The Hitchhiking Game

by Milan Kundera

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What does your conscience tell you about Nietzsche's ideas and the couple's behavior in "The Hitchhiking Game"?

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The morality of the tale is an issue in and of itself, but my conscience agrees somewhat with Nietzsche on the inherent cruelty of humanity. While some may find it difficult to call humans evil at their core, it is certainly true that everyone is inherently selfish. Because of that, there is a strong and irresistible desire to control others and our situations. In that way, we attempt to harness the world to fulfill our own desires and urges.

While it is unfortunate, all too often the will to power comes out and we attempt to manipulate or overpower other individuals. Nietzsche claims this can be used for good, but all too often it is an evil act. Very rarely, if ever, is the will to power exercised in a way that is intentionally for someone else's benefit.

The tale of the couple on their date is a true display of this will to power. Each character is attempting to manipulate and bend the other to their will in some way. The girl is trying to be seductive to attract the man while he attempts to physically subdue and dominate her. Both of these are from their selfish desires and their attempts to take control of things as they see fit.

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Nietzsche's main philosophies about exuberance and the "will to power" are clearly apparent in "The Hitchhiking Game."

According to Nietzsche, "the will to power" is the main driving force in humanity. Essentially, the "will to power" encompasses the practice of deriving one's greatest pleasure from dominating others. Nietzsche contends that this inherent need is driven by the human propensity for cruelty. Cruelty, if you will, is defined as the practice of forcing others to act against their inclinations. Nietzsche describes the conquest of another's will as a personal triumph, an accomplishment that produces the most intense of pleasures.

Essentially, Nietzsche believed that human beings are naturally "cruel" and that they derive their greatest pleasure from subduing another's will. Yet, Nietzsche argued that "the will to power" need not necessarily result in harm or suffering for others. He maintained that it would be enough to humiliate one's nemesis into giving up his will.

We can see Nietzsche's philosophy of "the will to power" (which he calls a kind of "exuberance") and the human propensity for cruelty in the story. There is a major problem with Nietzsche's philosophy of "the exuberant passion for power," however, and it is this: how does one define the acceptable degrees of cruelty? In other words, which "cruel" actions can be classified as acceptable or even moral?

With that being said, our interpretation of Kundera's story will depend upon our personal beliefs regarding right and wrong. As we read, we should ask ourselves some important questions:

1) Is the young man justified in overcoming the girl's resistance in such a cruel manner? The text clearly describes how he abuses her trust in him. In turn, the girl submits to him but suffers greatly in the process. How does cruel treatment facilitate continued trust and open communication?

2) In the story, both characters harbor suspicions about each other. The young man is fixated on his date's moral purity. Meanwhile, the girl worries that she is not attractive enough to hold the man's interest.

In the young man's case, he is focused on dominating the girl's will. In his mind, the girl does not seem to be aware that her very innocence is attractive to him. He wants her to stop "putting on airs" and to stop playing a role to which she is ill-suited. For her part, the girl believes that she must behave as the seductive heroines of romance novels do. However, in doing so, she unintentionally alienates the young man.

For his part, the young man thinks that he can teach his date a lesson.

He was furious with the girl for not listening to him and refusing to be herself when that was what he wanted. And since the girl insisted on continuing in her role, he transferred his anger to the unknown hitchhiker whom she was portraying. And all at once he discovered the character of his own part: he stopped making the gallant remarks with which he had wanted to flatter his girl in a roundabout way, and began to play the tough guy who treats women to the coarser aspects of his masculinity: willfulness, sarcasm, self-assurance.

The young man uses cruelty to return the relationship to what he considers a state of equilibrium. However, his cruel actions completely demoralize his date. The story ends with the young man pitifully contemplating how he can call "compassion to his aid." We must ask the following: can cruelty be taken too far? More importantly, can we rely on cruelty to achieve a positive outcome? Even if the girl learns her "lesson," is cruelty an effective means of bringing about change? From the story, it would appear that cruelty is a double-edged sword.

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