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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 211

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One of the themes in Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal is the effects of war. The story is set in Czechoslovakia in 1945, a few weeks before WWII ends. The book reveals the aftermath of the war and the battle between the Nazi and Soviet army. According to the main character, Czechoslovakia won the air war against the Germans. He mentions how the German railroad network was destroyed and the impact of the war on cities like Prague. The reader sees the physical and psychological effects of war.

The narrator gives a detailed description of what he sees as a railroad worker. Death surrounds Milos; he constantly sees blood, dead people, injured children, and debris. He talks of the wounded soldiers he sees and the pain that they feel. Milos shows empathy for both sides across the divide and notes that all the people who participated in the war feel its adverse effects in one way or another.

Low self-esteem is another theme of the novel. Milos Hrma is a person who does not have self-confidence. Despite being twenty-two years old, he still questions his masculinity. At some point, he finds it difficult to make love with his significant other and consequently cuts his wrists in an attempt to commit suicide.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 134

Despite its wry comedy, Hrabal’s novella conveys a deep sense of the tragedy and futility of war, especially in its impact on ordinary people. There are no heroes in this book—only small people trying to cope with the disruptions and chaos of war. Hrabal’s lack of ideological conformity typifies the experimental literature that emerged during the Prague Spring, the brief period of liberalization before the Soviet invasion in 1968. The setting may be World War II, but, as with so much of the contemporary literature of Central and Eastern Europe, there is a subtext that points to the misfortunes of history and geography that have denied small nations the right to self-determination. There is an intimation, in Milos’ fate, of the tragicomedy of individuals and nations pitted against events beyond their control.