How far is The Joke a political novel?

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The Joke is written as a satire of the Czech Communist party and so is an inherently political novel. The book intends to poke fun at the party's humorlessness and the ways that it rejects independent thinking. These conflicts are not even veiled: the main character, Jahn, comes into direct...

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The Joke is written as a satire of the Czech Communist party and so is an inherently political novel. The book intends to poke fun at the party's humorlessness and the ways that it rejects independent thinking. These conflicts are not even veiled: the main character, Jahn, comes into direct conflict with the Communist party for being freethinking, which culminates in him being expelled from the party for writing a joking postcard to a girlfriend of his. Jahn is then sentenced to a penal work camp where his daily routine involves working in a coal mine. All that just for trying to make a joke! This plot event represents a direct attack on the political party structure that existed when the author was writing, making The Joke a distinctly political novel.

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The Joke is a deeply political novel. It is a satire that critiques the repressive nature of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s. The lead character, Ludvik Jahn, gets into trouble and is expelled from the Communist Party in the early 1950s for sending a humorous postcard to a friend. He is an enthusiastic communist at this point, but as the novel shows, the Party has no sense of humor. When his postcard states that optimism is the opiate of the masses and praises Trotsky, Stalin's archnemesis, it is too much for the state to bear. For trying to make a simple joke, Ludvik is expelled from the university and forced to work in the mines at a reeducation camp. His life is ruined. Years later, he will try to revenge himself on one of the people who orchestrated his expulsion from the Party by seducing his wife, showing that the political and emotional scars of a totalitarian regime linger for years and years.

Kundera was also making a political statement in the nonlinear way he structured the novel and told it from various points of view. This was at variance with the state's preferred socialist-realist style which, like communism itself, preferred a linear narrative with a heroic ending for communism, as well as a single point of view. In a state that enforced uniformity, the idea that there could be multiple viewpoints was itself politically subversive. The state understood the political nature of the book, and after the Soviets invaded in 1968 to crush the Velvet Revolution that wanted to bring democratic reforms to Czechoslovakia, the novel was banned.

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At least one famous critic dismisses Milan Kundera's The Joke as a political novel relevant mainly to the Soviet era, but this is a mistake.  The novel is about life/existence within a communist/dictatorial regime, and attitudes and behaviors do emerge naturally out of that setting (evidence of Kundera's skills).  But the ideas and themes of the novel certainly extend to life outside of the political system.   

The novel is famous for its seven-part structure, for its treatment of music, for its use of Czech folk tales, for its love stories.

It features fundamentalistic, over-zealous "true believers," and example after example of human cruelty.   It features the blindly loyal and the naive.  It features a longing for a simpler past, and a woman who snores.  None of these is exclusively political.   

The novel should not be dismissed or categorized as simply a political novel.   

One concrete example of the novel's relevance is the idea that people suffer from "bleak erotic horizons."  Is this not true, or at least possibly true, in most places at most times? 

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