Themes and Meanings
In “Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead,” Milan Kundera examines the separation of body and soul. This is evident in the thoughts and actions of the two characters. The woman has aged considerably since she last saw the man; however, he recognizes her by a certain quality in her gentle smile that was familiar and attractive to him before. The same phenomenon occurs in his apartment when she waves her hand to refuse the alcohol her host offers: The man realizes that the grace and charm that filled him with love for her before still exists in her, even though it is covered by layers of age.
After considering the idea that “the old dead ought to make room for the young dead,” the woman realizes that even though monuments disappear, nothing changes. Her husband’s monument is gone, but he is no less dead nor has his existence been erased. If she makes love with her host, she knows he will be disgusted by her aged body and therefore his memorial to her—his fifteen-year-old memory—will crumble. She, however, will be unchanged by this crumbling because it is not part of who she is, of the young woman who still lives inside her old body. Similarly, the man knows that the physical act of making love to the woman will be unpleasant. Nevertheless, subconsciously he wants the unpleasantness because it will prove that all of his perceived missed opportunities would have been meaningless encounters resulting in no change in his personality or perspective. Through these characters, the reader sees that the body ages, memorials are lost, but the soul is indomitable.