A hunger artist who professionally fasts in a cage has come on hard times. People think he cheats by sneaking food; his manager limits his fasting to forty days even though the hunger artist believes he can last longer; and he remains unsatisfied, even when the public leaves his performances happily.
Without notice, the audience deserts the hunger artist. A European tour fails to drum up interest, and the hunger artist hires himself out to a circus. However, people only watch him because he is near the animals, not because they are interested in him. He remains neglected until one day an overseer asks him if he is still fasting. The hunger artist asks for forgiveness and explains that people should not admire his fasting; he simply could never find any food he liked, but if he had, he would have eaten it. With that, he dies. The circus replaces him in his cage with a panther. Everyone is fascinated by the vitality of the panther, and they never want to move away.