Last Updated on June 1, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412
Klima, the protagonist of The Farewell Party, is a trumpeter who has achieved fame through his virtuosic jazz performances. Klima interprets his musical passion as equivalent to sexual passion, which he uses to justify his infidelity to his wife. When his one-time mistress Ruzema becomes pregnant and claims he is the father, he encourages her to have an abortion. Klima’s capacity for self-deception leads him to believe that he has a great ability to deceive others. His sexual preoccupations are matched only by his worries about his inadequacies as a musician, despite his fame.
Ruzena, a nurse at a rural spa, exhibits jealousy toward the wealthy female patrons at the resort. Her liaison with Klima, who she believes got her pregnant, drives her desire to escape her humdrum life.
Bartleff, an American, is a patient at the spa. Having enjoyed his life, the illness that has appeared later in his life has not quashed his spirited character. He is shown to be the painter of religious subjects, and he also has a wife (who is much younger than him) and a son. Bartleff's intelligence is tempered by his ego, however, as he relishes attention.
Kamila, Klima’s wife, is a singer whose career was arrested by her illness. Kamila, although devoted to Klima, recognizes an inherent dishonesty in Klima’s character that piques her jealousy.
Dr. Skreta is the spa’s director. Although he is a gynecologist, his misogyny and his arrogance taint his ability to treat his patients. Skreta’s hubris is of such a nature that he has concocted a convoluted plan to impregnate unsuspecting women with his own sperm in order to populate the earth with his progeny.
Franta is a mechanic who desperately loves Ruzena. Alternating between stoic forbearance and jealous rage, Franta claims paternity in Ruzena’s pregnancy and staunchly encourages her to bear his child.
Jakub is middle-aged and a former political activist who loves his ward, Olga. Jakub, who over-intellectualizes everything, is also exceptionally moralistic. Formerly imprisoned for his dissident positions, he can now legally emigrate but feels guilty about leaving his homeland.
Olga, a delicate young woman, is a patient at the spa. She became Jakub’s ward after her father was executed for political reasons. Highly intelligent, she sees through her guardian’s patronizing attitudes. However, her self-image as a confident, modern woman clashes with her habit of retreating back into her private bubble whenever she encounters life’s difficult situations.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 872
Klima, a rich and famous jazz trumpeter. Klima is a polite and gallant gentleman who loves his wife immensely yet needs to be with other women occasionally. For him, these affairs strengthen the erotic passion of his marriage. Deep down, he dreads all women and feels doomed to fall victim to the power that pregnancy gives them over men. This fear is realized when Ruzena makes her paternity claim on him. He is generally a calm, reasonable, and clear-thinking man, but in trying to persuade Ruzena to have an abortion, his nerves overcome him and cause him inadvertently to say and do things he later regrets. A clever and imaginative liar, Klima ultimately is a bumbler and muddles through only by luck and the intervention of others. Professionally, he loves playing the trumpet but is not truly comfortable with his fame as an artist. Too much attention worries him.
Ruzena, a nurse at a health and fertility spa in the mountains. Ruzena is a forthright and hard-edged young woman, a moderately attractive blond in a desolate rural existence. She envies the wealthy married women she attends and fears that she will have to settle for a life with Franta, whom she loathes but tolerates. She likes power and longs for excitement. She spends one night with Klima and convinces herself that he is therefore responsible for her pregnancy, which offers a way out of her current existence. At first, she is determined to have the baby. She is swayed by those around her, however—her friends one way and Klima the other—and ends up confused and indecisive, not knowing what she wants or whom she can trust.
Bartleff, an older American patient at the spa. Bartleff is a jovial bon vivant who, in spite of serious illness, energetically loves and affirms life. He is married to a younger woman who recently bore him (he assumes) a son. He is intelligent and well read, especially in religion and philosophy, and he paints striking religious pictures as a hobby. Talkative, generous, and often theatrical, he usually is the center of attention.
Kamila Klima, Klima’s beautiful wife. Kamila was on the road to a successful singing career when illness cut it short, and now her beauty is pervaded with an air of sadness. She is devoted to her husband but does not trust him and has learned to exploit her moods and sickliness to get his sympathy. Plagued by jealousy and constant suspicions, she sets out to catch Klima in his philandering. Despite her certainty, she is terrified of the truth.
Dr. Skreta, the doctor who runs the health and fertility spa. Dr. Skreta is a middle-aged gynecologist with a supercilious attitude toward almost everything. A blatant chauvinist, he theorizes at length about women and treats his patients in a ridiculously offhand manner. He is a dominant person and a schemer who imposes his will on others. Dr. Skreta detests stupid people and is secretly populating the countryside—and eventually, he hopes, the world—with his own progeny by injecting a special fertility drug—his sperm—into women who believe themselves barren but who, he knows, suffer only from their husbands’ inadequate virility. He is much more interested in what is practical and expedient than in what is moral. He also is an amateur drummer.
Franta, a local mechanic and Ruzena’s boyfriend. Franta is pathetically in love with Ruzena. His possessiveness and jealousy drive him to extremes of both violent rage and superhuman patience. He proudly believes that he is responsible for Ruzena’s pregnancy and is determined that she bear the child.
Jakub, a forty-five-year-old political dissident who has come to the spa to bid Dr. Skreta and Olga farewell. Jakub is an intellectual who thinks exhaustively, reads symbolic meaning into everything, and takes moral questions very seriously. Although prone to sentimental and dramatic perceptions and at heart very compassionate, he has learned to conceal his inner states. Having endured persecution and imprisonment, he is extremely cynical about human nature. His true solace is a poison pill, procured years ago from Dr. Skreta, by which he has maintained control over his own death and which, now that he has permission to emigrate, he no longer believes he needs. Despite his comprehensive moral ruminations, Jakub is a notorious procrastinator and freezes at the moment of action. He has mixed feelings about leaving his homeland and about his ward, Olga, whom he loves paternally but sometimes considers an unwanted burden.
Olga, a young, frail patient at the spa. Olga’s father was wrongly executed when she was seven years old, and she was adopted and reared by Jakub. She loves Jakub dearly but resents the patronizing way he treats her and wants to be recognized for the woman she has become. She is very intelligent and strongly committed to principles such as freedom and moral rectitude. Her anxiety, uncertainty, and weakness, however, keep her from being the calm, elegant, self-assured, and daring modern woman she imagines herself to be. Olga often becomes detached from life, one who observes rather than one who experiences. A silent and private woman, she is fascinated with death.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 605
Some reviewers of The Farewell Party, seeing the novel as just another conventional farce, complained about the shallowness of the characters. Critic Saul Maloff, writing in The New York Times Book Review, was more perceptive: “The Farewell Party is the kind of ‘political novel’ a cunning, resourceful, gifted writer writes when it is no longer possible to write political novels.” In other words, the conditions of political oppression under which Milan Kundera wrote The Farewell Party, at a time when he was out of favor with the Czech Communist regime, must be considered. If they are, then Maloff’s interpretation seems to be not only consistent with the nature of Kundera’s other novels but also enlightening, offering the best understanding of the characters in The Farewell Party.
The farcical characters do not merely provide conventional entertainment; their shallowness also represents a judgment on the political system that produced them. Rejecting the traditional moorings of Christian humanism, the Communists anchor their morality in the ideals of economic justice, brotherhood, and loyalty to the state. The difficulty of realizing these ideals without the traditional moorings, without the deeper sense of personal responsibility and integrity which is espoused by Christian humanism, is apparent in characters such as Klima, Ruzena, and Skreta. With their selfish, self-centered natures, they are no better than petty capitalists. Indeed, Klima enjoys the economic and social benefits of celebrity, Ruzena is attracted to them, and Skreta is a wheeler-dealer entrepreneur within the Communist state. The characters’ preoccupation with sex is a measure of their limited freedom, their restricted horizons. Skreta’s hilarious notion of brotherhood—reminiscent of various Communist experiments in social engineering—is populating the country with nearsighted, big-nosed kids. The characters use their offices, their influence, and one another scandalously. Few, except for Franta, are even bothered by Ruzena’s death. All in all, they are walking parodies who represent the farcical side of Communism.
There are hints in The Farewell Party of a sinister side of Communism, which arises from the same shallow morality. Skreta’s breeding program vaguely recalls similar Nazi efforts; the characters’ easy acceptance of Ruzena’s death is reminiscent of the Stalinist persecutions and judicial killings. The main reminder of the political persecutions is the character Jakub, who, on his way out of the country, no longer needs the suicide pill. Ruzena’s taking of his pill symbolically binds the two sides of the Communist character and suggests the hidden moral confusion. Ruzena, who might win a contest for Miss Communist Czechoslovakia, is implicated in her own death, but so is almost every other character, particularly Jakub. He is appalled that he could give Ruzena the deadly pill, even if she does remind him of his former persecutors: The persecuted can turn persecutor, just as the persecutor (like Olga’s father, who sent Jakub to prison and a few months later was himself executed) can become the persecuted.
Another possible interpretation, however, is represented by Bartleff. He forgives the woman whom he loved but who turned him over to the Gestapo during World War II, and he offers to be legally charged for Ruzena’s death. Klima seeks him for advice, Ruzena for solace, and Skreta for adoption. Bartleff is the moral center of the novel—a new role in world literature for rich Americans, but an obvious clue to the novel’s political stance. Nor does Kundera leave any doubt whence comes the moral authority: Bartleff talks about saints, paints pictures of saints (with pale-blue halos—a symbolic color), and at one point is even said to glow with a certain mysterious blue aura himself.
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