Meaniful Fantasy

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade September 2001

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Meaningful fantasy? Isn't that an oxymoron? I thought that fantasy is for kids? Why right an essay on that? Wouldn't it be more worthy to discuss the meanings of the third line of Hamlet's monologue to his mother, and it's impact on the works of the modern romance author, Danielle Steele. The answer quite simply is, "No". There is much to be learned and derived from these works of fancy. Especially when the works in question are those of high caliber authors such as Gabriel García Marquez and Franz Kafka, and their respective works', "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" and "A Hunger Artist ". These works are representative of fantasy used in a more intellectual way, when the fantastical way of telling the story becomes the medium for the message. In a meaningful fantasy, meaning is not derived from symbolism or from figurative interpretation, but through the story itself, how interactions occur between certain kinds of people and the way in which the plot unfolds.

Through a comparison and contrast of how the characters are similarly treated, their eventually fates' and the messages of the stories contained in Gabriel García Marquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" and Franz Kafka's "A Hunger Artist", we should be able to find some common themes as well as come to a better understanding of the term, meaningful fantasy.

In "A Hunger Artist " the nameless main character lives a nomadic life that has him travel to different cities to display his special talent, professionally. The process behind the display of his art is a very simple one, he is placed in a cage, usually in a town center where lots of people can come see him, and then he fasts for approximately forty days, at the end of the forty days he leaves his cage and the show is over. The general reaction of his audience is one of fascination and awe, however the fascination shown is a morbid one, and the awe is not for what they see as a special talent but merely a freak of nature. This is evident through the public's lack of respect, many believing that he is a fraud, a "kind of cheat who found it easy to fast because he had discovered a way of making it easy (198)", and others thinking him dishonest "there were people who argued that this breakfast was an unfair attempt to bribe the watchers (197)".

The very old man, in Marquez's story, is similarly treated cruelly, however it is definitely of a more physical nature compared to the emotional kind laid upon the hunger artist. He is caged in a chicken coop where "the hens pecked at him"¦the cripples pulled out his feathers to touch their defective parts with, and even the most merciful threw stones at him (443)" Not that the angel seems to be bothered by any of this. The angel never makes clear his purpose, and never seems to deviate from his position of "a cataclysm in repose (443)". The only time the crowd succeeds in getting a clear reaction from him is "when they burned his side with an iron for branding steers" and even then it seems that, "his reaction had not been one of rage but of pain (443)" The public in the stories treats both characters cruelly. The hunger artist is subjected to an attack on his character and profession, whereas the Angel is poked at and prodded with hot irons, and more or less treated as an animal, instead of as an old man, who could have probably used a bit of compassion. The two main characters both take their cruel treatment as an inescapable reaction to their undeniable conditions As the interest the public has for fasting inevitably wanes, and it is no longer feasible for the hunger artist to perform independently. Forcing him to hire himself on to a circus where they grant his request "to fast [for] as [long as] he liked (200)". This is not the best situation for the artist who believed that "he could endure fasting longer [then forty days](198)", and now that he was free to do so fasted until he starved to death. When on his death bed- a pile of straw in a animals cage- he makes clear his motivations for his fasting, and reveals that his life was not as honorable and proud as it may have been perceived (though I don't think any one but maybe the artist, in his denial, was under this illusion) but in fact cursed.

Blessed is a fitting word for the fate of the angel in Marquez's story. The interest in his character wanes, and his accommodations are upgraded, after a storm destroys the chicken coop he is allowed to live in the shed, the angel does not however appear to prefer his new situation any more then his previous, but from an objective perspective there is no doubt that his situation improved drastically. As this is happening changes begin to occur in the angel, both physical and emotionally as can be seen in the excerpt And yet he not only survived his worst winter, but seemed improved with the first sunny days. He remained motionless for several days in the farthest corner of the courtyards, where no one would see him, and at the beginning of December some large stiff feathers began to grow on his wings, the feathers of a scarecrow, which looked more like another misfortune of decrepitude, But he must have know the reason for those changes, for he was quite careful that no one should notice them, that no one should hear the sea chanteys that he sometimes sang under the stars (445).

The angel finally recovers from his crash into Pelayo's courtyard, and is able fly off into the horizon, leaving Pelayo and Elisenda behind, who are on the whole ungrateful towards the old man and the prosperity he had brought with him.

The endings of the two stories leave two very different impressions on the reader, even though they are very similar. Both stories end with each character achieving their purpose. The artist who at the beginning is stifled not being allowed to express to the fullest sense his art, is finally able to fast himself to death, which bizarre as it may seems appears to have been his ultimate goal. The angel, gets to be once again an angel, instead of just a man with a enormous set of wings, being that the most important prerequisite of an angel is flight and not only possessing wings. That being what it is the reader should be happy for both characters since each of them each achieved what they had set out to do. You are not of course happy for the hunger artist dying, we feel sad that his existence was so fated.

The reason for this feeling of despair towards Kafka's artist lies in the message of the story. That absolute denial of our true nature will eventually be revealed as pathetic and wasteful. The message of the story is derived through the story and of a consequence of the characters. The audience's motivation for treating the artist badly, comes from their disgust towards a creature so demented that he would turn the denial of the necessities of life, into a profession; this is also the reason for their fascination. Their fascination is illustrated most eloquently in the following excerpt.

At one time the whole town took a lively interest in the hunger artist; from day to day of his fast the excitement mounted; everybody wanted to see him at least once a day; there were people who bought season tickets for the last few days and sat from morning till night in front of his small barred cage; even in the night time there were visiting hours, when the whole effect was heightened by torch flares; on fine days the cage was set out in the open air. And then it was the children's special treat to see the hunger artist"¦ [They] stood open mouthed, holding on to each others' hands for greater security, marveling at him as he sat there in pallid black tights, with his ribs sticking out so prominently, not even on a seat but down among straw on the ground, sometimes giving a courteous nod, answering questions with a constrained smile, or perhaps stretching an arm through bars so that one might feel how thin it was (197) Just before the artist dies he stops denying the true nature of the reason for his fasting, not that he is trying to achieve some sort of artistic perfection, but that he is simply doomed to do so by some cruel flaw in his character. This realization is evident by the look in his "dimming eyes [as they] remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast" Denial is also a main part of the theme of Marquez's story. Except in his story the public is the one denying the old man. This is once again shown through the actions of the characters. By treating the old man in such a poor way as they do, they are showing their disrespect too him as a supernatural being. The best reaction when you are encountered with something new and wondrous is not to lock it up and throw rocks at it, but to try and learn something about it and its purpose. The public in Marquez's story however has no desire to do this. Why they react this way is revealed by Elisenda's feelings for the angel at the end of the story "Elisenda shouted that it was awful living in that hell full of angels (444)" and by her reaction when he flies away, "She kept watching him even when she was through cutting the onions and she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea. (445)" These lines basically sum up the thought that it is easier to live a normal life in a world were wondrous and magical things happen, though altogether infinitely more boring.

The connecting thread that links the two stories is the message that; although life can be made easier through the act of denial it cannot be made better, from Kafka's story there is the message that self-denial is a detrimental act upon a full life and Marquez's gives us the message that the denial of an irreparable change in our life causes us to miss out on much of the beauty of life.

In Conclusion the two stories have a lot in common in terms of the actions taken against the main subjects, the eventually fate of their main characters, and the overall messages of the stories. By looking at these commonalities it is possible to discern the usefulness and effectiveness of fantasy as serious literature and that relegating an entire genre to be merely escapist is dismissing the largest aspect of literature itself --the story.

This is where fantasy exceeds, in the story, for many there is nothing more worth reading about then an angel learning to fly again. One may have thousands and powerful thoughts and biting theories but if your medium is not an effective one, then you may as well stick to writing, "top ten lists". Not to say that, it is impossible to write a story someone will want to read without a few dragons in it, but dismissing out right that a dragon may not have anything intelligent to pass on is far too condemning. Another strong aspect of a fantasy story is it's clarity, forces of good and evil and right and wrong, are usually very clear in a fantasy story, a fantasy story never becomes too symbolic, abstract, or figurative for someone to understand and it always makes clear it's point. Think of the thousands of years of knowledge and experience one would miss out on if it one never took the advice from an angel.