Summary (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
Set in Communist Czechoslovakia, The Joke relates the serious consequences of a frivolous message that a university student sends his girlfriend by postcard: “Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky! Ludvik.” The Joke is divided into seven parts, with each part narrated in the first person by one of the main characters except for part 7, which is narrated alternately by three characters.
Parts 1 and 2, both brief and set in 1965, show Ludvik Jahn and Helena preparing for their rendezvous in Ludvik’s unnamed Moravian hometown. The rendezvous is the result of an elaborate plot whereby Ludvik plans to take revenge on his enemy Pavel Zemanek by seducing Helena, Zemanek’s wife. Part 3, narrated by Ludvik, shows his motives for seeking revenge, describing the highly politicized school years after the February, 1948, Communist revolution and recounting the story of the notorious postcard. Although a Communist student leader himself, Ludvik sends the joking message to Marketa, his naive girlfriend, when they are separated during the summer of 1949—he with an agricultural brigade, she at an ideological training session. Mocking what Marketa is being taught, Ludvik means simply to shock her as a joke, but the effect is far greater than he intended. The message is intercepted by the Communists, who, led by Zemanek (supposedly a friend), oust Ludvik from the Party and from the...
(The entire section is 1119 words.)
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