The Cowards Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The action of the novel takes place during one week, between May 4 and May 11, 1945, the period between the defeat of the occupying Nazis in this area of Czechoslovakia and the takeover by the Soviets. The title refers to the fact that in spite of all the brave sentiments mouthed by the townspeople, few of them really want to be involved in the fight against the Nazi troops, until the issue is no longer in doubt.

The novel is narrated in the first person by Danny, a self-obsessed and self-conscious youth, who is often more worried about his unsuccessful courtship of Irena and his relationships with his peers in the jazz band than he is about the important events taking place around him. Danny is a member of the bourgeoisie and thus cannot really identify with the proletarians who are in favor of the approaching Russian troops. Nevertheless, he understands and fully exploits his privileged position. When he is arrested by the Germans during a demonstration early in the novel, he is saved from punishment, and possibly even execution, by the intervention of Dr. Sabata, a town official and a friend of Danny’s father. Danny then joins a partisan group and is issued a submachine gun, but immediately afterward, most of the group tamely turns over these guns when ordered to do so by the town authorities. The only holdout is Prema, their leader, who refuses to give up his gun and is jailed as a result.

The hopes and fears of the townspeople rise and fall at the confused news from the nearby front. The town organizes a militia, supposedly...

(The entire section is 636 words.)