The Hitchhiking Game

by Milan Kundera

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

Who is the true person, the real “me”? When, at the end of the story, the girl hysterically asserts, “I am me, I am me, I am me,” she asserts that she is both naughty and nice, both whore and madonna, capable of, as her lover discovers, “everything.” Her lover, however, cannot accept this to be his girl. He wants her to remain a “nice” girl, a pure girl, a girl who fulfills an unambiguous role. For the most part, she plays her role beautifully; she is shy, pure, and frequently embarrassed by her body. She does not question this role, for it is the one that Western society expects most of its women to play; as soon as she has an opportunity to act other than shy and pure, however, she does so with great zeal. In her new role, the girl becomes sexually assertive and positively aware of her body; she becomes a powerful female. Her lover, however, is threatened by her, and in order to maintain his male dominance, he must frighten and humiliate her.

The most telling moment in the story regarding the male need to dominate a threatening female is the scene in the hotel room when the man makes the girl get up on a table. This is an ironic comment on the image of woman on a pedestal. Before she climbs on the table—which is not only the proverbial pedestal but also the go-go dancer’s platform, the beauty contestant’s runway, the bride-to-be’s church aisle—the girl stops “playing the game.” Stripped naked before her lover, she believes nothing else remains of herself to be exposed. She is “now herself.” However, a provocative and powerfully naked woman is not what the man wants; therefore, he longs to “treat her like a whore.” He needs to treat her this way and manipulates her through various postures because this is the only way he can control and objectify her. Up on the wobbly table, squatting and wiggling, she is an object, something that has been purchased and is soon to be used.

This story presents other ironies: the subtle but important difference between worship and love; the need, especially for women, to romanticize their physical passions; the uncomfortable fact that personal growth is always attended by pain; and the recognition of how limiting and debilitating fixed gender roles are for both sexes.

Milan Kundera, however, does not want the reader to dismiss roles altogether as negative and unnecessary. He strongly suggests that only through such role-playing does the young woman discover how to assert her true self. Similarly, the man’s closing gesture of compassion, albeit weak, suggests that he has learned to look behind a given role and to accept the ambiguity of character that is inherent in all human beings, male and female.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 693

Virgin/Whore Dichotomy
Central to the relationship between the young man and the young woman in ‘‘The Hitchhiking Game'' is the historical way in which women have been categorized as either "virgins" or "whores." Through art, literature, and other elements of Western or European culture, women have often been judged based on their sexual behavior as either "virgins," and therefore "pure," or "whores," and therefore shameful, dirty, and sinful. In more colloquial terms, this ‘‘virgin/whore dichotomy’’ has been referred to as the ‘‘good girl"/‘'bad girl’’ split.

Both the young man and the young women view all women in terms of these categories. At the beginning of the story, they both see the young woman as falling into the category of ‘‘good girl.’’ Although she is not technically a virgin, her shyness, embarrassment and general sexual repression place her in this category. For the young woman, this is a source of insecurity, as she fears she is not sufficiently sexually exciting to please her boyfriend. For the young man, on the other hand, this characteristic is what draws him to her, as he distinguishes her from all other women he's encountered as "pure." Based on this central theme, ' 'The Hitchhiking Game'' explores the consequences for their relationship when the young woman takes on the "role" of ‘‘bad girl,’’ in the context of a playful "game." Through this story, Kundera seems to confirm the criticism launched by many feminists that the ' 'virgin/whore'' dichotomy is an unfair way to categorized women, with dire consequences for malefemale relationships.

Jealousy
Jealousy is a central theme in the relationship between the young man and the young women. As a result of their roleplaying "game," however, the role of jealousy in their relationship shifts dramatically. In the beginning of the story, the young woman is jealous of other women because she knows that her boyfriend has had many casual sexual relationships. She fears that, because she is not as sexually expressive as other women, she cannot offer him the excitement he finds in these women. She fears she will one day lose him to a woman he finds more sexually alluring. For the man, at the beginning of the story, this sexual jealousy is an irritation.

As the "game" progresses, however, the young woman's jealousy slips away, while the young man's increases. Because she is taking on the "role" of a seductive woman looking for a casual sexual encounter, the young woman feels that she can finally give her boyfriend the sexual excitement she thought he could only get from other women. She therefore loses her jealousy of other women. From the young man's perspective, on the other hand, seeing his girlfriend in the role of seductress brings feelings of jealousy he had not had before. He imagines that if she can behave seductively toward him, she must be capable of doing so with other men. His increasing jealousy at the thought of her seducing a man other than himself in part builds his growing sense of disdain toward her, as the "game" progresses.

Games
A central theme of' 'The Hitchhiking Game'' is the ' 'game'' itself. The ' 'hitchhiking game'' begins spontaneously when the couple jokingly pretend that she is a hitchhiker he has picked up along the road. Kundera explores the ways in which ' 'games'' between people can become expressions of hidden thoughts and feelings that structure a relationship. For the young woman, the "game" allows her to get in touch with her own repressed sexuality by giving her an excuse to behave in seductive ways she would normally find embarrassing and uncomfortable. For the young man, the "game" places him in a role he has often occupied, that of a man seeking out a casual sexual relationship with a woman he does not know, respect or care about. While this role-playing ' 'game'' is at first liberating to the young woman, it ultimately reveals the deep hatred the young man feels for female sexuality. When he sees his girlfriend in this new light as a sexually expressive woman, he considers her no better than a "whore" and treats her as such.

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