Closely Watched Trains

by Bohumil Hrabal

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 194

Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal is the coming of age story of Milos Hrma, a young man in Czechoslovakia. The story is set in Prague towards the end of the Second World War. It is narrated in first person and offers a satirical explanation of the main character’s quest to attain manhood. Milos is a coy railroad intern who surrounds himself with fantasy to escape the harsh realities of the world. Dead people and ruined buildings define his reality.

He watches military trains every day. They transport people who are injured, refugees, and animals. Most of the refugees lost their homes during the war. Hrabal uses humor to paint a picture of the daily lives of the people in Prague and the German occupation during this period.

The narrator discusses his transition into manhood. Milos is worried that he might be impotent. He cuts his wrists in an attempt to commit suicide. He would like to prove to his girlfriend, Masha, that he is a man. Despite hopelessness and despair in his surrounding environment, Milos is motivated to stay alive so that he can prove to everyone that he is a man.

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