The Increased Difficulty of Concentration

by Vaclav Havel
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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

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Obviously, the difficulty of concentration increases for the author, characters, and audience as the play progresses. The playwright will not concentrate on a scene for much more than a page. Huml cannot keep his life, his romantic commitments, or his thoughts (dictation) in focus for long. The sociologists and their machine cannot concentrate either. The audience cannot follow any dramatic thread until it has been seen at least once occurring and once in flashback.

The meaninglessness of personal relationships, the interference of the state and its pseudosciences upon the individual, the mindlessness of official and scientific jargon, and the absurdity of even the concept of individuality in a mechanical and repetitive existence—all are satirized in this farcelike comedy. Since Huml is the point of focus (all events involve him at home), this chaos on a treadmill may be seen as an exploration of his personal disorientation. However, every scene is so cartoonlike in its simplicity and illogical chronology that the suggestion seems clear that the protagonist represents either all people or nobody. The audience is not permitted emotional involvement with any character.

The longest passages are Huml’s dictations. They involve his theories on humankind’s search for satisfaction as the basis for its system of values. As Huml admits and as the play demonstrates, happiness and satisfaction and values are seen from various angles and modified by observance in different time frames. In other words, humankind does not really know what it wants, and studies of humans degenerate into contradictory clichés. Huml admits that no one shall ever arrive at an understanding of people because their complexity is so individually irrational that it is beyond scientific (systematic) analysis. Rather, he insists that the proper study of humankind lies in human relationships. The values, satisfactions, emotional conflicts, and accords seen in personal relationships are, he says, the key to understanding what humankind is.

The play both illustrates and contradicts that notion. What the audience learns of these people and this society comes from interactions, mostly within couples. However, what is shown is repetitive, dishonest, manipulative, and even more confused than confusing. No doubt, Václav Havel’s position as a dissident artist in a state-controlled Czech society was a key to this bleakly comic picture of life with consistent values or purpose, but the unreality of the caricatured treatment works as well to reveal a twentieth century society in any “developed” country.