The novel, written in the first person, is partly autobiographical, it resurrects the events of 1886 in Christiania, when Hamsun was on the verge of starving to death.
The narrator huddles in a pathetic little room in the attic, he is constantly tormented by the throes of hunger. A novice writer tries to earn money by attaching his articles, notes, satirical articles to the newspapers, but this is not enough for his life, and he falls into complete poverty. He mournfully reflects on how slowly and steadily rolling downhill. It seems that the only way out is to find a permanent income, and he is going to study ads in the newspapers about hiring. But in order to take the place of the cashier, it is required to make a pledge, but there is no money, but firemen do not take it because
The hero experiences weakness, dizziness, nausea. Chronic hunger causes overexcitation. He is nervous, nervous and irritable. In the daytime he prefers to spend time in the park – there he ponders topics of future work, sketches. Strange thoughts, words, images, fantastic pictures sweep through his brain.
He alternately pledged all that he had, all household household stuff, all the books to one. When auctions are held, he entertains himself by keeping track of whose hands his belongings pass and if he gets a good owner, feels satisfied.
Heavy prolonged hunger causes inadequate behavior of the hero, often he acts contrary to everyday norms. Following the sudden impulse, he gives his money-vest to the moneylender, and hands the money to the impoverished cripple, and the lonely, hungry continues to wander among the mass of well-fed people, keenly feeling the complete disregard of others.
He is overwhelmed with the ideas of new articles, but the editors reject his works: he chooses too abstract topics, readers of newspapers are not hunters to abstruse reasoning.
Hunger torments him all the time, and to drown him, he then chews a piece of wood or a pocket detached from the jacket, then sucks a pebble or picks a blackened orange peel. An ad appears to the eye that there is a bookkeeper’s
Reflecting on the misfortunes that haunted him, the hero wondered why it was God who chose him for his exercises, and came to a disappointing conclusion: apparently, he simply decided to ruin.
There is nothing to pay for the apartment, there is a danger of being on the street. It is necessary to write an article, this time it will be accepted – he encourages himself, and having received the money, you can at least somehow hold out. But, as if on purpose, the work does not move, the right words do not come. But here at last a successful phrase is found, and then just write down. The next fifteen pages are ready, he experiences a kind of euphoria – a deceptive rise of strength. The hero with trepidation awaits a response – that if the article seems mediocre.
The long-awaited fee is enough for a while. The landlady recommends finding another accommodation, he is forced to spend the night in the forest. The thought comes to give the old man a blanket, which he once borrowed from a friend – his only remaining property, but he refuses. Since the hero is forced to carry a blanket everywhere with him, he enters the store and asks the clerk to pack it in paper, supposedly inside two expensive vases intended for shipment. Having met with this bundle on the street of a friend, assures him that he got a good place and bought fabrics for a suit, you need to dress up. Such meetings knock him out of the rut, realizing how pitiful his appearance is, he suffers from the humiliation of his position.
Hunger becomes an eternal companion, physical pains cause despair, anger, anger. Unsuccessful are all attempts to get at least a little money. Almost on the verge of a hungry fainting, the hero decides whether to go into 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 swallow it, bursting into tears. One day I even have to look for a night in the police station under the fictitious pretext that I stayed in a coffee shop and lost the keys to the apartment. The hero spends a horrible night in a kindly chamber given to him, realizing that insanity is approaching him. In the morning, he watches with annoyance how the food stamps are handed out to the detainees, unfortunately, they will not let him, because on the eve, not wanting to see a homeless vagrant in it, he introduced himself as a journalist to the guardians of order.
The hero reflects on the issues of morality: now he would have appropriated a purse lost by a schoolgirl in the street without a shred of conscience or picked up a coin, dropped by a poor widow, even if she was the only one.
On the street, he encounters the editor of the newspaper, who out of sympathy gives him some money in return for a future fee. This helps the hero to regain the roof over his head, to remove the pathetic, dirty “room for visitors.” In indecision he comes to the bench for a candle, which he intends to ask for in debt. He works hard all day and night. The clerk mistakenly handed him another change with the candle. Not believing unexpected luck, a penniless writer hurries to leave the shop, but he is tormented with shame, and he gives money to street vendors of pies, quite puzzling the old woman. After some time the hero decides to repent to the clerk in the deed, but does not meet understanding, he is mistaken for a madman. Staggering from hunger, he finds a trader pies,
Once a hero meets two women in a park and ties up with them, while behaving impudently, importunate and rather stupid. Fantasies about a possible novel, as always, lead him very far, but, to his surprise, this story has a continuation. He calls the stranger Ilayali – meaningless, musically sounding name, conveying her charm and mystery. But their relationship is not destined to develop, they can not overcome disunity.
And again, beggarly, hungry existence, mood swings, habitual isolation on oneself, their thoughts, feelings, experiences, unmet need for natural human relationships.
Deciding that it is necessary to radically change life, the hero comes to the ship as a sailor.