This paper seeks to conduct an analysis of “I served the king of England”1 by Bohumil Hrabal by focusing on literary means of the book and how the main character acts being an outsider of the culture.
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Hrabal’s books is a beautiful one narrating the simple story of a little man named Ditie yet full of big surprises and big dreams. Being a little man because of his small in stature was not ‘stop sign’ to his reaching his goals. In fact what is small is one that can become big. His being little was also matched by his humble beginnings as busboy and then merely a waiter. His life just had a meaningful significance for his country Czechoslovakia between 1935 and 1950 or a little later. Indeed, his being a little man does not however equate to the bigness of his dreams. Being a busboy was not a restriction of his dream to become a hotel owner after he had experience as a waiter. As to what caused him to have that big dream may be of course influenced by what he has seen in his big eyes in real in the various works that he had undergone.
Special circumstances from the book just need to mention while Ditie started as a busboy at the Golden Prague Hotel. It may be recalled that on his first day the, hotel boss hold him by his left ear to tell Ditie to remember in not seeing anything and not hear anything. But the next time around, the same manager scolder had him again this time by the right ear and to remind Ditie to able to see everything and hear everything. Ditie however survived the ordeal of the manager. What could have caused such a person to understand instructions which are conflicting? A faint hearted could have accepted a fate of just pleasing the boss but only an ambitious person like Ditie could surmount the challenge.
His being an ambitious man manifested on his determination on having two things: money and sensual experiences. Although, Ditie’s life was painted by author to void of conscious consideration as make him look less than a whole human being, Ditie had the guts to earn money as he wanted. By side selling frankfurters at the local train station, he may have had early attraction for money. He made his money bigger by the extra tips from passengers that bought from him frankfurters from the train with Ditie’s style by mishandling for money change to his customer before the train to pull out from stations.
To become millionaire must have been foreign to him but all of sudden things he saw just magnified him after walking into a room to have witnessed a well-built Czech salesman who had been rolling around on building flooring laden and full with money. As to his hunger for sensual experiences, he had visited q local house of prostitution, named Paradise and found the delights of the human flesh. It was therefore after those encounter that has the made the man to dream the seemingly impossible.
For a normal person, how to reach that lure of money when one is just a busboy may be difficult to strategize. It is just like having a sari-sari store owner who wants to have a department store or a chain of big stores one day. For Ditie, the plan would have been ingenious.
And so Ditie left the Golden Prague Hotel as busboy and made his way working in other hotels with the dreams implanted in his heart. He had therefore worked at Hotel Tichota and then the Hotel Paris where he got the chance to be promoted as a waiter. It was at this hotel that he met one of the wonderful people in Ditie’s life. Working therefore as waiter “under the wing of the headwaiter Mr. Skrivanek, who knows everything there is to know about being a top waiter,’ Ditie had all the chance to know the secrets of becoming the best waiter. The work of a waiter may be compared to that of a salesman. If one would carefully draw by analogy, the similarity of the functions of the two jobs one would be convinced that a salesman had direct contact with the customers and without that salesman making the sales, there is no revenues for a business and without revenues there would be no profits and if there is no profits, there are no business that exists in a period of time. In the same way, the waiter is the person who is in direct contact with the customer, who can complain anything about the food.
For Ditie therefore to attain his dreams, he has to have knowledge to be the best of what he wanted. Therefore, every time that Ditie ask Skrivanek, the head waiter, how the latter knows a particular fact his almost automatic reply was “because I served the King of England” at a feast many years ago. By the turn of events, Ditie was later found to have attained a similar experience of serving a high person in office. It is not actually the King of England as his headwaiter had shared to him but the Emperor of Ethiopia. Readers therefore may just appreciate this point of Ditie’s life where he had reached one of his career’s highpoints when by his chance to serve Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, He could then rightfully recite in unison what his head waiter had narrated to him by saying “I served the Emperor of Ethiopia” if another waiter of younger age may have to chance to asks him for advice as he had sought himself.
The story of Ditie’s had become more interesting with his meeting the girl in his life. As when had this happened could not have been timelier than when he was on search for his dream to become rich? His stay therefore at the Hotel Paris provided Ditie the chance to meet and fall in love with a young Lise, a Sudeten German named. At that point in time, Czechoslovakia, Ditie’s country was being planned to be attacked by the Germans. This situation could not but create an interesting twist in the story on which has more weight in the mind of Ditie. Is it his country? Or is his loved for Lise. Would he rather forget his romantic love and go for love of country, being more heroic and self-giving?
As found in the story Ditie was ignorant or unaffected by the political events that were unfolding right in everyone else’s eyes and minds. Not surprisingly, it was shocking for Ditie to have his fellow waiters ostracizing him because of his relationship with Lise on the basis simply of the dilemma in the Sudetenland and the in anticipation of German attack of his country Czechoslovakia. The man chose to become a millionaire and make love to Lise and seemingly put his love of country immaterial to his ambition and desires. Ditie lost his job at the hotel even before the German invaded his country.
In trying to evaluate a man’s behavior between values as far as his choices are concerned, one is normally torn by what is important to a person in case a decision must have to be made. For Ditie to have chosen his dream to become a millionaire above everything else must have put in his mind the realistic nature of his dream or that his back ground as busboy and later a waiter could just be way to survive a living. This instance therefore should challenge the reader whether a hungry stomach may really feel the value of his country. Although it may be admitted that there is no indication that he was hungry, the nature of his job and daily experience could only speak for what he needed most during those times. On the other hand, to argue that he would just go to defend his country at the time of invasion may just be preposterous because in the first place, his government may not have the chance to recruit its men for war for reasons that some are in other places beyond reach of their government.
Ditie’s life did not end during the war but continued through the Communist accession to power in Czechoslovakia years after the German invasion. His choosing Lise was not without consequence as he was made to suffer prison life for a six month term after the war. The charge was of course due to his collaboration with the Germans. Undaunted still, this experience is not which will stop to reach his goals. By this time he had his plans to open up an impressive hotel and fulfill his dream to be millionaire. Was he successful? Time was favorable to him for a moment because Ditie indeed accomplished this goal but this was cut short by the Communist coming to power in Czechoslovakia. Still having the zeal of warrior not for his country but for his dreams, the event did not seem to have actual impact, if any, on Ditie.
This reality in his life may be more evident by announcement by the new regime about the plan to impose a terrible tax on all millionaires. As to how Ditie reacted was an eager anticipation that such payment of tax will accord him the fact of his being a millionaire. What horrified him instead is by a sudden turn of events when an old colleague that Ditie may have inadvertently saved from the Gestapo manages and now a party leader of new regime managed to obtain a tax exemption for Ditie. Shocked for the moved, Ditie opted to go to local police with his bankbook show to the whole world that he was a millionaire. He did not however the tax exemption had but instead lost all his assets to the government and to make his lot worse he was sent to work at a camp place he did not dream of, the mountains. In a sense however, the place where he is sent may have been portending a place that he will finally have his everlasting peace. The beautiful fulfilled it so for Ditie since it was only after Ditie has having nothing that he came to realize what really was important to him. What really is to become human? Will it be riches that will be destroyed, lost or confiscated by changing governments or is it sense that one has dreams so high although everything will however be lost nevertheless? The story aptly ended then for Ditie to like what had never been dreamed of from the past but what would them meaning of life that has left an imprint in his world. Wanting therefore nothing more, Ditie had just one more wish and that is to be buried on the top of a hill, he really wanted with the belief that his remains may make their way into some Bohemia and Danube streams.
It may be concluded that throughout these adventures the man in the story, Ditie has been determined by the desire to become what he wanted to become very rich man, because his belief was rich men lived the most admirable and rewarding lives. He must have admired most the hotel owners because he chose to one. Whoever may want so see this life, Ditie must have meant some thing to have a book of this life to be published and enjoyed my many.
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A unique life, not matter how simple if there are conflicts to be settled, will always is imparting meanings readers. Some of the conflicts include whether to love one’s country to love riches or to love a woman more. Since man may only limited choices, the choices will paint the value of the decision maker.
Hrabal, I Served the King of England, Paul Wilson (Translator), New Directions, 2007.