Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk as a Picaresque Novel

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260   Germano-Slavica

Though Dobossy stops short of claiming that Svejk has attained full revolutionary consciousness, he does ascribe to him a deliberate strategy of deceiving his officers, calling his super-patriotic utterances a mask which is removed whenever there are no officers or secret police present. But it is not that simple. His most extravagant chauvinistic displays are usually put on for the benefit of his superiors, but his public displays of enthusiasm for the Austrian cause while Mrs. Müller pushes him to his army physical in a wheelchair cannot really be explained by any deliberate attempt to deceive the Austrian bureaucracy. Dobossy insists on making of Svejk more of a flesh-and-blood human being than Hasek actually presents us with, and so he can only explain Svejk's behavior in terms of a mask deliberately assumed.28 But in doing so Dobossy misses the irony that on one level Svejk really is a fool; he is perfectly capable of expressing to his fellow soldiers an almost aesthetic appreciation of a sermon urging them to go out and die for the Kaiser, and countless other examples belie Dobossy's claim that Svejk demon­strates a consistent insight into and opposition to the Austrian war effort. Instead, as Emanuel Frynta has suggested, he belongs to the category of the wise fool who in his very simplicity reveals the truth for the benefit of his audience. A similar case would be that of Lazarillo de Tonnes, who, as Robert Alter points out,29 manifests an apparently sincere belief in Providence in spite of experiences which demonstrate that there is no such Providence.

When on considered that Svejk comes from the pen of a man who had lived through the Russian Revolution and had spent the previous two years as a Communist propagandist, what is most astonishing is how little revolutionary sentiment we find expressed in the novel. Indeed, Hasek's own adventures, irregular as they may be, would have made him a more useful prototype for a revolutionary hero than Svejk, who is perfectly content with the status quo as long as it leaves him in peace. About the only statement in the novel which even predicts a revolution to come is that of the volunteer-officer Marek (usually assumed to be Hasek's self-portrait) in a cell at Budejovice. After announcing that there are no more heroes, only oxen to be slaughtered by the butchers on the general staffs, he concludes: "... But in the end everybody will mutiny and there will be a fine shambles. Long live the army! Good­night!"30 Dobossy translates the passage this way: ". . . Am Ende kommt der allgemeine Aufruhr, dann werden sie schön ausschauen. Es lebe die Armee! Gute Nacht!"31 The crucial words in the original are vzbouří, a form of the verb "to mutiny," and mela, meaning "scuffle" or "row." Clearly, then, Hasek portrays a cynic who sees the coming revolt as a mutiny (with its connotations of a rebellion against legitimate authority) resulting in nothing more constructive than a huge scuffle. However,

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