Short summary - Sult - Knut Hamsun

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Sult
Knut Hamsun

The novel, written in the first person, is partly autobiographical in nature; it resurrects the events of 1886 in Christiania (now Oslo), when Hamsun was on the verge of starvation.

The narrator huddles in a miserable closet in the attic, he is constantly tormented by the pangs of hunger. A novice writer tries to earn money by adding his articles, notes, feuilletons to newspapers, but this is not enough for life, and he falls into complete poverty. He reflects wistfully on how slowly and steadily he is rolling downhill. It seems the only way out is to find a steady income, and he begins to study the job advertisements in the newspapers. But in order to take the place of the cashier, a deposit is required, but there is no money, but they don’t take him to the fire department, because he wears glasses.

The hero experiences weakness, dizziness, nausea. Chronic hunger causes overexcitation. He is fidgety, nervous and irritable. During the day, he prefers to spend time in the park - there he thinks about the topics of future works, makes sketches. Strange thoughts, words, images, fantastic pictures rush through his brain.

He pledged in turn everything that he had - all household trifles, every book to one. When auctions are held, he amuses himself by watching in whose hands his things pass, and if they get a good owner, he feels satisfied.

Severe protracted hunger causes inadequate behavior of the hero, often he acts contrary to worldly norms. Following a sudden impulse, he gives his waistcoat to the usurer, and hands the money to the beggar cripple, and the lonely, starving one continues to wander among the mass of well-fed people, acutely feeling the complete neglect of those around him.

He is overwhelmed with the ideas of new articles, but the editors reject his writings: he chooses too abstract topics, newspaper readers are not hunters for abstruse reasoning.

Hunger torments him constantly, and to drown it out, he either chews on a chip or a pocket torn from his jacket, or sucks on a pebble or picks up a blackened orange peel. An announcement catches my eye that there is a place for an accountant at a merchant, but again a failure.

Reflecting on the misadventures pursuing him, the hero wonders why God chose him for his exercises, and comes to a disappointing conclusion: apparently, he simply decided to destroy him.

There was nothing to pay for the apartment, there was a danger of being on the street. It is necessary to write an article, this time it will definitely be accepted - he encourages himself, and having received the money, it will be possible to somehow hold out. But, as if on purpose, the work does not move, the necessary words do not come. But finally, a successful phrase was found, and then just have time to write it down. The next morning, fifteen pages are ready, he experiences a kind of euphoria - a deceptive rise in strength. The hero is anxiously waiting for a review - what if the article seems mediocre.

The long-awaited fee does not last long. The landlady recommends finding another place to live, he is forced to spend the night in the forest. The idea comes to give the old man a blanket that he once borrowed from a friend - his only remaining property, but he refuses. Since the hero is forced to carry a blanket with him everywhere, he enters the store and asks the clerk to pack it in paper, supposedly inside two expensive vases intended for shipment. Having met a friend with this bundle on the street, he assures him that he got a good place and bought fabrics for a suit, but you need to dress up. Such meetings unsettle him, realizing how pathetic his appearance, he suffers from the humiliation of his position.

Hunger becomes an eternal companion, physical torment causes despair, anger, bitterness. All attempts to get at least a little money are unsuccessful. Almost on the verge of a hungry faint, the hero is considering whether to go to the bakery and ask for bread. Then he begs the butcher for a bone, supposedly for a dog, and, turning into a back alley, tries to gnaw it, shedding tears. Once you even have to look for an overnight stay at the police station under the fictitious pretext that you stayed too long in a coffee shop and lost the keys to the apartment. The hero spends a terrible night in a separate cell kindly provided to him, realizing that madness is approaching him. In the morning, he watches with annoyance how the detainees are given out food stamps, which, unfortunately, they won’t give him, because the day before, not wanting to be seen as a homeless tramp, he introduced himself to law enforcement officers as a journalist.

The hero reflects on moral issues: now, without any twinge of conscience, he would have appropriated the purse lost by a schoolgirl on the street or would have picked up a coin dropped by a poor widow, even if she had her only one.

On the street, he runs into a newspaper editor who, out of sympathy, gives him some money on account of his future fee. This helps the hero regain a roof over his head, rent a miserable, dirty "room for visitors". Indecisively, he comes to the shop for a candle, which he intends to ask for a loan. He works hard day and night. The clerk mistakenly hands him more change along with the candle. Not believing in the unexpected luck, the beggar writer hurries to leave the shop, but he is tormented by shame, and he gives the money to the street vendor of pies, rather puzzling the old woman. After some time, the hero decides to repent to the clerk of his deed, but does not meet with understanding, he is mistaken for a madman. Staggering from hunger, he finds a pie vendor, hoping to have at least a little refreshment - after all, he once did a good deed for her and has the right to count on responsiveness - but the old woman drives him away with a curse, takes the pie.

One day, the hero meets two women in the park and follows them, while behaving impudently, importunately and rather stupidly. Fantasies about a possible romance, as always, lead him very far, but, to his surprise, this story has a continuation. He calls the stranger Ilayali, a meaningless, musical-sounding name that conveys her charm and mystery. But their relationship is not destined to develop, they cannot overcome disunity.

And again, a beggarly, hungry existence, mood swings, habitual isolation on oneself, one's thoughts, feelings, experiences, an unsatisfied need for natural human relationships.

Having decided that it is necessary to radically change his life, the hero enters the ship as a sailor.