The Hitchhiking Game

by Milan Kundera

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After having been lovers for a year, a girl and a man embark on a two-week vacation, but by the end of the first day they discover more about themselves than most couples discover in a lifetime. The mechanism of discovery is the hitchhiking game, a game in which role-playing takes on a dangerous and irreversible intensity.

The “girl” is twenty-two, shy, jealous, uncomfortable with her body, and embarrassed by her need to use the bathroom. However, she trusts her lover “wholly,” because “he never separated her body from her soul.” When she pretends to be a hitchhiker whom her lover picks up, she leaves behind her shy, embarrassed self, and takes on a role “out of trashy literature.” She becomes a seductress and slips into “this silly, romantic part with an ease that astonished her and held her spellbound.”

The twenty-eight-year-old man is not only older but also considerably more worldly than the girl. A former playboy who believes that he knows “everything that a man could know about women,” this man admires his current lover for what his previous lovers have lacked: purity. He is, therefore, surprised and angry when the girl assumes her new role; he is furious with her for “refusing to be herself when that was what he wanted.” His anger, in turn, makes him adopt the role of “a heartless tough guy,” and he becomes willful, sarcastic, and mean. In an act of defiance directed at both his communistic country and his girl, he deviates from their original travel route and heads for an unfamiliar city, an action that makes him feel like “a free man.”

Once in Nove Zamky, the girl continues her role-playing, and her lover becomes increasingly irritated at “how well able the girl was to become the lascivious miss.” Their conversation becomes more brazen; she even exclaims that she has to “piss,” a word the girl would have been too embarrassed to use at the beginning of the story. She is pleased with how astounded her lover is at her new vocabulary, and on the way to the bathroom, she notices how the other men in the hotel look at her. No longer self-conscious about her body, she thrusts out her breasts and sways her hips. She is even accosted as a prostitute, but she does not mind.

This freedom, however, has its price. The game, after all, is a “trap”; the more involved the girl becomes in the game, “the more obediently she would have to play it.” When her lover decides that they will act out the roles of customer and prostitute, she plays along. In the hotel room, when her lover actually humiliates her by forcing her to strip and take obscene poses, she obliges, though she is frightened and confused. She does not realize that, for the man, the game has “merged with life,” and that he “simply hated the woman standing in front of him.” It is not until after their passionate but emotionless lovemaking that the game ends. In the aftermath of the game, the girl begins to sob, “I am me, I am me,” and though he does not understand her plea and is reluctant to respond to it, the man eventually does console her.

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