Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Milo Hrma

Milo Hrma (MEE-lohsh HUHR-mah), the narrator, an apprentice train dispatcher. Inexperienced and innocent at the age of twenty-two, Milo views the bizarre and brutal events around him with morally noncommittal curiosity. Following his first sexual encounter, which is a failure, he attempts suicide. Although rescued, he remains preoccupied by doubts regarding his manhood until drawn into a plot to blow up a Nazi ammunition train. In acting deliberately, he finds the answer to his persistent question, “Am I a man?”

Ladislav Hubika

Ladislav Hubika, (hew-BIHCH-keh), the senior dispatcher. Hubika, whose name means “nice lips,” draws Milo’ envy and admiration with his success with women. He is under investigation for imprinting all the station’s rubber stamps on the bare buttocks of the female telegraphist late one night. A fearless nonconformist, he is a key figure in the plot to blow up the munitions train.


Lánsk , the stationmaster. Lánsk takes great pride in his Venetian armchair, Persian carpet, and marble clock. Hot-tempered and exacting as a boss and as a husband, he dissipates his rages by bellowing into a heating vent. Although careful to conform outwardly to Nazi rule, he symbolically protests the brutal takeover of neighboring Poland by killing all of his Nuremberg pigeons (a German breed) and replacing them with Polish silver-points....

(The entire section is 629 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Milos, the narrator-protagonist of Closely Watched Trains, is an ordinary young man trying to grow up in a world distorted by forces beyond his control; Milos has the misfortune to come of age during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Not only must he cope with the usual adjustments of gender and identity, but he must also decide whether to join the Czech Resistance. In his poetic account of Milos’ coming of age, Bohumil Hrabal stresses his ordinary, even antiheroic qualities: his innocence and immaturity, his lack of family distinction, his timidity and inexperience with women, and his overreaction to his problem with his girlfriend. The rich humor and pathos of this novel arise from Milos’ fumbling attempts to come to terms with his absurd situation. At times, he seems to be something of a Chaplinesque character, asserting his humanity in a world largely hostile and indifferent to his needs. Milos wants to do his duty and prove himself as a man, though his first efforts are inadequate. The emotional complexity of his responses to his dilemma create the poignant comic tone of Hrabal’s novella.

The two poles of Milos’ world are love and war. In each, he must prove his ability in order to gain self-respect and overcome his postadolescent diffidence. In a series of comic episodes, Milos fails or succeeds not so much through his own efforts as through chance. He has been in love with the young conductor, Masha, ever since they kissed...

(The entire section is 584 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Hrabal, Bohumil. “Too Loud a Solitude,” in Cross Currents. V (1986), pp. 279-332.

Skvorecky, Josef. “American Motifs in the Work of Bohumil Hrabal,” in Cross Currents. I (1982), pp. 207-218.

Skvorecky, Josef. Jiri Menzel and the History of the “Closely Watched Trains,” 1982.

Souckova, Milada. A Literary Satellite, 1970.