Wednesday, March 10, 2010

O Švejk, where art thou?

There have been a couple of comments on The Good Soldier Švejk, particularly in regard to Part One: Behind the Lines. I think a large part of Hašek’s accomplishment revolves around the ambiguity on how much of a simpleton is Švejk. Is he playing the part or is he really a fool? Or is he some combination of both?

I wanted to highlight the additional responses since it shows how differently the book can be read, which I think is one of its strengths. Once again I'll highly recommend the book and I look forward to hearing other interpretations--Švejk continues to fluster people almost a century after his 'birth'!

2 comments: said...

I have had a few thoughts about Švejk's "idiocy", but the main argument against that view can be found in the authors afterword to Book One where he explicitly states that Švejk was never MEANT to be a fool. That he sometimes appears to be, particularly in Book 1, might be because Hašek hadn't quite at that stage managed to pull him loose from the likeable/dumb/innocent Forrest Gump-like character from the pre-war short stories. In the meantime the author had experienced the horrors of war, thus being able to put his hero into a totally different setting, and add the venom that caused the novel to be banned on several occasions. In short: Švejk was no fool, and both the latest English language translators emphatically agree on this in their forewords.

Dwight said...

I think we're almost on the same page in that the first book has more ambiguity because the character was being developed. It's easy to tell he isn't completely a fool because he is able to carry out tasks in such a literal sense. And that's the joy of watching him undermine his superiors...doing exactly what they ask him to do ("tell him anything").

Švejk's development through the other books makes him a little less likeable, at least to me, because of his meanness at times. And through those books the "fool" characteristics are minimized but never completely done away with.

But there is some tension between what Hašek says at the end of Book One and the Švejk we see early on.