Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The title The Loser could be applied to T, who at the end of the novel has lost his freedom, his work, his wife, and even that dream of a better society for which he has been willing to give his life. Certainly his fellow academics, the director of the asylum, and other characters who have fitted their expectations to the possibilities which their society affords are puzzled by what seems to be T’s insistence on losing. His desire to retreat to the asylum is another version of his brother’s impulse toward violence and death.

The title could surely be plural, as well, for a society which brands its subtlest, most rigorous thinkers as enemies of the state, which fetters their minds and imprisons their bodies, which denies them publication and expels them from libraries and from universities, is a society of losers. Konrád suggests this interpretation with a number of metaphors. For example, he contemplates the closed ward in the mental institution, which is not unlike an Eastern European Communist country. In order to protect society, supposedly, one begins by locking up those who threaten to harm themselves. Soon one moves to those who are troublesome or who annoy someone in power. Finally, those who are not locked up become so nervous that they wish to be, in order to avoid responsibility. While this argument is supposedly the director’s justification for his asylum, the passage is clearly Konrád’s vision of his own society. Cynically, the director points out that Hungary has a history of defeat and occupation and that Hungarians...

(The entire section is 637 words.)