to find his artistic value and individuality. He also refuses to use the actual name of the girl he falls in love with, instead he came up with a name for her, “Ylajali”. This implies to the readers that he isolates himself from society; he is just living in his own comfort zone and his own little bubble. It implies that he is scared that he would not be able to adapt to the society and people surrounds him. His fake identity is a confusing matter because he constantly pretends to be someone much more important than his true self. He exposes himself badly in public due to this, this is why society looks upon this negatively. Due to his failure, he is afraid of making mistakes and he is scared of rejection, in the same way that every other human is. But as a human, we make mistakes, but we learn from our own mistakes and make us into a better person everyday single day.
It seems of great importance to the protagonist to not lose his dignity in any way. For example, even when he has no money at all, he pawns his jacket so he can give some money to a beggar. Also, he did not have breakfast that provided for the homeless in jail, even though he was extremely hungry. The narrator has varying levels of success when it comes to fighting hunger. He was given someone else’s change to five crowns, enough money not to worry about food and lodging for several days. He takes them, but soon it starts to greatly deteriorate his conscience, so much to the point that he gives the money to the first street vendor, then full of temporarily pride, without thinking that he had nothing to eat. According to the novel, the narrator returns to the tradeswoman, under the in-pained face eats pies and excusing that he had paid in advance. He refuses to give up his dignity as a result of his stubbornness. The nameless narrator is also lying to avoid losing his pride, for example, when he was in jail, he lied about his identity, as he said: “I don’t know why I lied; my thoughts fluttered about in disarray and gave me more fanciful notions than I could handle. I hit upon this far-fetched name on the spur of the moment and tossed it out without any ulterior motive. I lied unnecessarily” (Hamsun 63). He lies to everyone but it is not because he likes to trick people, but he does it because his pride is hurting when accepting his miserable position. He admits that he is having a hard time, but he does not want the others to think the same. Finally, the girl he is in love with tries to help the protagonist by sending him ten kroners, anonymously.
Afterwards, he throws the money in the face of the landlady to make her feel a sense of shame because the landlady had hurt his pride, and the story comes to an end. He lives in a moment and let his life be decided by impulse decisions that may have harrowing consequences. Accepting money from the girl he loves is the final straw for the anti-hero. The only way to keep his dignity is to leave the city. But he also had come to a realisation that he is still broke since he threw the only money he had at the landlady’s face, so he decided to leave everything behind and needs to save himself, otherwise he will not survive. So the protagonist leaves the city by a ship at the end of the story to start a new beginning. The narrator’s pride prevents him from asking for help. He cannot ask the editor for an advance. He could not tell the truth of his situation to the police when he stays overnight in the jail as homeless. He was proud of his pride and his morality so he rejected help from others. He constantly lies and makes up stories to try to appear to be in a better situation than he is in. This reveals to the reader that the narrator’s pride is coiled up with a feeling of shame. He is ashamed of his own situation and feels that he should be above it. Part of this feeling of shame comes from the narrator’s belief in his own ability, that he has writing ability and the editor who bought his first article recognises the narrator’s talent. This shows the readers that he has a strong sense of pride towards his dignity, even though he is struggling because he has too much pride to even ask for any help and as a result is too ashamed to ask for any help. He thinks that society would not accept him for who he is, and would instead humiliate him. He is afraid of asking for help, preventing embarrassment because he has not accomplished anything in his life, for example, he doesn’t have a stable job, he hasn’t achieved happiness and he does not have a partner. It makes him feel inferior, feel like he is not good enough, therefore he feels a strong sense of insecurity within himself.
This novel has monologue of the narrator expressing his mental state and playing with his own mind. His day can never be one of satisfaction to him because he has woken up hungry and is mainly focused on this. According to this, his days could have been precious days with beautiful weather or something he would appreciate. But it turns out that he cannot fully appreciate those little things due to his desperate desire for food. It reflects his mind and therefore he does not focus on the beautiful day, but rather the lack of food he has. His mind is perhaps never satisfied since he always has a desire for more. His hungriness plays tricks with his mind like a wild animal starving for food. He has become extremely hungry, which causes him to experience anger and the need to cause someone pain/humiliation, or even to give money away. Heavy prolonged hunger causes these improper behaviour patterns to occur in the narrator. Following a sudden impulse, he gives his vest to the moneylender and hands money to old man. He feels overwhelming and he cannot control himself because he is starving. In addition, his pursuit of ‘Ylajali’ becomes nothing after he admits that he harassed her and he was not drunk, but it is because he could not control his desire to her as well as his action.
Due to these actions, this causes her to desire nothing more than isolation. This was far from his intention, as she has now become one of the people who believe that he is a terrifyingly mental person. He is left without the woman he desires, so remains having serious condition mentally. As he begins to losing of his control, being looked upon with contempt by people in the town and being disgusted by ‘Ylajali’. It is hunger that turned his mind into an uncontrollable, which has a crazy energy. Part Three, for example, opens with the line: “A week went by in joy and gladness” (Hamsun 99). By this stage the pattern of the narrative has been established and the readers can anticipate the slow descent into hunger and hopelessness that will follow. The narrator is left homeless, hungry, poor and his fate depends on unexpected chances, which for better or worse determines his panic battles with hunger and keep him going until the next crisis. It has been observed that the narrative as a whole excludes those periods when the narrator has been able to dig himself out of poverty, dwelling instead on the details of his suffering and hardships. This teaches the reader that self-control is significantly important to regulate behaviours, in order to achieve long-term relationships. But if emotion takes over, we can not think straight, so the reason flies out the window and the acts/decisions are not likely to be as productive as we were supposed to be.
Hunger or Sult is a novel about Hamsun’s strive when he just started writing, he experienced first failure then success. Hamsun wants the readers to experience/understand his suffering and trying to survive in desperation because now he has to work to be able to get money for either food and his rent. The protagonist has experienced endless rejection of jobs, which makes him an introvert that living in his own bubble. It implies to the readers that he has a fear of adapting himself to the society, so he isolates himself with the real world. In the final part, he refuses the help that he got offered, which tears up his last effort at writing. This emphasises to the readers that he values his dignity over the opportunity to earn money because he has too much pride to even receive helps from others and he is shameful for asking for any helps. He prioritises his pride more than achieve his satisfaction of his physical hunger. So that is why he is still poor, hungry and struggle to earn any money or even to get food. The protagonist’s inability to overcome his physical hunger leads to the continuation of losing his mind. He has losing control of his consciousness, his action and his thoughts, leading him do something that he was not supposed to and it could ruined long-term relationships. But suddenly, at the end of the story, the protagonist has stopped being ashamed of his poverty, he has suffered ongoing transformation and he has finally defeated his physical needs, his craving for social acceptance and social recognition. Extreme hunger has not killed him yet, his spirit has not frozen and repetition of rejections have not diminished his self-esteem. So the protagonist has decided to leave the city with a ship at the end of the story to start a new life. On the other hand, his humiliation has given the independence to his creative drive, the hunger to write, the lust to frame is what has kept him alive, he leaves the town and it is what has finally set him free.
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