On The Joke

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade November 2001

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On The Joke When I started reading Milan Kundera's The Joke I found it hard to put the book down. I immediately liked what the novel is talking about (which is rare, as far as I am concerned). Although I only have sketchy knowledge about Communism/ Socialism, the novel kept me interested in its subject that it only took me less than three days to finish reading it.

Aside from the subject of the novel, Kundera's style of writing is impressive, especially the different perspectives used in narrating the story. Other novelists could have bungled this kind of technique, but not Kundera. Because of this, I found the novel easy to read.

Another interesting element of the novel that I found great is the emotion the novel expresses, which it conveys through the major characters' internal monologues. Despite the dynamic political events that goes on in the novel's setting (Czechoslovakia), Kundera is able to show vividly the human and personal side of history (at least, in the novel).

One of the things that caught my attention in The Joke is the supposed "love" of Ludvik towards Lucie. A question popped out of my mind after the scene where Ludvik physically tried to force himself on Lucie. Is Ludvik really in love with Lucie or is it just the lust for women because of the lack of them in the Ostrava that attracted him towards her? Because of the inconclusive accounts on this issue in the novel, the question earlier posed is open to any answer.

Another issue that is shown in the novel is adultery. It is shown by the illicit affairs of Helena with Ludwig and her other partners. There is a justification by Helena that she was looking for a "real love" that is why she is indulging in such affairs. Therefore, I got the impression whether Kundera tolerates this moral issue.

The issue of injustice is widely present in the novel. In fact, it is one of the central themes of the novel because it is the cause of Ludvik's turmoil, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But after reading the novel, I wonder if Kundera regards injustice as just a bitter part of life (considering the context of the novel, which is a Socialist/Communist context). This is because Ludvik does not do any definitive action against the injustice he suffered.

There is another issue that I could not really settle: whether all the moral shortcomings (adultery, injustice, etc.) shown in the novel are being tolerated by the author or is it being displayed to the whole world to be seen and noticed. Although I had some thoughts on the tolerance factor, I believe that those are meant to enlighten on what was it like in Czechoslovakia during the period the novel depicts.

The biggest question that really puzzled my mind is whether Ludvik deserves the punishment he got because of his silly "joke" to Marketa. As far as Ludvik's actions toward that scene are concerned, I think that he should have just been punished lightly and should have not been vanquished and vanished to the mines.

As far as I know, there is not really a literature of this kind here in the Philippines (literature that talks about an established Socialist/Communist System of society). All I know are works that call for revolution. I think the Socialist/Communist movement did not reach the point of establishing their system in society (as what The Joke depicts) so it is natural that this kind of literature does not or did not exist in the Philippines.