Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 399

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The Good Soldier Švejk (a.k.a Schweik, Shveyk or Schwejk) is a satirical, dark comedy novel written by Czech writer, journalist, and humorist Jaroslav Hašek published in Czech in 1921 to 1923, and in English in 1930. The title is actually a shortened version of the original title, which is translated as The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War.

The novel was supposed to have a total of six volumes, but Hašek managed to complete only three full volumes and wrote the beginning of the fourth one, as he passed away from heart failure, in 1923. The first volume was published in 1921, and it is titled Behind the Lines (V zázemí); the second one, At the Front (Na frontě), and the third one, The Glorious Licking (Slavný výprask) were published in 1922; and the fourth, unfinished volume, The Glorious Licking Continues (Pokračování slavného výprasku), was published in 1923.

The story follows a kind, goodhearted soldier named Josef Švejk, who is called back to the army to serve and fight in the First World War; however, he fails to reach the front line, as he gets involved in various absurd escapades. Because of his overly enthusiastic character, his eagerness to serve the Austrian Empire, and his somewhat naive nature, he is often considered an idiot. However, one can’t help but wonder if he’s truly an idiot, or is he incredibly clever? Essentially, Švejk is a person who is trying to survive in a complicated economy and navigate through a war. Some critics even argue that Hašek used Švejk’s character to metaphorically describe the socioeconomic and political state of Austro-Hungarian Czechia.

Even though the general focus is on Švejk, Hašek also manages to accurately describe the militaristic mentality, behavior and discipline, especially of the soldiers that participated in the First World War, and criticize the idea of war and national conflict in general. This is why many consider The Good Soldier Švejk an anti-war novel as well.

The novel was translated into more than fifty languages and has had numerous adaptations for film, television, radio, and theater. Švejk has also been used as a subject in various works of literature, art, music, and pop culture. The book received mainly positive reviews, but its cultural influence is mostly due to the its commercial success, rather than its critical evaluation.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 629

*Austro-Hungarian Empire

*Austro-Hungarian Empire. Central European empire ruled by the Habsburg Dynasty from 1867 to 1918 whose territory included the region that became Czechoslovakia, where much of the novel takes place. Although the novel is based on Haek’s experiences as a Czech conscripted to serve in the Austrian army, Austria-Hungary represents any corrupt and oppressive regime, a fact readily apparent to Germany’s Nazi regime, which banned this book in the 1930’s.

Anabasis

Anabasis. Term for a military advance. Not surprisingly, in the chapter titled “vejk’s Budéjovice Anabasis” the Good Soldier retreats from Ceské Bodévice, a town in southern Bohemia from which troops are deployed to the Russian front. Unlike Haek himself, who traveled without incident to Ceské Bodévice, then on to Kirilyhida in Hungary and finally to the front, vejk misses his train and sets off on foot to rejoin his regiment, traveling in the opposite direction. In Cecil Parrott’s English translation of this novel vejk’s “anabasis” is conveniently plotted on a map. However, what is important is not the towns and villages themselves, but the circular path of the journey, which replicates in physical terms the themes of circularity that form much of the novel’s structure. Just as vejk attempts to circumvent authority by launching into monologues that digress wildly before returning to the original point, so the anabasis allows him to delay being sent into combat. He inhabits a world in which oppressive authority is inescapable and in which history is doomed to repeat itself.

*Prague

*Prague. Capital city of Bohemia and later capital of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, where the first volume of the novel is set. A life-long resident of Prague, Haek displays his knowledge of the city on nearly every page, naming streets and landmarks and businesses, such as the Chalice.

After being arrested at the Chalice, vejk spends time in Pankrák, which is the Prague prison, a psychiatric clinic, a hospital, and a garrison jail. Haek alternates periods of confinement with periods of freedom during which the Good Soldier faces few restrictions—and in the case of his “anabasis” roams the countryside. This pattern not only reinforces the themes of circularity and repetition, but also contributes to characterization. No matter what the situation, vejk responds in a cheerful, cooperative manner. Although he appears to be both a shrewd manipulator bent on avoiding combat and a person who cherishes his freedom, space—whether open or closed—seems to have little effect on him. A key to his survival in a world of inescapable authority is his ability to remain unfazed by the world around him; consequently, he often seems oblivious to his surroundings.

*Chalice

*Chalice. Prague pub that was a favorite of Haek and is now a popular tourist attraction. In the novel it serves as the starting point for vejk’s adventures when he is arrested by an undercover member of the Austrian police who eavesdrops on vejk’s conversation with the barkeeper. This is the first of a series of arrests and incarcerations throughout the novel.

*Konopisté

*Konopisté (KON-o-pish-tyeh). Fourteenth century castle outside Prague converted to a hunting lodge for Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 triggered World War I. Haek’s references to Konopisté exemplify the indifference to description that many critics consider a failing of the novel. The archduke was an insatiable hunter who killed thousands of animals and filled his castle with hunting trophies. Although his obsession with killing animals was well known at the time of his death, nothing in Haek’s novel suggests any connection between the horrors of war, the deployment of Czechs as cannon fodder, and the archduke’s corpse-lined residence. Konopisté is simply the place where the archduke stayed when he was in Bohemia.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 254

Doleel, Lubomír. “The Road of History and the Detours of the Good Soldier.” In Language and Literary Theory: In Honor of Ladislav Matejko, edited by Benjamin A. Stoltz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. An accessible example of postmodernist scholarship, which discusses the character vejk as inhabiting “ludic” space between obligation and punishment. Although the article employs a few complex literary terms, it is a highly readable and astute analysis of the character.

Goetz-Stankiewicz, Marketa. “Kafka and Haek—Reflections on a Meeting in the House of Fiction.” In Language and Literary Theory: In Honor of Ladislav Matejko, edited by Benjamin A. Stoltz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. A comparison of the two authors, focusing on the differences in their literary themes. The essay also provides a valuable discussion of Haek’s influences on later writers.

Parrott, Cecil. The Bad Bohemian: A Life of Jaroslav Haek. London: Bodley Head, 1978. A biography by the English translator of the 1973 edition that examines parallels between Haek’s life and The Good Soldier vejk.

Parrott, Cecil. Jaroslav Haek. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982. A comprehensive survey of the historical background of the work, Haek’s political activities and literary career, and the continuing critical controversy about the novel. Includes a character analysis and discussion of structure and themes.

Souková, Milada. A Literary Satellite: Czechoslovak-Russian Literary Relations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970. Examines Russian and Czechoslovakian responses to the novel as literary propaganda and the debate over whether vejk is a suitable character to represent the Czech military.

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