Extract From Knut Hamsuns Hunger English Literature Essay

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It is the latter concept that encouraged me to analyze this extract. I felt this passage introduced an important, recurring theme throughout the novel, namely, the character s relationship with God. This piece of narrative is effective because the prose mirrors that of the bible and therefore reinforces the importance of this theme.

The extract occurs after we have been introduced to our unnamed protagonist and narrator. He has shared his thoughts with us and as he wanders aimlessly through the streets of Kristiania we understand that he is suffering from hunger, both in the physiological sense and in his craving to produce a great piece of writing. In order to achieve this he must retrieve his pencil which was left in a vest he recently pawned.

As the narrator s mind wanders he contrasts his economic status with those better off, this sparks a great notion of resentment towards God. This extract provides a stark contrast to the narrator s previous complaints, which were based more on his own sad lot, as he was unable to produce the piece of writing to earn him money to satisfy his hunger. Here he is attempting to blame God for his misfortune.

With this change in tone comes a distinct change in narrative style. His grievance with God is reflected in a more biblical style of writing, as though he has the right to preach to God, which reflects his arrogant nature. Hamsun creates this through the use of Polysyndeton the use of several conjunctions in close succession which often adds emphasis to the text.,(ref1 Mark Axelrod-The Poetics of Peripatetics and Peripeti in Hamsuns Hunger 1999) It was a style often used in the St James version of the bible. The narrator introduces it as he cries with defiance and looked up toward heaven and told him so once and for all . He points out that, Fragments of my childhood teachings came back to me, the cadences of the bible rang in my ears, By doing this the protagonist is preaching to God and questions why, had not my heavenly father provided for me as he had for the sparrows of the air . Using Polysyndeton adds reality to the situation and we sense that he is in direct communication with God. And God had withdrawn his finger and behold!...And there was a gaping hole after his finger, which was Gods finger, and wounds in my brain from the track of his finger.

As the passage progresses we see a change in his accusations towards God. There is a clear shift from blaming God directly for his poor situation, I felt increasingly bitter towards God for his continual oppressions . As his rantings continue he reaches a climax where he changes his stance altogether and confesses that no evil shall befall me from God, who is the Lord through all eternity . Thus, we see that the narrator has accepted responsibility for his situation. This swing in attitude is consistent with other episodes where the protagonist shifts from being accusatorial to contrite. Hamsun uses an effective narrative technique in emphasising this shift in attitude by moving from the past and introducing the present tense, Gusts of music are borne on the wind toward me from the students Promenade.

At the same time the protagonist is pursuing his issues with God, Hamsun uses musical terminology and imagery to heighten the sense of religious fervour that the writer is experiencing. Phrases such as, cadences of the Bible rang in my ears and gusts of music are borne on the wind toward me , coupled with the biblical rhythm of the passage adds to the sense of spiritual feeling.

The shift in stance from the accusative to the contrite helps create a sense of the disturbed uncertainty that the protagonist is experiencing. The mental instability can be seen as a reflection of the mental state that extreme hunger produces. In this case the protagonist moves from accusing God for all the bad things happening to him, to one of feeling that God is there to protect him. And no evil shall befall me from God, who is the Lord through all eternity... We see a similar pattern of behaviour in other passages where the protagonist shifts from an accusatorial stance to one of contrition and acceptance for his own responsibility.

The connection between the physiological hunger and the creative hunger that accompanies it is also heightened. This is the overriding theme in the novel and its importance cannot be understated. He points out that, I had noticed that every time I went hungry for quite a long time it was as though my brain trickled quietly out of my head, leaving me empty. He goes on to describe the effects that hunger plays on him. My head grew light and absent, I could no longer feel its weight on my shoulders . This image conveys a sense of light headedness that you feel when you have been starved but the reference to the head growing light and absent also implies the lack of creativity within his mind.

The writer creates an effective contrast between his earthly body and that of God s other creatures where he compares his, Wretched bag of worms called my earthly body to the sparrows of the air . The image of the worms which live in the earth creates an effective contrast to that of the heavenly father .

The reference to the network of nerves that God touches with his finger is an effective tool in highlighting his confused mental state. He describes this as bringing a little confusion among the threads The use of alliteration is effective in highlighting the sensitivity of his nervous system when he says, there were fibres and delicate filaments on his finger .

There is a strong sense of conclusion with the passage as his feelings towards God come to a head. Hamsun creates an effective rhythm to the passage which increases in pace as conjunctions are repeated with regularity in the second half of the passage. Therefore when the narrator announces that Gusts of music are borne , we feel a sense of musical crescendo, which further reflects the passing of this rather emotional moment for the writer. He enhances this effect by creating a stark contrast with the next sentence which is short and simple, So it must be after two . It is as though the moment came and passed without any after-effect. When the writer shuffles through his papers he discovers his coupons and declares, Thank God! One interprets this as the narrator believing that God has rewarded him for his spiritual contact or simply that the protagonist responds positively to any good news that benefits him. Therefore, when times are good he is being rewarded by God but when he is suffering it is because God is punishing him, I felt increasingly bitter towards God for his continual oppressions.

The passage foreshadows the attempt by the writer to contact Pastor Levion. When totally destitute he reluctantly turns to the church for help only to discover that it is closed and the pastor gone out. This passage therefore increases the irony of the situation.

I believe this passage is of particular significance as it demonstrates the torment that the narrator experiences through his hunger. The outburst towards God demonstrates his desperation as there is no higher level he could challenge. It also reflects the writer s fragile state of mind and interdependence that exists between his mind and body, he needs to feed his body for his creative mind to operate. There is a clear link established between his need for God s help, his relationship with God and his own need for his body to feed his mind.

In addition, throughout the novel, as well as in this extract, the passionate nature of the writing conveys the strong sense of hunger which the artist is suffering, it seems he is almost driven mad from hunger, yet we know the narrator is merely recounting the feeling of hunger..,(ref1 Mark Axelrod-The Poetics of Peripatetics and Peripeti in Hamsuns Hunger 1999) This makes us appreciate even more the effectiveness of the powerful writing used during these moments of extreme suffering.


Hunger; Knut Hamsun, First published by Canongate Books in 2006


Ferguson, Robert. 1888-1890: The Breakthrough: Hunger. In Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun, pp. 99-121. London: Hutchinson, 1987.

Auster, Paul. The Art of Hunger. In The Art of Hunger: Essays, Prefaces, Interviews and The Red Notebook, pp. 9-20. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Stagg, Hunter T. Review of Hunger, by Knut Hamsun. Reviewer 1, no. 1 (15 February, 1921): 23-4.