The Mašín brothers’ story is perhaps one of the most widely discussed and controversial events in the history of post‑war Czechoslovakia. Since the fall of Communism in 1989, it has been tackled by several historians (e.g. Němeček 1998, Masin 2005, Babka 2002) as well as non‑fiction writers (e.g. Rambousek 1990, Novák 2004). This paper analyzes one of the historical narratives about the Mašín brothers: a historical account called Gauntlet: Five Friends, Twenty Thousand Enemy Troops, and the Secret That Could Have Changed the Course of the Cold War (Masin 2006)._1 This work will be analysed from the narratological perspective in order to disclose the inner structure of the narrative. By using this type of inquiry we can assess how this particular historical narrative of the Mašín brothers shapes historical reality and whether this representation may be regarded as ‘true’ as the author suggests._2 The analysis will focus on the structure of the plot (2.0), the function of the Mašín brothers’ father in the story (3.0), the construction of the narrator (4.0) and the characters (5.0) and it will also detail the connection between Gauntlet and a certain ‘mode of emplotment’ (White 1978) (6.0).
2.0 The Mašín Brothers’Story
In order to introduce the plot, let us quote the summary from the cover of the book:
On 3 October 1953, five young men armed with four pistols crossed the border from Czechoslovakia into East Germany. Their mission was to deliver an explosive secret message from a Czechoslovak general to U.S. authorities at all costs. The journey was to take three days, and their ultimate objective was to join the U.S. Army Special Forces, then return to liberate their country. What ensued was the largest manhunt of the Cold War. This fast‑paced book tells the exciting story of their plight as thousands of East German and Soviet troops chased them across swampland, forests, and fields for thirty‑one days. After surviving several pitched gun battles, gunshot wounds, starvation, and the bitter cold, three finally reached West Berlin. Prior to their escape, they had formed the nucleus of an anti‑Communist resistance group, inspired by the testament of celebrated World War II resistance leader, Czech general Josef Masin, father to two of the young men and grandfather to the author of this book (Masin 2006).
The five men who tried to escape were the Mašín brothers (Ctirad Mašín, Josef Mašín Jr.), Milan Paumer, Zbyněk Janata and Václav Švéda but only the Mašíns and Milan Paumer reached West Berlin. The first three chapters of the book (10%) concentrate on the story of Josef Mašín Sr. Chapters 4–10 (20%) are about the group’s resistance activity and the Mašín family. More than half of the book (chapters 11–37 – 70%) deals with the group’s escape to West Berlin. The internal part of the narrative is also a general history of Czechoslovakia and the history of the region is incorporated into the story. External historical events such as the Munich agreement in 1938, World War II, the liberation of Czechoslovakia in 1945, the Communist takeover in 1948 and so forth influence the main characters and their actions.
The narration starts in the middle of a story with three men hiding underneath a pile of branches. In the prologue we read:
The first snow of the season fell on 6 October 1953, and thereafter every night brought subzero temperatures. Now, two weeks later, another gray dawn pushed its chilly fingers over the horizon, touching fir trees and haystacks that glittered white with hoar frost. In the cold morning air sound carried far, and from their cramped hideout under a pile of dead branches they could hear the woods ringing with sharp bursts of automatic weapons fire (p. 1).
The reader’s interest and attention are secured by this exposition. Although we do not yet know who is hiding underneath the pile of branches and why, we are intrigued and want to continue reading. From the very beginning, the reader is made aware that this is a dramatic story. This device, prolepsis,_3 corresponds to similar literary devices used in fiction. One can also observe that the narration starts with incredible details creating what Roland Barthes called the ‘reality effect’ (Barthes 1986, p. 132). This is the only case of prolepsis. Apart from this, the story is narrated in chronological order.
The first chapter starts with the birth of Josef Mašín Senior. The story has a distinct beginning and end. The last chapter is about the Mašín brothers’ disappointment with the political situation – they feel betrayed that the U.S. did not invade Czechoslovakia. In spite of their disillusionment, they remain firm believers in the “American ideals of freedom” (p. 323). In the epilogue, the narrator mentions the fall of the Berlin Wall and the efforts to rehabilitate the Mašín family and their friends. Among other things, Barbara Masin also recounts the situation in Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism; although they were overthrown, the Communists still rule the country. The span of the narrative therefore covers the whole of the 20th century.
3.0 The Father’s ‘Shadow Story’
Josef Mašín Sr. was praised as a hero of both World Wars and his life is an integral part of the story which begins with his birth in 1896: “And it had all begun with my mysterious grandfather” (p. 7). Josef Mašín Sr. fought for an independent Czechoslovakia in the Foreign Legions in the First World War. He received many medals for bravery and was also a member of the famous Czech home resistence group ‘The Three Kings’ which fought against the Nazis. This group conducted many sabotage activities (also a bomb attack in Berlin) and transmitted coded messages to London. Eventually in 1941, the group was destroyed and Josef Mašín was captured. After long and hard interrogations when he refused to testify against his colleagues from the resistance, he was executed in Kobylisy.
After World War II, Josef Mašín Sr. was admired for his courage. Books and articles have been published about his ‘heroic deeds’ during the struggle against the Nazis. The narrator suggests that Ctirad and Josef Mašín Jr. followed in his footsteps when they decided to fight against the Communists. Although the narration concentrates on the Mašín brothers’ story more than on the deeds of their father, his life is an integral part of the story. The father’s story can be identified as a sort of ‘shadow story’ (Abbott 2002, p. 146). It is suggested that Josef Mašín Sr.’s personality and courage were the ultimate source of the Mašín brothers’ strong motivation (and also obligation) to fight against the Communist regime. He was already dead when the Mašín brothers began their struggle and it is difficult to state the extent of his direct impact on the Mašín brothers’ actions, but the narrator suggests that it was his legacy which made them resist the Communists. This generates a causal relationship between the actions of the Mašín brothers and their father. His effect may be indirect, but in the story his character functions as a trigger. The brothers were only small children when their father was executed but after the war they began to discover who their father had been:
Pepa and Radek saw their futures clearly: they would follow in their father’s footsteps and join the Czechoslovak military. They, too, would defend their country. Eagerly they read everything about their father that they could get their hands on. […] “It was at that time,” Radek recalled, “that we came to the decision which was to influence all of our later lives, never to surrender to anybody, to decisively resist evil and injustice, and to never let anybody or anything stop us” (p. 53).
The story and the legend of their father is thus crucial in the Mašín brothers’ story. It also corresponds to its thematic composition. The Czech edition of the book is called Odkaz which means ‘legacy’ or ‘heritage’. The meaning is of course metaphorical. It is their father’s legacy “to decisively resist evil and injustice” that his sons had to fulfill. There are more allusions to the family heritage in the book: “Radek and Pepa were in no doubt that the time had come for them to fulfil their father’s mandate” (p. 60). Josef Mašín Sr.’s heroic life story thus functions as a trigger. His legacy serves as the explanation of the Mašín brothers’ later actions and their motivation. It is the shadow story which plays a crucial role in the narrative; it suggests that their resistance activity was a necessary continuation of their father’s struggle for freedom and the ultimate tribute to his legacy.
4.0 The Objective Narrator?
The narratological approach enables us to examine certain structural features of the narrative. The narrator is the one who tells a story, it can be seen as a textual device. Such an examination is necessary in order to grasp the narrative structure: “Narrative voice is a major element in the construction of the story it narrates. It is therefore crucial to determine the kind of person we have for a narrator” (Abbott 2002, p. 65–66). Let us suppose that the narrator of the historical work is not the real person who is actually writing it. As Roland Barthes put it:
both narrator and characters are essentially “paper beings.” The living author of a narrative can in no way be mistaken for the narrator of that narrative; the signs of the narrator are embedded in the narrative, hence perfectly detectable by a semiological analysis. […] The one who speaks (in the narrative) is not the one who writes (in real life) and the one who writes is not the one who is (Barthes 1975, p. 261).
Even in historical narrative the relationship between the narrator and the author is not straightforward. In the narrative discourse of Gauntlet there are two distinct narrative voices. The first one is mainly present in the prologue and in the epilogue, it is the first person narrator who talks about how she kept hearing this narrative from her father. It was a “favourite bedtime story” for her and her sister (p. 2). In the epilogue, she recounts her efforts to write this book and the difficulties she encountered in the Czech Republic when trying to find the archive materials. The first person narrative voice is thus used almost exclusively in the paratexts.
In Chapter One, the first person narrator shifts to the third person narrator, the predominant narrative voice, and this voice continues telling the story until the epilogue. The only sign of the first person narrator’s presence in the narrative is when the narrative voice occasionally refers to some of the characters as ‘my uncle’, ‘my grandfather’ and so forth. The events on which the narrative mainly focuses (the constituent events of the story) had happened before the narrator was even born. She did not take part in them. These events are narrated in the impersonal voice. The parts narrated in the first person can be identified as supplementary events because they are not necessary to the storyline and the story would remain intact without them (Abbott 2002, p. 188).
This textual device has, of course, implications for the meaning of the narrative. We can detect the narrator’s first person mask (‘the daughter’) in the paratexts but it is largely hidden in the course of narration. The predominant third person voice (‘the historian’) thus creates the impression that the given information is not affected by Barbara Masin’s family ties, her own “needs, desires and limitations” (ibid., p. 66), and generates the illusion that the events are being recounted by an unbiased, objective teller (‘referential illusion’)._4
The narrator’s discourse is mainly separated from the characters’ discourse by direct speech. Occasionally, the free indirect style is used: “Zbynek didn’t turn to see who it was. No time! He found himself on a cobblestone road […]” (p. 183)._5 The author acknowledges at the very beginning of the book that these dialogues are “reconstructed and readjusted” (Masin 2005, p. 9). The story is a work of history and not a fictional one and therefore the events narrated ought to be true. However, the narrator did not witness the events and she often had to rely solely on the personal recollections of eye‑witnesses and participants. She also acknowledges that one of her resources is Ctirad Mašín’s written chronology of the escape which he wrote in 1957 (p. xii). From various sources (such as archive materials, historical books, eye‑witness testimonies, personal notes etc.) she constructs a monolithic narrative discourse which is mediated mainly by a singular third‑person narrator.
The narrated events are transformed from the original first person narrations of the witnesses to impersonal narration. This is a common structure in historical works: “The writing style of professional historians has traditionally involved a variant of the nineteenth‑century ‘realist’ novelist’s omniscient narrator and fluent narrative. Historians have only fragmentary ‘sources’, but the style exerts pressure to produce a whole and continuous story, sustaining the impression of omniscience, leaping over evidential voids” (Megill – McCloskey 1987, p. 26). This is also the case in Barbara Masin’s narrative. The subjective testimonies and accounts, which come mainly and sometimes solely from Josef and Ctirad Mašín themselves and other documents, are grouped and united in a single narrative voice, only sometimes to be interrupted by fabricated dialogues. Further analysis of the selected scenes will demonstrate how deeply the construction of this type of ‘objective’ teller affects the overall meaning of the narrative.
5.0 Analysis of the Characters
Characters are human or humanlike entities involved in the action that have agency (Abbott 2002, p. 188). These entities are complex and are defined by the sum of the characteristics they possess (personality, external appearance), actions they carry out, speeches they utter and human environment they are set in (family, social class) (Rimmon‑Kenan 1983, p. 59). Even in historical works the people represented are, in fact, not ‘real’, rather, they are defined as a sum of the characteristics inscribed in the narrative discourse and, naturally, the depiction of them can never be absolutely complete. The narrative consists only of the actions and characteristics relevant to the story or for the understanding of the events in general. The characters, even in historical narratives, are thus incomplete entities and, just like fictional characters, they contain significant gaps.
5.1 THE MAŠÍN BROTHERS : REBELS WITH A CAUSE
In Gauntlet there are two eponymous heroes: the Mašín brothers. The narrator describes them as follows:
Although Pepa and Radek were close in age and shared a physical resemblance, their personalities were quite different. Where Pepa was carefree, always up for a prank or a joke, Radek was serious and mature beyond his years. As the oldest son, with his father gone, he took his role as the man of the house seriously. He was focused on his goals, studied hard, got good grades and was interested in all things technical. Pepa, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered with schoolwork. The two brothers were intense rivals about girls, about who was right, but they always held together as brothers. Against outside threats they presented a united front (p. 54–55).
The narrator does not question their actions – things they do make sense and are done with dignity and with concern for humanity. They are clearly presented as positive characters – the heroes who fight against the cruel Communist regime. The narrator does not critically judge their actions but tends to describe their behaviour in positive terms:
Radek, Pepa and their friends decided to turn the tables on the Communists. They would strike at the grassroots level, using the Communists’ own methods. But there was an important difference between the Masin group and the followers of Marx and Lenin. The Masins and their friends understood instinctively that if you are fighting for individual human life and dignity, you must do so with as much concern for innocent lives as humanly possible (p. 67).
The other important character in the story is their father, Josef Mašín Senior. He is also depicted as a hero and, as it was stated earlier, the narrator suggests that he had an enormous impact on the brothers’ actions. The heroes could not pursue the ‘ideals of freedom’ without help. They needed someone who would help them make these ideals come true and it is their friends from Poděbrady who are able to do it. They grew up together so the Mašíns know they can trust them:
Radek, Pepa, Milan, and Vladimir formed the core. They had all grown up together. They knew each other as well as any boys could know each other, and they trusted each other completely (p. 68).
The members of the group are depicted as young, good‑looking men with a sense of humour. They provide the necessary help for the heroes’ resistance actions. These characters acquire certain functions in the narrative – they are the Mašín brothers ‘helpers’. Vladimír Hradec is an armourer, Milan Paumer is a driver and their uncle Ctibor Novák functions as their advisor. Vašek and Zbyněk also join in on the dangerous actions. The Mašín brothers are, of course, the leaders of the group and as such they stand above the rest. They plan all of the actions and carefully consider all the details.
There is also a minor positive character, General Vanek, who is an old friend of Josef Mašín Sr. His role is very important in the narrative because he passes on to the Mašíns a ‘top secret’ message for the Allies. He is in command of the troops in the Czechoslovak army and in case of a conflict with the West he would give them orders not to fight:
If this division stood down and didn’t fight, the western forces could pour through the breach and attack the Soviet bloc troops to the north and south from behind, decimating them with deadly speed, cutting off their supply lines and wreaking havoc in the rear. If some or all of Vanek’s forces joined in the assault, the resulting mayhem in the Soviet bloc’s ranks would be truly impressive (p. 121).
The Mašín brothers have to deliver this message to the Allies and thus, their actions effectively acquire a much higher importance. It is suggested that this information “could have changed the course of the Cold War” as the title says. The Mašín brothers’ mission is thus important for the whole ‘free world’.
5.2 THE COMMUNIST ‘AXIS OF EVIL ’
On the other side of the axiological axis_6 there are the negative characters who represent the evil side of the world. These are the Communists, policemen, troopers, detectives, investigators, militia men, warders – in short, the adversaries of the heroes. The narrator clearly defines them:
While the government waged a broad‑based campaign of terror against the civilian population, the Masins’ terror would be reserved for the enforcers of the regime, the StB, the SNB,_7 the militias and paramilitaries – those authorized to bear arms and enforce the regime’s dictates (p. 67).
This is the literal definition of the enemy – the ‘bad’ characters. Narrative theory offers an examination of characters, for example, E. M. Forster (1927) distinguished between ‘flat’ and ‘round’ characters. The ‘flat’ characters can be “summed up in a single phrase” (Forster 1927, p. 9) and have no existence apart from a single dominating quality. Round characters cannot be summed up in the same way and are not predictable (ibid. 67–78). The borderline between the flat and round characters is, of course, not always very sharp and characters are defined by their tendency to lean towards one pole or the other. We can create an axis which grasps the major opposition in this narrative (‘flatness’ vs. ‘roundness’) based on the textual analysis.
It can be claimed that in Gauntlet the positive characters are far more developed than the negative ones. They cannot really be called ‘round’ but rather ‘more round’ than the others. The narrator outlines their basic physical and mental descriptions. There is also an account of the eponymous heroes’ psychological motivation that leads them to certain actions, such as the legacy of Josef Mašín Sr. as a strong motivational force and their commitment to fight against the Communist regime. The Mašín brothers and their companions are consistently referred to by their names, and, moreover, by the domestic variatiation of their names (Pepa, Radek, Vašek, Borek etc.). The narrator often refers to the group as ‘friends’. Along with the development of their characters, this makes them seen more human.
On the other hand, there is little development on the other side of the axiological axis. The negative characters are usually labelled by their assignment and there is no account of their personalities at all. These entities are not usually called by proper names (forenames or surnames) although their names are often known, but by their function in the state apparatus – a policeman, a militia man, an investigator etc. This leads to further dehumanization of these ‘adversaries’. They are thus empty vessels rather than true characters. They can be called ‘flat’ characters because they are underdeveloped. The narrator does not offer their internal characterization, and there is no information concerning their lives or the possible motivations behind their actions. There is sometimes a brief account of their external appearance which functions merely to increase their negative portrayal: “There were five investigators on the team. None of them looked as cruel and brutal as this man” (Masin 2005, p. 104).
A ticket seller who later reported the group to the police is presented as follows:
The surly‑looking middle‑aged woman behind the counter looked at him sharply. […] The ticket seller turned her sharp gaze away and with agonizing slowness issued the tickets. […] the distrustful gaze of the ticket seller following their every move (p. 166)._8
This also functions as a hint in the narrative; the reader starts to become suspicious and wonder whether this interaction will have any consequence in the story. We can trace the correspondence between the intensity of characters’ development with the central axiological (good vs. bad) axis of this story; the positive characters are far more developed than the bad ones. The following diagram shows the relationship between the flatness/roundness of the characters and the axiological axis:
The negative characters are entities who, rather than having indiviudal characteristics, are part of the abstract ‘axis of evil’. Their most important feature is that they are the adversaries (armed enforcers of the Communist regime). This is in clear contrast with the depiction of the heroes, who are at the very centre of attention and as such, their individuality is highlighted. Furthermore, their friends and family are depicted in positive terms and the reader is informed about their qualities. The contrast between the good and bad is thus realized as is a binary opposition between the individual and abstract.
5.3 THE CHARACTERS BOUND TO THEIR ACTIONS
The characters are also defined by their actions. The Mašín brothers’ armed struggle resulted in several casualties and the scenes where they eliminate their enemies are ripe for analysis. The following textual analysis focuses on certain crucial scenes staging the Mašín brothers’ resistance activity. The purpose is to investigate how the ‘objective’ narrator takes care of the recipient when depicting the killing of the policeman and other events related to their sabotage activity._9 This quote is from chapter 7, Joining the Battle, in which Radek Mašín, Zbyněk Janata and Milan Paumer raid the police station. It is the second raid in Čelákovice:
‘Where are the weapons?’ Radek demanded.The policeman said nothing. He was unabashedly studying their faces in the light. He was experienced and made no bones about taking his time to commit their features to memory. When he was finished, he motioned his head toward his cabinet. It was fitted with a massive metal latch and outsize padlock (p. 75).
In this scene the narrator pinpoints the fact that the policeman is “unabashedly” studying their faces in order to “commit their features to memory”. This scenic sequence is followed by Radek’s decision to kill the policeman:
While Zbynek was hauling the weapons out to the ambulance, Radek turned to the policeman. The man was glaring at him defiantly. ‘Comrade,’ Radek said, ‘we have to put you to sleep so that you don’t do anything stupid before we disappear.’ There was no question in his mind. This policeman knew their faces and would submit detailed descriptions of them. Radek couldn’t let that happen. But he also had to avoid a repeat of the Chlumec fiasco: there could be no gunfire. He laid the policeman on the bunk, pressed a handkerchief doused with chloroform over his nose and mouth, and waited until the man was out cold. Then he pulled his scout’s knife from its sheath on his belt and slit the man’s throat – exactly as his instructor had showed him (p. 76)._10
The narrator first prepares the ground for Ctirad Mašín’s action by mentioning a certain fact – the policeman studying their faces. Then the narrator stresses the potential risk for the heroes and explains the reason why Radek comes to the decision to cut the policeman’s throat. The reason why it is necessary to do it is then repeated again (“[…] knew their faces and would submit detailed descriptions of them. Radek couldn’t let that happen.”). The narrative creates this causality:
Presupposition: the group fights ‘as humanly as possible’
1) The policeman is the enemy.
2) He is experienced.
3) He is studying their faces in order to submit their description.
4) He has to die.
5) There could be no gunfire (unlike in Chlumec).
6) He slits the policeman’s throat (as his instructor had showed him).
The third person narrator fabricates a powerful illusion grounded in narrative reasoning. It is suggested that the only reasonable thing to do in this particular situation would be to cut the policeman’s throat. The ‘objective’ narrator highlights a certain action made by the negative character (the policeman studying their faces). This action is taken as the impulse to another action by Ctirad Mašín – he slits his throat. The narrative in the way it is structured – by inscribing certain actions to the negative character (policeman) – justifies the action of the positive hero. Thus, the narrative stays coherent; the hero does not murder the policeman cruelly (cutting his throat) for no reason, but neutralizes the enemy because it seems to be clear that he would submit their descriptions to the police. This chain of reasoning maintains the hero’s positivity – his actions are justified. This action was necessary and Ctirad Mašín fulfills the condition about the human nature of his actions.
There is another significant point in the quote above. Let us repeat the very last sentence: “Then he pulled his scout’s knife from its sheath on his belt and slit the man’s throat – exactly as his instructor had showed him.” This refers to an event which was mentioned earlier in the course of narration. Ctirad Mašín took part in a fourteen day course in ‘military preparedness’. “The course instructor was a rabid Communist. A diligent student, Radek graduated with flying colours” (p. 67). One can clearly see that this event which happened some time before the raids on the police station has certain narrative motivation. Ctirad Mašín learnt this method (of eliminating the enemy quietly) in the military course which was supposed to train the Communists in partisan warfare. By reminding us of this event at the very moment when Ctirad cuts the policeman’s throat, the narrator persuasively suggests that Ctirad just used “the Communists’ own methods” (ibid.) which contributes to a further justification of the hero.
The action of the policeman (studying their faces) may also be regarded as a subjective impression of Ctirad Mašín whose decision to eliminate him is based on his own perception of the reality. However, when transferred to the third person, the narrative seems to suggest that there really was no other option than to kill the policeman. In this very case, one can observe how important the shift from the first person to the third person is. It is not just a formal change but something that highly affects the meaning of the narrative suggesting that this is the way things ‘really’ happened.
6.0 The Mašins’ Story as Romance
Barbara Masin’s narrative is identified as “a dramatic tale of courage and daring against overwhelming odds and a testament to American ideals of freedom”. Gauntlet thus has a narrative structure which Northrop Frye called ‘romance’. According to Frye, the other basic literary forms are tragedy, comedy, and satire. The romance is characterized as follows:
The complete form of the romance is clearly the succesful quest, and such a completed form has three main stages: the stage of the perilous journey and the preliminary minor adventures; the crucial struggle, usually some kind of battle in which either the hero or his foe, or both, must die; and the exaltation of the hero (Frye 1957, p. 187).
Frye’s observations were originally applied to fiction but Hayden White in Metahistory (1978) adopted this distinction and used it when analysing historical narratives. The historian confronts the chaos of events which have already happened and chooses elements of a particular story. He has to subordinate other events which he does not consider relevant: “This process of exclusion, stress, and subordination is carried out in the interest of constituting a story of a particular kind. That is to say, he ‘emplots’ his story” (White 1978, p. 6). The romantic thinkers and their reflections on history “turned upon their apprehension of the historical field as a ‘Chaos of Being’ which they then proceeded to comprehend respectively as simply a chaos, a plenum of creative force, and a field of struggle between heroic men and history itself” (ibid., p. 149). The operation of emplotting reality is not reserved solely for fictional narratives.
The plot analysis of Gauntlet demonstrated that it perfectly fits into the category of romance. There is a discernible conflict – the 1948 Communist coup – and the death struggle which is victorious. The Mašíns and Milan Paumer get to the West, defeating their foes – almost thirty thousand troops who hunt them across East Germany and try to kill them. The Mašíns’ activity was part of a campaign against Communism led by the USA. In the end, the war is victorious as Communism disintegrates. This is the final katharsis. Romance is characterized also by a clear‑cut division between good and bad. The previous observations disclosed the sharp division between the positive and negative characters. In Gauntlet, the axiological axis is extremely polarized. The reader gets an image of a clearly divided world where the forces of good (the Allies) struggle with evil (the Soviet Bloc). Gauntlet is thus a popular tale, a modern embodiment of romance; as Frye put it: “The close connection of the romantic and the popular runs all through literature” (Frye 1976, p. 23). It can be claimed that these forms are significant not just for fiction but also for historical writing.
This narratological analysis has illustrated the complex relations between the constituents of the narrative structure and its overall meaning. The story begins with Josef Mašín Sr. whose role has been identified as a shadow story. This generates a causal link between the Mašín brothers’ actions and their father. The end of the story is when the Mašín brothers along with Milan Paumer safely arrive in West Berlin and join the U.S. Army in order to continue their struggle. Gauntlet thus offers a coherent plot with a distinct beginning, middle and end.
The major element in the construction of the story is the narrative voice. The narrator in Gauntlet it is a third person ‘objective’ narrator. The events are transformed from the original first person narrations of witnesses to the seemingly impersonal narration. This lack of sign of the speaker creates an illusion that the story ‘narrates itself’ (the referential illusion). The actions of the eponymous heroes, especially those regarded as most controversial (e.g. the killings of the policemen) are recounted from the heroes’ own perspective yet they are told by the ‘objective’ narrator. The Mašín brothers’ subjective perspective is shifted and presented as objective reality. This alteration has an impact on the meaning and the reception of the narrative, as it ultimately increases its credibility. The reader is able to identify with the heroes because their actions are ‘justified’ and they retain their positive status and morality.
The characters are clearly divided into two distinct groups. The Mašín brothers are positive heroes who are portrayed as the only courageous citizens who were able to fight the Communists and their friends and join the struggle for freedom. The positive characters are more authentically portrayed than the negative ones which are mere functions (villains). The individuality of the negative figures is suppressed, they are part of an abstract ‘axis of evil’. The analysis of the scene where Ctirad Mašín kills the policeman disclosed various flaws in the chain of reasoning which again maintain the heroes’ morality. All these features clearly illustrate how the narrative set‑up effectively determines the overall effect of the narrative. The historical reality is changed into a monolithic plot which has a structure of romance. The Mašín brothers are presented as heroes fighting against the brutal Communist regime and their actions are never questioned. This is coherent with Roland Barthes’ concept of myth as the very principle of myth is that it “transforms history into nature” (Barthes 1972, p. 129). The Mašín romance is embedded in the symbolic order having the form of a coherent romance with its beginning and end and so it seems to be natural and not artificially produced. The Mašín myth has a certain use in Czech society today but the analysis of its function is out of the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, this narratological examination can well serve as a basis for exploration of contemporary Czech official ideology.
This book was first published in 2005 in Czech under the title Odkaz. Pravdivý příběh bratří Mašínů [Legacy: The True Story of the Mašin Brothers], however, it was originally written in English and so the English edition will be the initial basis for the examination, hereafter the pages refer to this edition.
In the Czech edition of the book, Masin claims that the story she recounts “really happened” and that it is “a true story” (Masin 2005, p. 9).
“Flashforward. Introduction into the narrative of material that comes later in the story. The opposite of analepsis” (Abbott 2002, p. 195).
Referential illusion is also Barthes’ term. It is the “lack of sign of the ‘speaker’ […] the historian claims to let the referent speak for itself” (Barthes 1986, p. 132).
Italicized by J. Š.
By the ‘axiological axis’ we mean the division between the good and bad characters.
StB – Státní bezpečnost (State Security), SNB – Sbor národní bezpečnosti (National Security Service).
Italicized by J. Š.
These killings are also at the core of the so called ‘Causa Mašin’.
Italicized by J.Š.
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