Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead Summary

Milan Kundera


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An unnamed divorced man, thirty-five years of age and handsome, is resigned to his rather dull lot in life but becomes depressed on noticing a bald spot developing on the top of his head. This sign of approaching old age causes him to think about his accomplishments in life. He concludes that he has experienced little, especially in relation to women, who—he believes—provide the only true fulfillment in life.

As he is walking home from work one day, oblivious to his surroundings, he almost passes by a former lover. The woman, however, recognizes the man immediately. Both are pleased by the chance meeting and go to his apartment, avoiding the overcrowded cafés, to wait until it is time for her to catch the train back to Prague. As he prepares coffee, he decides that fate has played a trick on him by bringing this woman, with whom he was once madly in love, back into his life now that he is middle-aged.

The woman was beautiful in her youth. Although fifteen years older than when she last saw him, she is still attractive and still places tremendous value on physical beauty. Just as some find utmost importance in moral law, so she finds importance in beauty. To confirm her beauty when she was younger, she had extramarital affairs but was careful not to let them turn into ugly habits. One of these affairs was with the man she is now visiting.

She has returned to the small Czech town to renew the lease on her husband’s grave, only to discover that the lease has been canceled and someone else’s marker is where her husband’s used to be. The cemetery administrator’s only comment was “the old dead ought to make room for the young dead.” She tells her host none of this, however, but bombards him with questions in an effort to keep him from noticing how much she has aged.

Nevertheless, he notices her wrinkled face, withered neck, and manlike hands marked by blue veins. The pity he feels for her makes him feel closer to her. He launches into a long, melancholy monologue, filled with maxims about the shortness of life, which he thinks about because of his bald spot. Although he expects her to empathize, she states she does not like such...

(The entire section is 895 words.)