The Loser

by George Konrád

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 637

The title The Loser could be applied to T, who at the end of the novel has lost his freedom, his work, his wife, and even that dream of a better society for which he has been willing to give his life. Certainly his fellow academics, the director of the asylum, and other characters who have fitted their expectations to the possibilities which their society affords are puzzled by what seems to be T’s insistence on losing. His desire to retreat to the asylum is another version of his brother’s impulse toward violence and death.

The title could surely be plural, as well, for a society which brands its subtlest, most rigorous thinkers as enemies of the state, which fetters their minds and imprisons their bodies, which denies them publication and expels them from libraries and from universities, is a society of losers. Konrád suggests this interpretation with a number of metaphors. For example, he contemplates the closed ward in the mental institution, which is not unlike an Eastern European Communist country. In order to protect society, supposedly, one begins by locking up those who threaten to harm themselves. Soon one moves to those who are troublesome or who annoy someone in power. Finally, those who are not locked up become so nervous that they wish to be, in order to avoid responsibility. While this argument is supposedly the director’s justification for his asylum, the passage is clearly Konrád’s vision of his own society. Cynically, the director points out that Hungary has a history of defeat and occupation and that Hungarians have learned to be losers who do whatever is necessary in order to survive: to lie, to cower, to fawn.

T, however, cannot be content with existence on those terms. He understands another metaphor, Dani’s identification of Teri with the regime which Dani must flee. The obsessive love, the changeable emotions, the flagrant infidelity which are exhibited by Teri are also characteristic of the Communist state, which seems to punish or reward by whim. Although at any given moment there is only one approved opinion, that opinion will change as the political power shifts, and thus an individual who hopes to stay in power must be an intellectual whore not unlike the changeable Teri, who, significantly, is perfectly willing to betray Dani rather than to lose him. Like her society, however, Teri loses what she crushes with her possessiveness.

In this new society, progress is halted by the constant pressure toward conformity and either repression or destruction of the self seems to be inevitable. It is not surprising that T, who is a loser in his own country, should consider leaving. Yet he does not flee. One reason is that he loves his country; as he says, he has his whole life invested in it. Another may be, as the director of the asylum comments, that from time to time the pressure is relaxed, and T can talk to foreign correspondents or travel abroad, where his works have been published and where he has a considerable following. A more important reason may be suggested when T thinks about his periods in prison. There, he says, his inner self is tested. There he can discover whether he has a core of integrity which cannot be destroyed. Again, the metaphor is obvious. Communist Hungary is a prison from which, understandably, many have made every effort to escape. Having decided to remain, one must use it as a testing place. Sadly, in his need to remain true to himself, T has had to withdraw from human distraction, even from love. Ironically, as he preserves his own self while waiting for death, he must once more enter the world in order to save his brother from execution by helping him to kill himself.

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