The Hitchhiking Game

by Milan Kundera

Start Free Trial

What does "The Hitchhiking Game" by Kundera teach us about identity?

Quick answer:

Kundera's "The Hitchhiking Game" teaches us that identity is fixed for women in a patriarchal society, but not for men, who are free to adopt many different identities.

In the eponymous game, the young man can play the part of a hitch-hiker, but his girlfriend cannot play the part of a seductress for very long without running the risk of being labelled a loose woman.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At first, the hitch-hiking game is a lot of fun for both the young man and his girlfriend. The young man likes to play the part of the stranger picking up a sexually-available young woman by the side of the road. It feeds into his toxic sense of masculinity, with its overriding need to see women purely as sex objects to be hunted down and seduced.

As for the girlfriend, she enjoys the game because it gives her a sense of power and control. By putting on the role of a sexually-liberated woman, she feels more confident in her own body, an entirely new experience for this normally self-conscious, embarrassed young lady.

For good measure, the young woman finds that, in her new role, she doesn't feel as jealous towards other women as she used to. At the same time, she enjoys the feeling that she's pleasing her boyfriend by behaving the way she does.

In due course, however, the young man begins to resent his girlfriend's behavior. To him, she's behaving just like all the many other women he's bedded over the years. And as this inveterate womanizer didn't have any respect for them, so he has none for his girlfriend.

It would seem, then, that in the patriarchal society depicted by Kundera, adopting a different personal or social identity is purely a male privilege. Men can act out different roles without incurring any serious censure from society. But for women it's a different story. They're forced to pick a side in the age-old virgin/whore dichotomy and stick to it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Kundera's "The Hitchhiking Game," what points are being made about relationships and identity?

The main point Kundera is trying to make in "The Hitchhiking Game" is that the assumptions and ideals we have often get in the way of our ability to see people as the complex individuals they are. Another major point the author makes is that identity is multidimensional and, in order to truly love someone, it is necessary to accept the subtle elements of their personality as well as their more superficial characteristics. The role of gender in identity and relationships is also heavily explored.

The Complexity of Identity

Kundera uses the generic terms of "the girl" and "the young man" to illustrate the concept of one-dimensional identities based on gender. The girl and the young man are both presented as archetypes in the beginning. The girl is innocent, naive, and sexually inexperienced, while her lover is shrewd and worldly. As the story progresses, subtle aspects of their identities merge. Although the girl begins her self-exploration by taking on a relatively stereotypical identity, this game soon conjures genuine aspects of her personality that she has repressed for much of her life. As she feels empowered by this newly discovered identity, the young man feels threatened. Aspects of his identity emerge as well, including the aggressiveness and abrasiveness that characterized his interactions with his former lovers.

Love and Identity

Another major point Kundera tries to make throughout "The Hitchhiking Game" is that love, if it is genuine, must evolve to accommodate the changes in personality that occur throughout a relationship. The young couple in the story experiences these changes at an accelerated rate through the hitchhiking game, but their experience serves as an example of the transition all relationships undergo. As the intimacy between two people grows, new components of their identities emerge. With each subsequent revelation of personality, there is always the risk that the relationship will strain and fracture. The young man is forced to assess whether he can accept the girl as a whole person rather than the archetype of the ingénue he fell in love with.

Gender, Identity, and Relationships

Throughout "The Hitchhiking Game," Kundera explores gender as a construct that affects both relationships and personal identity. The complex interplay between these dynamics creates conflict for the main characters, culminating in the young man's realization that his lover is more complex than the gendered stereotype he has unwittingly seen her as throughout their relationship. The girl feels repressed and forced to ignore the sexual aspect of her identity due to society's expectations about gender.

As the story continues, the false dichotomy of the naive and virtuous girl and the seductress is presented and deconstructed. The girl comes to the realization that she can be both virtuous and seductive, both innocent and empowered. In a less obvious way, the young man is also forced to examine the gender expectations placed on men. He is confronted by the stark difference between his treatment of women he perceives as innocent and those he sees as lascivious, even though he himself has engaged in sexually promiscuous behavior in the past.

Each of the points the author makes in "The Hitchhiking Game" explores the multi-directional relationship between relationships and identity in a compelling way. Through two seemingly archetypal characters, Kundera discusses the complexity of human identity, sexuality, and the interplay between them.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Kundera's "The Hitchhiking Game" teach us about identity, both personal and social identity.

For a relatively brief period of time, the young man and his girlfriend in "The Hitchhiking Game" are able to take advantage of the relative fluidity of social and personal identity in the modern world and adopt different personas.

As part of the eponymous game, the young man plays the part of a stranger who picks up a hitchhiker by the side of the road. His girlfriend plays the part of the hitchhiker, an alluring young woman whose full-on sexuality allows her to be a craven seductress.

At first, both participants in the game enjoy themselves immensely. The young man likes to pretend that he's just come across a sexy young woman standing by the side of the road by sheer good luck. The thrill of such a discovery is clearly a major part of what makes the game so enjoyable for him.

As for his girlfriend, playing the part of a sexually confident young woman makes her feel empowered. Normally a very shy and awkward person, she revels in the role of a woman who's got it and isn't afraid to flaunt it.

But in this repressive patriarchal society, the traditional roles have to reassert themselves as some point. The young man comes to feel loathing and resentment towards his girlfriend for behaving like so many other women he's slept with over the years. He is the beneficiary of the prevailing social double-standard, which dictates that it's fine for men to adopt different identities, but not women.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on