Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek    51

believes him fully. This conversation may perhaps add yet another layer of meaning to Kosík's tale of the two Josefs meeting on Charles Bridge, one to be executed, the other mimicking the first one's fate. But from a practical point of view, Švejk's claim does not make any sense at all. There is no profit to be gained from his putting on a false front, save the pure pleasure of fooling around. This example, to be sure, hovers somewhere between being a private joke and an interference with the sys­tem. The military escort is an arm of the state, but by inquiring about Švejk's private affairs, the soldiers transgress their duty. Once this has happened, they succumb easily to Švejk's temptations to indulge in intox­icating substances, and because of their inebriation while on duty, they lose their official status.

But there are other scenes in the novel where the uncertainty about Švejk's affiliation with a specific group frays the very warp of the social fabric. Memorable in this respect is Švejk's mission to find billeting for his military unit on its way to the front, which mission ends in his being cap­tured by Austrian troops:

In the afternoon Švejk came to a small lake where he ran into an escaped Russian prisoner who was bathing there. At the sight of Švejk he immedi­ately ran away as naked as he was when he came out of the water.

His Russian uniform was lying underneath the willows and Švejk was curious to know how it would suit him, so he took off his own and put on the uniform worn by the unfortunate naked prisoner, who had escaped from a transport which had been billeted in a village behind the wood. Švejk wanted to see his reflection in the water and so he walked such a long way along the dam of the lake that he was caught by a patrol of field gen­darmerie, who were looking for the escaped Russian prisoner. (637; 666-67)

Since these are Hungarians, they cannot understand Švejk's explanations and so take him "back" to the transport for the Russian POWs. If the gar­ment makes the man, Švejk, for all practical purposes, joins the enemy force. Were he a true draft dodger, he would maintain his Russian iden­tity and wait out the end of the war in a POW camp. Instead, Švejk stub­bornly insists that he is an Austrian soldier. He even develops a story ac­cording to which he "had heard that the uniform of fallen enemies could be used at the front for purposes of espionage, and so as an experiment he put on that cast-off uniform" (645; 677). The officer to whom he presents this tale is, however, dead drunk and therefore unresponsive. But after he is finally able to persuade his captors that he is an Austrian subject, the story is reversed and the unauthorized change of identity is judged to be high treason: the willful act of an AWOL who (like Hašek himself) enlisted voluntarily in the Russian army to fight for the liberation of the Czech

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