Zločin v chalupě
The tale Zločin v chalupě (A Crime in a Village House) from the collection Povídky z jedné kapsy (Tales from One Pocket, 1929) explores the absence or the relativeness of border between an individual’s good intentions and a crime as defined by the outside world. It is a story that contrasts the perspective of Vondráček, the accused, and the perspective of the court. Vondráček lives within the walls of traditional ideas and rules that must be kept even if this means breaking the law of the present society. The court has to stick with the wording of the law; it does not have any space for an “archetypal” law that protects an acre of someone’s soil from sale.

The accused Vondráček is one of Čapek’s characters that are limited but good-hearted; their vision of the world goes beyond the concept of law and order as defined by the society. Characters like Vondráček commit crimes not because they are evil; their actions are considered as crimes by the society that cannot tolerate them and has to punish them in spite of its sympathy towards their motivations. The contrast between the “common sense perspective” (lidský rozum) and the artificial and arbitrary nature of the law is the key topic in Čapek’s “Pocket Tale” collections.

Vondráček represents the world of relative novelty and modernity that respects progress. For Čapek such a progress also means reduction of someone’s soul to financial and profit-based calculations. However, as the judge admits at the end of the story, even such an approach is understandable, and we should not apply our apparently universal criteria to distinct individual cases. The plot of the story further extends this theme: the deliberate interruption of the story before the final judgment suggests that even the judge’s wisdom is relative; his interpretation depends on the jurors’ decision. The judge as an individual is not able to grant freedom and understanding to the accused.

The story abounds in expressions related to emotions as the characters seek to express their ideas and points of view. Thus it is especially interesting to observe the verbs describing gestures and manners that accompany quotations, e.g. bručel (he mumbled), křikl (he shouted), koktal (he stuttered), zafuněl (he snorted). The contrast between the speech styles of the accused and the judge is worth noting; the former reflects the speaker’s limited mental and verbal capacities, while the latter exhibits mastery of the language.