The Hitchhiking Game

by Milan Kundera

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Psychological and Feminist Implications in ‘‘The Hitchhiking Game.''

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1891

Issues of power and identity are recurring themes in most of Milan Kundera's writings. Having been expelled by a communist regime from his homeland, Czechoslovakia, after his novel The Joke was published, Kundera often writes about these issues within a political framework. Just as often, Kundera also plays out these themes while exploring the personal and sexual relationships between his main characters. A good example of this occurs in his short story ‘‘The Hitchhiking Game.’’ The story, much like the road down which the characters travel, twists and turns around questions of authority, sexuality, and self, stopping not at conclusive answers, but rather stopping only out of sheer exhaustion and a need for sleep. It is the questions that are important, Kundera says over and over again in interviews and essays as he attempts to explain his work. In a New York Times interview with author Philip Roth, Kundera upholds his right as an author to pose these questions and leave them unanswered. He says that it is the purpose of the writer to teach "the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude.’’ In ‘‘The Hitchhiking Game’’ it is definitely the questions that push the story forward. It is also the questions that both bind and alienate the story's characters as they try on variations of themselves, and play out different roles.

So leave the need for answers at the gas station and climb on board for a wild ride. Take a back seat and observe in silence and with an open mind, as Kundera's hitchhiking couple game their way through equally absurd identity crises. When those questions start banking up on one another, remember that another one of Kundera's aims as stated in his book Testaments Betrayed is to teach "the reader to be curious about others and to try to comprehend truths that differ from his own.’’

Being curious about one another does not seem to be one of the aims of either the boy or the girl (no names are given to these characters) in this short story. Rather they each think they already know one another very well. The boy knows that the girl is insecure, but he forgives her. ‘‘Jealousy isn't a pleasant trait,’’ he thinks, ‘‘but if it isn't overdone (and if it's combined with modesty), apart from its inconvenience there's even something touching about it.’’ The girl, on the other hand, believes that her modesty is ‘‘ridiculous and oldfashioned.’’ She thinks the young man wants a woman who can give him more ‘‘.. .lightheartedness, shamelessness and dissoluteness.’’ Their knowledge of one another is limited, and neither foresees the transformations that lurk at the next crossroads.

As they become entrenched in their makebelieve roles in their invented road game, they discover hidden and somewhat contradictory aspects not only of one another, but also of their own personalities. According to Freudian theory, these hidden aspects are called repressions, or parts of the personality that have been formerly denied. In this story the repressions are related to both sexual and authoritarian drives. The girl, in the guise of anonymity as the hitchhiker, slips easily into a mirror image of her former self—a kind of shadow, as Carl Jung, another psychoanalyst and student of Freud, would say. In Jung's book Man and His Symbols he states,"Sometimes, though not often, an individual feels impelled to live out the worst side of his nature and to repress his better side.''

This leads to some of the first questions in Kundera's story: Is this role, this guise that the girl puts on, an enactment of her worst side? The boy definitely believes it is not her better side, but the girl is not so assured. No more than three paragraphs into the story, the girl is already questioning her identity. "Many times at work she had noticed that they laughed at her on account of it [her modesty] and deliberately provoked her.... She often longed to feel free and easy about her body, the way most of the women around her did.... She was too much at one with her body; that is why she always felt such anxiety about it.’’

Since she cannot do it for herself, the girl seeks a unity of body and soul through the boy. However the relationship with the boy also causes anxiety because, in her mind, women who are less anxious and more carefree with their bodies are also more attractive. So she is caught in her own trap—a trap that she has obviously been living in for some time. Her self-consciousness makes her react awkwardly. Her awkwardness makes her feel more selfconscious. Like most traps, this one has a release, and it is unexpectedly sprung when the girl puts on the mask of the hitchhiker.

Again from Man and His Symbols Jung says there are times when the shadow should not be repressed. ‘‘Sometimes the shadow is powerful because the urge of the Self is pointing in the same direction, and so one does not know whether it is the Self or the shadow that is behind the inner pressure. ... If the shadow figure contains valuable, vital forces, they ought to be assimilated into actual experience and not repressed. It is up to the ego to give up its pride and priggishness and to live out something that seems to be dark, but actually may not be.’’ The girl in Kundera's story decides to follow her shadow. She refers to it as a role "from trashy literature.'' When she does slip into this role, she is surprised at how easily she does it, and she finds herself becoming "spellbound."

The boy, in the meantime, is dealing with issues of power. He is obviously used to being in the metaphorical driver's seat in this relationship as well as in all his relationships with women. In the beginning of the story, the boy is aware of the girl's shortcomings. He deals with her moodiness, her lack of energy and self-confidence, her fears and her jealousies. When she becomes upset, he soothes her with a"gentle kiss on the forehead.'' He is, after all, twentyeight years old and knows "everything that a man could know about women.’’ He loves her in spite of her shortcomings. She is modest and pure. What more in a woman could a man ask for?

Not very long into the game, the boy gets his first hint of trouble. "The young man looked at the girl. Her defiant face appeared to him to be completely convulsed. He felt sorry for her and longed for her usual, familiar expression (which he considered childish and simple). He leaned toward her, put his arm around her shoulders, and softly spoke the nickname he often used and with which he now wanted to stop the game. But the girl released herself and said: "You're going a bit too fast!''

Reading this story with feminist theory in mind, the young man would be said to be playing out the patriarchal, or father role. He wants his girlfriend to reflect the qualities of a child, and is sickened when he witnesses her rebellion. He desires to control her like he controls the car. "He was furious with the girl for not listening to him and refusing to be herself when that was what he wanted.’’ So he retaliates. He decides that he, too, can play the game and takes up his mask of the "coarser aspects of his masculinity: willfulness, sarcasm, self-assurance.’’

At this point the story takes a literal turn. For the first time in his life the boy does something spontaneous—he changes the direction of his well thoughtout course. When he does this, everything begins to fall apart: the road on which they are driving is torn up; there are longdelaying detours; and when they arrive at the only hotel in this unfamiliar town, every room inside is filled with smoke, noise, dirt and darkness.

Kundera is too intelligent to tell a story that is strictly black and white. He loves ambiguities. It is, of course, from ambiguities that the questions arise. So he has the young man, who at one point is disgusted with the new role that the girl is playing, reflect on the changes that he is witnessing. "The more the girl withdrew from him psychically, the more he longed for her physically; the alienation of her soul drew attention to her body; yes it turned her body into a body; as if until now it had been hidden from the young man within clouds of compassion, tenderness, concern, love, and emotion....’’ Oh, such sweet reversal! In the beginning the girl is too conscious of her body. As she takes on the game, she frees herself from her bodyconsciousness. And it is in the freeing of her self that the boy all of a sudden notices her physically. In addition, how absurd it is that all the girl wants is to please her young man, but the more she tries to win his love, the more he pulls away his emotions. What are we to think about this?

The absurdities deepen as the story progresses. The young girl begins to feel trapped once again, this time by the rules of their game. The young man is humiliated and then angered because the girl has become so free and flirtatious. Lashing out, he does his best to humiliate, not the hitchhiker, not the role that the girl is playing, but the girl herself. Thus the shadow part of the boy's personality comes to the front, out into the light, and he finds he likes neither aspect of the girl: neither the angel nor the devil. In his mind they have coalesced into one. ‘‘Now he longed only to treat her as a whore. But the young man had never had a whore, and the ideas he had about them came from literature and hearsay.’’

As the story turns back on itself with the boy taking on a role from literature as the girl had in the beginning, the two characters turn their personalities inside out in what Jung might analyze as a step toward better defining their identity. "When dark figures turn up—and seem to want something—we cannot be sure whether they personify merely a shadowy part of ourselves, or the Self, or both at the same time. Divining in advance whether our dark partner symbolizes a shortcoming that we should overcome or a meaningful bit of life that we should accept—this is one of the most difficult problems that we encounter on the way to individuation.''

The story ends on an inconclusive note, in other words, it ends with unanswered questions. The boy fears a 'return' to their old relationship. The girl feels ‘‘horror at the thought that she had never known such (sexual) pleasure.’’ As the girl moans, ‘‘I'm me, I'm me,’’ the young man ponders the ‘‘sad emptiness of the girl's assertion, in which the unknown was defined by the same unknown.’’ So the characters put clear definitions of their emotions, their relationship and all their shadowy identities on hold. After all, there are still "thirteen days of vacation before them.’’

Source: Joyce Hart, for Short Stories for Students, Gale, 2000.

The Effect of the Hitchhiking Game

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2104

In Milan Kundera's short story ‘‘The Hitchhiking Game,’’ a young couple, on vacation, spontaneously find themselves engaged in a fantasy "game,'' in which they pretend that she is a hitchhiker he has picked up along the road. This "game," which begins playfully, turns out to have dire consequences in irrevocably transforming the relationship between the young man and the young woman. The fantasy begins to bleed into reality, leaving both parties feeling completely different about another by the end. But the meaning of the "game," and its ultimate effect on each of them, is very different for the young woman than for the young man. Through this story, Kundera explores the implications of the virgin/whore dichotomy in Western culture for malefemale relationships.

The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy
In order to understand this story, it is important to see the dynamics between the young man and the young woman in terms of the ways in which women have traditionally been perceived in Western culture. To be more specific, in Western culture, women have often been categorized in two distinct categories, based on their relative sexual behavior. This dichotomy has been referred to as the "virgin/ whore’’ split. In more colloquial terms, this dichotomy can be referred to as the "good good/bad girl’’ dichotomy, whereby the "good" girl is one who is perceived as sexually pure and the "bad" girl is perceived as sexually active. In a similar vein, Western culture tends to perceive humans in terms which assume the mind (or soul, or spirit) is a distinct realm from the physical body (especially sexuality). Clearly, the "virgin" woman is thought of as spiritually and morally pure, devoid of all sexuality. The "whore," by the same token, is perceived as sinfull, dirty, earthly and devoid of all spiritual value.

Both the young man and the young woman in "The Hitchhiking Game'' perceive women in terms of these two categories. According to this perspective, the young woman, at the beginning of the story, is certainly a "good" girl. Her sense of herself as uncomfortable with her sexuality is expressed through her embarrassment about her own body, and her discomfort with any reference to her bodily functions. For instance, she is overly embarrassed about having to tell her boyfriend when she is going to the bathroom.

The girl really didn't like it when during the trip—she had to ask him to stop for a moment somewhere near a clump of trees. She always got angry when, with feigned surprise, he asked her why he should stop. She knew that her shyness was ridiculous and oldfashioned. Many times at work she had noticed that they laughed at her on account of it and deliberately provoked her—.She often longed to feel free and easy about her body, the way most of the women around her did.

The young man's perception of the young woman as a "good'' girl, at the beginning of the story, is also central to his attitude toward her. His relationship with her is based on the distinction he makes in his own mind between her sexual repression and the sexual expressiveness of other women with whom he has had meaningless sexual affairs. "In the girl sitting beside him he valued precisely what, until now, he had met with least in women: purity.’’ It is this perception of her as "pure'' which arouses his love and affection for her, and her shyness about having to go to the bathroom is in fact endearing to him: ‘‘he had known her for a year now but she would still get shy in front of him. He enjoyed her moments of shyness, partly because they distinguished her from the women he'd met before ...’’ In keeping with the virgin/whore dichotomy in Western culture, the young man mentally places her on a pedestal, whereby he expects her to be almost a spiritual being, rising above the material world of sexuality. Although the young woman is clearly not technically a virgin, her sexual relations with her boyfriend are still characterized by her shyness about her sexuality. She experiences ‘‘anxiety even in her relations with the young man, whom she had known for a year ...’’ Yet, while the young man seems to value in the young woman her embarrassment and shyness about her sexuality, she envies those women who are more sexually expressive. She knows that the young man has had many sexual affairs with such women, and so fears that she lacks a certain sexual appeal to him.

For instance, it often occurred to her that the other women (those who weren't anxious) were more attractive and more seductive and that the young man, who did not conceal the fact that he knew this kind of woman well, would someday leave her for a woman like that. She wanted him to be completely hers and she to be completely his, but it often seemed to her that the more she tried to give him everything, the more she denied him something: the very thing that a light and superficial love or a flirtation gives a person.

The Game
The "hitchhiking game'' begins spontaneously between the young couple when, at a rest stop, after she has gone to the bathroom, he pulls up in his sports car so that she can get back in and they can continue their journey along the road. Because the scenario resembles that of a car stopping to pickup a strange hitchhiker, they both lightheartedly banter as if they were strangers and he had just picked her up by the side of the road. The man pretends that he is trying to seduce this strange woman, a role that comes naturally to him, as he has done it many times with other women, but which is completely contrary to his usual treatment of his girlfriend. The young woman, likewise, takes on the part of a woman who is used to having casual sexual affairs, a role which she has never taken on in real life, and certainly not with her boyfriend. The "game," however, begins to effect the reality of their relationship, at first in subtle ways, and then in very disturbing ways. It becomes "dangerous," as it brings out feelings in each of them which, in the year of their relationship, have never before been expressed. The consequences of the "game'' in its effect on the reality of their relationship are devastating to each of them but in very different ways.

For the young woman, the opportunity to take on the "role'' of a woman who is comfortable with her sexuality, and comfortable with the idea of casual sex with a stranger, is in some ways liberating. Because it is just a "game,'' she feels comfortable expressing the repressed elements of her own sexuality. She also takes pleasure in the thought that she is, for once, embodying the type of sexual woman with whom her boyfriend has had affairs. Because she is imagining that she herself is one of these kind of women, she is able to (temporarily) let go of her jealousy and fear of losing him to that type of woman. She imagines that, for the first time, she is giving him the sexual satisfaction she had feared only other women could give him. Furthermore, the young woman is surprised to find that, under the cover of the "game," the role of seductress seems to come naturally to her. It seems that all she needed was this excuse not to be her usual shy self in order to express the repressed sexuality within her, as "the girl could forget herself and give herself up to her role.’’

Her role? What was her role? It was a role out of trashy literature. The hitchhiker stopped the car not to get a ride, but to seduce the man who was driving the car. She was an artful seductress, cleverly knowing how to use her charms. The girl slipped into this silly, romantic part with an ease that astonished her and held her spellbound.

For the young man, however, the affect of the game on his perceptions of his girlfriend, and his behavior toward her, is more ominous. Because he had loved the young woman based on his perception of her as "pure,'' once he sees her behaving seductively, he begins to regard her as he does all other women, i.e., as a slut who deserves only his disdain. Whereas he had treated her with respect because she was shy and selfconscious about her sexuality, he now treats her cruelly—as if punishing her for her sexuality.

When the young couple arrive at a hotel for the night, the "game'' changes from a trashy romance to a tragedy. It is partly the discrepancy between the young woman's pleasure in her newfound role as sexual being, and the young man's growing disdain for her in this light, which makes it tragic.

The young woman, at this point, is completely unaware of the negative feelings her "role'' in the game are arousing in her boyfriend. She continues to imagine that she is finally giving him what he wanted from other women, and so she imagines that she no longer needs to be jealous of such women.

‘‘she smiled at the thought of how nice it was that today she was this other woman, this irresponsible, indecent other woman, one of those women of whom she was so jealous. It seemed to her that she was cutting them all out, that she had learned how to use their weapons; how to give the young man what until now she had not known how to give him: lightheartedness, shamelessness, and dissoluteness. A curious feeling of satisfaction filled her, because she alone had the ability to be all women and in this way (she alone) could completely captivate her lover and hold his interest.

As the game continues, however, and the young man sees his girlfriend in this new light, he begins to hate her for it. Because she is now expressing herself sexually, in the "game" of seducing her own boyfriend as if he were a stranger, he begins to imagine her as actually capable of seducing a strange man other than himself. Thus, while her jealousy slips away as she imagines that she is embodying the type of woman whom she envies, he becomes jealous for the first time, imagining her as such a woman seducing another man. Because he can only see women as either "pure" or as "whores," he begins to think that, since this role seems to come to her so easily, she must, deep down in her soul, really be a "whore." He is incapable of imagining that his girlfriend is both the woman he has known all along, and a sexual being. Because of this, he begins to treat her cruelly, with disdain and disrespect, calling her a "whore," and distancing himself from her emotionally. At the same time, as his feeling for her as a human being slips away, he becomes more sexually attracted to her. His limitations make it impossible for him to be either sexually attracted to the woman he loves, or to love the woman to whom he is sexually attracted. Because he has now seen her in this sexual light, he comes to hate her and dread the remaining thirteen days of their vacation together.

When, after it is too late, the young woman perceives that her sexual behavior has caused him to distance himself from her emotionally, she pleads with him to recognize her as the same woman he has loved. When he is unresponsive, she cries repeatedly, "I am me, I am me, I am me,'' trying to convince him that she is both the woman he has always known and a sexual being, not just the "whore'' he has determined her to be.

Kundera in this story explores the negative implications, for male-female relationships, of the ways in which Western culture categorizes women as either sexual, and therefore "bad," or sexually "pure," and therefor "good." The story illustrates the ways in which this dichotomous way of categorizing women according to their sexuality is unfair to women, because it implies that there is something inherently shameful, evil and despicable about female sexuality. The story also suggests that it can be damaging to men to categorize women as either "pure" or "sexual," because it can cut them off from the possibility of a relationship with a woman that is both loving and sexual.

Source: Liz Brent, for Short Stories for Students, Gale, 2000.

Philosophies and the Political Background of Czechoslovakia.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1805

Milan Kundera's international reputation rests on his novels, not the handful of short stories he wrote in the six years leading up to the Prague Spring of 1968, when Czechoslovakia experienced a brief period of independence before being invaded by Soviet tanks. Kundera's short stories, collected in Laughable Loves, nevertheless demonstrate some of his important ideas and techniques. Robert A. Morace writes in Reference Guide to Short Fiction that the stories ‘‘are in style, structure, and substance clearly the work of an already mature writer who conceives of writing as a series of exploration in form and theme.’’ In ‘‘The Hitchhiking Game’’ in particular, Morace finds a "miniature" version of ‘‘Kundera's characteristic philosophical playfulness, classically precise antiRomantic style, and the theme and variation approach. The story is less a conventional short fiction than it is an aesthetic and existential inquiry, a search for a new literary form to understand the human situation in the modern. . . world.’’

The title "The Hitchhiking Game'' boldly connotes to the reader what lies at the core of Milan Kundera's story—a game with a dangerous twist. The anonymous characters in the story, referred to merely as ‘‘the young man’’ and ‘‘the girl,’’ play out a drama that masquerades a deeper search for human meaning. The lovers are beginning their twoweek vacation. Though the lovers are only at the start of their journey, the games they will play have been defined by previous experiences. As succinctly summed up by Morace: "The game he [the young man] plays is this: he drives until the car runs out of gas and then, hidden, watches as she [the girl] hitches a ride from another man to the nearest petrol station, during which time he fantasizes about what she and driver may be doing. Alternatively, he drives until she, despite her shame, must ask him to stop so that she can urinate.’’

The girl, however, likes neither of these games, which favor her boyfriend."She always got angry'' when he asked, with ‘‘feigned surprise,’’ why he should stop the car, seeing that he relishes her embarrassment. The girl also complains about his allowing the car to run out of gas. Although the young man protests that"whatever he went through with her had the charm of adventure for him,’’ the girl points out that the adventure is "only for her.'' She must "make ill use of her charms'' in order to get a ride to the nearest gas station.

These games are set up right away in Sections 1 and 2 of the story. Section 1 also shows the girl's attempt to play the young man's game. When he asked"whether the drivers who had given her a ride had been unpleasant... She replied (with awkward flirtatiousness) that sometimes they had been very pleasant but that it hadn't done her any good as she had been burdened with the can and had had to leave them before she could get anything going.’’ This exchange shows that the girl undertakes a role that is difficult for her in the hopes of pleasing her boyfriend.

The girl and the young man clearly have an unequal relationship. The young man is older, 28 to her 22. The titles given to the characters, like the title of the story, have deeper symbolic meaning— he is a man but she is only a girl. In fact, in Section 1, the young man acknowledges his belief that ‘‘he was old and knew everything that a man could know about women.’’ The girl, for her part, defers to him. Despite being with her boyfriend for a year, she is still uneasy in his company—as the narration notes, ‘‘In solitude it was possible for her to get the greatest enjoyment from the presence of the man she loved.’’ She is jealous, shy, and anxious, all traits that show the instability she feels in their relationship.

Along with the history of the gameplaying, the characters are established by the end of Section 2, when the direct action of the story begins. The couple stop for gas, the girl gets out and walks to the woods, but instead of returning to the car she walks down the highway. When the car comes down the road, she ‘‘began to wave at it like a hitchhiker waving at a stranger's car.'' The girl gets in the car, and the two begin to roleplay.

Almost immediately, however, the young man and the girl begin to confuse their roles—he as "the tough guy who treats women to the coarser aspects of his masculinity’’ and she as ‘‘the artful seductress’’—with their own identities. The young man flatters her "and at this moment he was once again speaking far more to his own girl than to the figure of the hitchhiker.’’ The girl, however, caught up in her jealousy at seeing how he would react to an attractive stranger, "felt toward him a brief flash of intense hatred’’ and refuses to acknowledge him. Although at that moment, the young man "longed for her usual, familiar expression'' and tries to stop the game, she refuses and rebuffs him as if he were a stranger behaving inappropriately. The young man, in turn, becomes ‘‘furious with the girl for not listening to him and refusing to be herself when that was what he wanted.’’ The young man becomes angry both with the girl—who is defying him—and with the hitchhiker—who deserves rough treatment because of her very character.

As the two more fully embrace their roles, this shift brings freedom. For his part, the young man becomes spontaneous, driving to Nove Zamky instead of the Low Tatras, where they have a room reserved. The import of this action is underscored both by the narrator's acknowledgement that in Czechoslovakia it is necessary to book a room months in advance and by the narrative statement that the young man "was moving from himself and from the implacable straight road, from which he had never strayed until now.’’ The girl responds to the new situation by drinking vodka when she normally does not enjoy alcohol, and flirting and talking frivolously. The ultimate symbol of her renunciation of her "girl'' self is when she excuses herself to the bathroom. When the young man asks where she is going, she responds, '‘‘To piss.'’’

The roles that the young man and the girl play affect them differently. The girl relishes her new persona. Inhabiting the hitchhiker's body brings her selfawareness and freedom from the usual shame she feels about her body as a sexual object. The young man, however, even though he is aware that he is playing a role, cannot help but see his girl as the hitchhiker. Seeing her revel in her new sexual freedom, he treats her rudely, like a prostitute, and soon he longs to humiliate the girl and not the hitchhiker. He no longer can separate the girl from the hitchhiker.

Inevitably, the game goes too far. "The game merged with life,'' and there was no getting out of it. As the narration states, ‘‘A team cannot flee from the playing field before the end of the match... The girl knew that she had to accept whatever form the game might take, just because it was a game.’’ The game leads to the bedroom, where the young man forces her to strip naked and dance for him. The two have sex in their roles of strangers, which initially disturbs the girl but eventually his "furious passion gradually won over her body, which silenced the complaint of her soul.’’ She, who ‘‘had scrupulously avoided... lovemaking without emotion or love,'' feels more pleasure than she ever has before. Through sex, the girl crosses beyond the metaphoric boundaries of the playing field—she leaves the game. After sex, the young man, too, knew that ‘‘it was all over,’’ meaning both the end of the game and the players' perceptions of one another.

Afterwards, the young man and woman return to their own selves, but with greater knowledge and without their previous security in each other. The girl, upset by her ability to view her body as "impersonal," a ‘‘readymade borrowed thing,’’ cries over and over in "pitiful'' fashion, '"I am me, I am me, I am me...'’’ Her assertion, however, contains only a ‘‘sad emptiness.’’ The young man, in contrast, does not rebel against his new state of mind and actually fears returning to their relationship. He resists the girl and is forced to call the compassion necessary to calm her down ‘‘from afar, because it was nowhere near at hand.’’ His motive for helping her is selfish: ‘‘[T]here were still thirteen days' vacation before them.’’

The young man and girl's roleplaying, their experimentation with other identities and personas, stems from the repressive nature of communist Czechoslovakia. In such a state, no one is truly "me." Though the political aspects of the country and the story are not directly referenced, the young man and girl's actions are a direct result of it, as many critics have pointed out. The lives of the two protagonists are hardly their own. The girl ‘‘had a quite tiresome job in an unpleasant environment, many hours of overtime without compensatory leisure and, at home, a sick mother.’’ The young man has a job that ‘‘didn't use up merely eight hours a day, it also infiltrated the remaining time with the compulsory boredom of meetings and home study, and... it infiltrated the wretchedly little time he had left for his private life as well,’’ a private life that ‘‘never remained secret and sometimes even became the subject of gossip and public discussion.’’ The lovers commence the vacation in an attempt to find freedom in a sports car and the open road, away from prying eyes but ‘‘[E]ven two weeks' vacation didn't give him a feeling of liberation and adventure.’’

Morace writes of the ending, "It ends with the realization that in pursuing freedom the young man and the girl have come to embody the very tyranny they sought to escape, becoming as it were the mirror of the larger political situation.’’ Kundera has said that the modern world has become one of totalitarian tyranny and absolute skepticism, both of which are part of the hitchhiking game. As such, the story reflects a basic philosophy of Kundera. Writes Roger Rosenblatt in the New Republic,"For Kundera massive confusion is the essential human state... Stalinism was more dangerous than fascism because [according to Kundera] 'it began as the advocate and gradually converted it into the opposite: love of humanity into cruelty, love of truth into denunciation. . . ’'’ The actions of the young man and girl, who take their love and twist it into hate and debasement, demonstrate this fundamental belief.

Source: Rena Korb, for Short Stories for Students, Gale, 2000.

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Critical Overview