Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359
The Joke is Milan Kundera's first novel, written at the height of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia and set in a time period ranging from the beginning of the regime (the Stalinist era some years after the Second World War) until the 1960s.
The following is said by the primary protagonist, Ludvik. This occurs very late in the novel and is a moment of revelation for the protagonist:
Yes, suddenly I saw it clearly: most people deceive themselves with a pair of faiths: they believe in eternal memory (of people, things, deeds, nations) and in redressibility (of deeds, mistakes, sins, wrongs). Both are false faiths. In reality the opposite is true: everything will be forgotten and nothing will be redressed. The task of obtaining redress (by vengeance or by forgiveness) will be taken over by forgetting. No one will redress the wrongs that have been done, but all wrongs will be forgotten.
The following is said to Ludvik by Kostka. Kostka is a foil to Ludvik's character; he is a Christian and thinks that Christian faith is reconcilable with Communist doctrine. These views, however, alienate him from the Communist Party:
I can understand you, but that doesn’t alter the fact that such general rancor against people is terrifying and sinful. Because to live in a world in which no one is forgiven, where all are irredeemable, is the same as living in hell. You are living in hell, Ludvik, and I pity you.
Youth is terrible: it is a stage trod by children in buskins and a variety of costumes mouthing speeches they've memorized and fanatically believe but only half understand. And history is terrible because it so often ends up a playground for the immature; a playground for the young Nero, a playground for the young Bonaparte, a playground for the easily roused mobs of children whose simulated passions and simplistic poses suddenly metamorphose into a catastrophically real reality.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support