Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In The Farewell Party, Kundera shrewdly adapts the conventions of farce to the purposes of political criticism. The novel offers the typical entertainment of farce—sexual intrigue, suspense, silly characters, and amusing scenes, all combined in a tightly constructed plot that resembles the five acts of a French well-made play. Yet at the same time the novel, like other works by Kundera, has a reflective quality—in the author’s style, in the analysis of character, and in the set discussions—that suggests more than mere entertainment. The suggestion points to another sense in which the novel is reflective thematically: The personal behavior of the characters is a reflection of the regime that made them. As in all Kundera’s fiction, there is a continuum between the personal and the political.

Aside from character, Kundera makes his point through symbolism, some of which has already been noted. The contrast between pale-blue pills and pale-blue halos plays on a dichotomy between Communism and Christianity, ingestion and emanation, outer dependence and inner strength, Communist character and Christian character, Skreta and Bartleff. Bartleff calls Skreta “one of Jesus’s holy disciples, for he knows how to perform miracles,” but Skreta’s miracles seem decidedly Communist—his uniform spawn of nearsighted, big-nosed children—whereas Bartleff is the genuine article. Just as Ruzena embodies Jakub’s persecutors, so Kamila embodies the beauty in life that he has so far missed, though he might find it where he is going.