Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk as a Picaresque Novel


256   Germano-Slavica

full range of the military hierarchy. This panorama of society, as Guillen points out, affords ample opportunity for satire, and Hasek takes full advantage of this.

We must also consider, however, the ways in which Svejk departs from the general model of the picaresque. The most obvious, and the most far-reaching of these discrepancies is that Svejk, rather than being a recollection of past events in the first person, is narrated in the third person. During most of the events narrated, Svejk is physically present, and there is no clearly delineated split between his perspective and that of the narrator. Furthermore, Svejk's speeches dominate the novel to such an extent that one sometimes loses sight of the third-person narra­tive perspective. However, there are occasional scenes where Svejk is not present, and although most of these are discussions among officers in which his fate is being dealt with, there are some sections, especially later in the novel, where Svejk is not even present as a subject of conversation, as in the extended encounter between Lieutenant Dub and Cadet Biegler in the closing pages of the book.

Thus we must ask how essential the first-person narrative is for the picaresque form. Miller, though noting the first-person narrative as a feature common to most picaresque novels, does not insist upon it:

"[The picaresque novel] may or may not be autobiographical; the essen­tial thing is that the reader identifies himself with the protagonist and vicariously undergoes the shocks of his chaotic experience."15 Though the identification of a reader with the character in a novel is a subjective criterion and not easily measured, I suspect that readers identify with Svejk at least as much as with other picaros. Indeed, while we may be put off by Lazarillo's brutality to the blind man or by Moll Flander's thievery, nothing that Svejk does alienates us from him in any serious way. In another passage Miller suggests that the first-person narrative was necessary to enable the educated readers-of picaresque novels to identify with the low-life characters depicted16 (certainly this is true for Moll Flanders), but no such problem arises with Svejk. Many of Svejk's exploits were based on Hasek's own, and his general predica­ment was certainly not unfamiliar to Hasek's Czech audience or even to a non-Czech reader today.

Guillen, on the other hand, regards the first-person narration as one of the essential criteria of a picaresque novel. He says: "This use of the first person tense is more than a formal frame. It means that not only are the hero and his actions picaresque, but everything else in the story is colored with the sensibility, or filtered through the mind, of the picaro -narrator."17 For Guillen, then, the first-person narrative is important in that it incorporates a picaresque vision, the perspective of the picaro, into the narration. While there is no question that this special perspec­tive, and not merely the subject matter or the central character, is absolutely crucial to any picaresque novel,