Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The central themes of The Seizure of Power are underscored by two extensive quotations from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. The first quotation is taken from section 82 of the third book and pertains to the perversion of language that occurred in the course of the civil strife between the partisans of Sparta and those of Athens. In Miosz’s novel, such concepts as democracy, national sovereignty, and nonviolent revolution take on meanings, in the vocabulary of the postwar regime, that are virtual antonyms of their traditional denotations. Similarly, the police agents who rule the country designate themselves a government, and an army commanded by Russian officers is called Polish.

The second quotation from Thucydides comes from section 48 of the fourth book and deals with the cruel slaughter perpetrated by the pro-Athenian faction against their fellow citizens who supported the Spartan cause. Miosz clearly intends to draw a parallel between the gratuitous violence described by Thucydides and the fate of those individuals serving in the Home Army during the German Occupation. Even if one concedes that the Warsaw uprising was an act of folly, resulting as it did in the deaths of more than two hundred thousand Poles and the destruction of the capital, the rank and file members of the Home Army who fought in the epic battle did not merit the persecution accorded to them by the new masters of Poland.

At the conclusion of the epilogue, Professor Gil frankly acknowledges that the primary problem faced by any citizen of the People’s Republic of Poland is to “preserve himself from the taint of sadness and indifference.” In Professor Gil’s own case, it is evident that he derives his greatest solace from a conviction that the Polish masses will succeed in preserving their historical cultural values despite all the efforts being made to indoctrinate them with an alien ideology, and that they will reassert their commitment to these values at some future date. With the emergence of the Solidarity movement at the outset of the 1980’s, such a faith in the moral stamina of the Polish people has been amply justified.