Josef vejk, by profession a dog trader, is discharged from his military service saddled with the classification of “feebleminded.” The shots in Sarajevo, however, which signal the beginning of World War I, bring vejk back into the army. A careless remark soon leads to his arrest, but he convinces the police of his feebleminded condition and is sent to a lunatic asylum. Medical authorities are so irritated by vejk’s cheerfulness that they classify him as a malingerer of weak intellect and send him back to the police. vejk’s habit of giving the most innocent and confusing replies to all bureaucratic inquiries causes the police to send him home again.
When the Austrian army suffers its first major losses, however, the war ministry decides that vejk should be conscripted into military service once more. vejk comes to the medical examination in a wheelchair, with crutches by his side to indicate the bad state of his rheumatism. The army doctor, who is in the habit of finding everybody fit for service, is incensed by vejk’s performance. The good soldier vejk’s first station becomes the military prison. Treatment in the infirmary of the military prison is aimed at intensifying each patient’s desire to serve his fatherland away from the infirmary.
The main diversion in the prison is the Mass celebrated by the chaplain, Otto Katz, a priest whose love for alcohol surpasses by far his dedication to priestly duties. Katz, impressed by vejk, requests that the soldier be assigned to him as an orderly. In this capacity, vejk becomes indispensable as an altar boy during Mass, as a helper at various drinking bouts, and as a stimulating partner during unorthodox religious debates.
vejk’s good fortune does not last long. Katz is as fond of gambling as he is of wine. During a poker game, he loses vejk to Lieutenant Luká, who is beloved by his subordinates but disliked by his superiors. vejk is now expected to handle many delicate situations in connection with Lieutenant Luká’s love for the opposite sex. Frequently, the lieutenant despairs over the embarrassing predicaments that develop each time vejk handles a project.
One day vejk procures a dog, which he gives to Lieutenant Luká. The animal actually belongs to Colonel Kraus, one of Luká’s superiors. When the lieutenant takes an evening stroll with the dog, he has a most unpleasant encounter with Colonel Kraus, who recognizes his missing pet. The colonel promptly arranges a transfer for the lieutenant and his orderly to a battalion destined for frontline duty.
On the train, vejk manages to insult a fellow...
(The entire section is 1070 words.)