The Unbearable Lightness of Being Summary
Before we start, you should know that The Unbearable Lightness of Being covers several intersecting plotlines and is told in a non-chronological, non-linear fashion. Additionally, there are frequent breaks in the plot in which the narrator discusses the novel's philosophical themes. We'll try to get the general gist across to you in this brief summary, but there's really no substitute for reading this remarkable and incredibly interesting novel.
The novel begins with a discussion of Friedrich Nietzsche's idea of eternal return. Nietzsche theorized that everything we experience happens an infinite number of times. But if the opposite is true, argues the narrator of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and if our lives happen only once, then they aren't that significant. They are meaningless and carry no weight. The narrator also considers the question of which is better – lightness or weight? Which do we want?
Now we launch into the story, which takes place in Prague in the late 1960s. We meet Tomas, a 40-year-old doctor who lives in Prague. Tomas is an epic womanizer who is with a new woman every day. He meets, falls in love with, and marries a young woman named Tereza, but doesn't stop sleeping around. He feels that sex and love are two different things, and that he is emotionally faithful to his wife. Tereza is entirely dependent on Tomas; she hates his womanizing but considers herself too weak to leave him. She forms a close relationship with the female dog Tomas buys her, whom she names Karenin (ironically, a male name) after a character in Anna Karenina.
When the Russian army invades Prague in 1968, Tomas and Tereza leave for Zurich. Shortly after the move, however, Tereza breaks down at the thought that Tomas is still cheating on her even in a new city. She returns to Prague. Tomas decides to follow her home, even though Prague is in political turmoil. The narrator breaks from the story to discuss the notion of "es muss sein!," which is taken from a Beethoven motif and translates to "It must be!" Tomas believes that Tereza is a part of his es muss sein, and that he has to be with her. Shortly after returning to Prague, however, he realizes that she is in his life by mere chance. Tomas decides that Tereza was born of fortuity (of a lucky event), and not of some kind of destiny or es muss sein.
Another plotline revolves around Sabina, a painter and one of Tomas's many mistresses. Sabina's sexual prowess rivals that of Tomas. We learn early on that she is a sexual force to be reckoned with. After the Russian invasion, Sabina immigrates to Geneva and takes a lover named Franz, a professor who is married to a not-so-likeable woman. Sabina and Franz's relationship is characterized by hopeless misunderstandings and miscommunication, yet they are happy. Eventually, Franz decides he only wants Sabina and tells his wife about the affair. Sabina quickly leaves Franz, but he ends up happy without her. It turns out that he liked the idea of Sabina more than Sabina herself, so he can worship her from afar now that she is gone. He gets into a serious relationship with a student of his.
The narrator then pauses to explore Sabina's actions. He reasons that her whole life has been a string of betrayals. He wonders if perhaps she is pursuing lightness through the act of betrayal. The narrative then jumps years ahead, to a time when Sabina is living alone in Paris. She learns of the death of Tomas and Tereza and mourns their passing.
The narrative jumps back in time to Tereza and Tomas in Prague after their return from Zurich. Tomas writes an anti-communist article and loses his job at the hospital as a result. He ends up a window washer for two years. Tereza ends up working at a bar. Tomas's womanizing gets worse than ever, and Tereza is haunted by it day and night. At one point, she tries to have meaningless sex with another man to live as Tomas does, but is unable to enjoy it. The narrator explorers Tereza's childhood and the consequences that her relationship with her mother have on her body image. In particular, Tereza resents her body and believes that her "I" (her sense of herself) rests in her hidden soul.
We see the two years in Prague a second time, now with a focus on Tomas's experiences. We learn more about Tomas's refusal to retract his anti-political article, as well as the rationale behind his lifestyle. The narrator claims that both medicine and womanizing are part of Tomas's es muss sein, whereas Tereza was his voluntary choice. Some time after he loses his job, Tomas's adult son from his first marriage contacts him. They have never met before, since Tomas cut off contact with his first wife after their divorce. The son is a political rebel and wants to enlist Tomas's help. After some deliberation, Tomas decides to decline amiably. As time passes, Tomas is aware of the toll his womanizing is taking on Tereza, and he's had just about enough of washing windows. The two of them decide to move to the countryside.
The narrator breaks from the narrative to discuss kitsch, a German term for an aesthetic ideal that denies the existence of the ugly side of life. (The word is German in origin, but has become a part of the American vernacular as well.) We jump for a moment to Sabina ten years later, living in America. Sabina hates communism, the narrator explains, because it is, like all political platforms, a form of kitsch.
Then we jump to Franz and his student-mistress some years after Sabina left him. He is invited to a political protest march, and decides to go because he feels Sabina would have wanted him to. While there, he is mugged and ends up paralyzed in a hospital, unable to move or speak. His old wife, Marie-Claude, takes care of him, though Franz hates her and wants desperately to see his student-lover. When he dies, Marie-Claude makes it seem as though Franz simply had a mid-life crisis, but loved her all along.
We learn that Tomas and Tereza died when they were crushed in a car accident. Tomas's son, who is now given the name Simon, takes care of the funeral. Because Simon has become religious, he puts a religious phrase on Tomas's gravestone, though Tomas never would have wanted that. We learn that Simon writes letters to Sabina, as she is the only person that he knew was close to his father. In America, Sabina writes into her will that she wants to be cremated and scattered to the winds after she dies. Interestingly, she recognizes that Tereza and Tomas died under weight, and she wants to die under lightness.
The narrative again goes back in time to when Tereza and Tomas move to the country. They both work for the community farm; Tomas drives a pick-up truck and Tereza herds cows. The relationship between Tereza and her dog Karenin is explored in great depth, with much philosophizing on the soul of an animal, the nature of happiness, and the passing of time. Karenin ends up getting cancer and is eventually put down. The novel ends when Tereza and Tomas go out dancing with some friends and retire to a hotel room for the night.
Part 1, Chapter 1
- The narrator begins by talking about Nietzsche's idea of "eternal return," the theory that everything we experience has happened an infinite number of times already and will continue to repeat itself infinitely.
- From this perspective, a life that happens only once and then disappears is meaningless and without weight.
- When something is transitory, we can't take it seriously, and so we can't judge it as though it matters.
- This makes for a pretty cynical world, where everything is permitted because it happens only once and therefore cannot be judged. The narrator cites Hitler as an example of this sort of "moral perversity."
Part 1, Chapter 2
- On the other hand, if our lives are repeated an infinite number of times, everything we do carries with it a great significance, a great weight of responsibility.
- For this reason, Nietzsche calls the notion of eternal return "the heaviest of all burdens" (in German, of course).
- If heaviness is such a drag, then it's wonderful that we live our lives only once – we get to be nice and light and responsibility-free.
- But wait a second…is it really better to be light and responsibility-free?
- Maybe not. Take sex, for example – women long to be pinned down by the weight of a man. Weight might mean responsibility, but it also means pleasure and fulfillment and meaning.
- So which one is better – lightness or weight?
- Parmenides, a philosopher in the sixth century BC, considered this question and decided that lightness was better.
- But whether he was right or not remains to be seen.
Part 1, Chapter 3
- The first-person narrator reveals that he has been thinking about Tomas for years. But it is only now that he sees him clearly, in the light of these reflections (namely, the novel you're reading about lightness and weight).
- He sees Tomas standing in the window of his flat and looking across the courtyard, not knowing what to do.
- Tomas met Tereza three weeks prior. They spent an hour together. Ten days later, she visited him, they made love, she got the flu that night, and she stayed at his place for the next week.
- Tomas has come to feel love for Tereza. He feels as though she was a child placed in a basket and sent down the river to him.
- Now that Tereza has recovered from the flu, Tomas is left unsure of what to do.
- Should he invite her to come back to Prague to see him again? He's afraid that if he does, she will offer up her life to him.
- He remembers taking care of her while she had the flu; he's pretty sure the way he felt at the time was something akin to love. Unless he was only pretending that the hysteria he felt was love.
- He doesn't know what he wants.
- "We can never know what we want," interjects the narrator, "because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come" (1.3.15).
- Instead, "we live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold" (1.3.17).
- "Einmal ist keinmal," Tomas says to himself – what happens once might as well not happen at all (1.3.18).
- And then we come to the intense conclusion: to live life only once, we might as well not have lived at all.
Part 1, Chapter 4
- Tomas is a doctor.
- Two days after his standing-at-the-window crisis, Tereza calls his hospital and tells him she is at the train station. He is overjoyed.
- They make plans to meet the next day.
- When they meet, Tereza is carrying a copy of Anna Karenina and has left her suitcase at the train station. She says she's come to Prague to find a job.
- Tomas quickly realizes that Tereza's life is in her suitcase, and that she's there to offer up her life to him. He finds the suitcase to be very heavy.
- To Tomas's surprise, he takes Tereza home with him. This is against his principles.
- Since he divorced his wife ten years ago, he's been the ultimate bachelor. He's designed his entire life in such a way that no woman could ever move in with him. And though he has sex with many women, he refuses to sleep next to them afterwards.
- Yet he and Tereza sleep together side by side, holding hands all night long.
- Again Tomas thinks of her as a child placed in a basket and sent down the river to him. He feels as though it's his responsibility to take care of her, just as the Pharaoh's daughter took care of Moses.
- "Tomas did not realize," says the narrator, "that metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love" (1.4.12).
Part 1, Chapter 5
- Tomas had been married for two years and had a son.
- His wife got custody in their divorce and always tried to prevent Tomas from seeing his son. Tomas's reaction was to cut both his son and his ex-wife out of his life completely.
- Tomas's parents didn't approve, so they cut Tomas out of their life in response.
- As a result, Tomas is a fairly isolated guy.
- The experience left him with both a fear of and desire for women.
- His solution was to create a series of "erotic friendships," in which he could have sex with women but no real romantic relationships.
- "The only relationship that can make both partners happy," he believed, "is one in which sentimentality has no place and neither partner makes any claim on the life and freedom of the other" (1.5.5).
- To make sure he didn't overstep these bounds with any women, he employed a simple rule of threes. Either you see a woman three times in quick succession and then never again, or you maintain a sexual relationship over many years with each meeting spaced at least three weeks apart.
- The women who best understands Tomas is Sabina, a painter.
- She likes Tomas, she says, because he is the opposite of kitsch. (There's lots more on kitsch later, so hold that thought.)
- In fact, Sabina was such a great mistress, she even found Tereza a job as a favor to Tomas, without jealousy or possessiveness.
Part 1, Chapter 6
- The rule in Tomas's sex life is that he can't be in love with anyone.
- If he chose one woman to love, then all his mistresses would be jealous, because they were no longer all on an equal plane.
- So Tomas's solution is to get Tereza her own apartment, so that none of his other mistresses would know that a woman was spending nights with him ("spending the night together was the corpus delicti of love" (1.6.2)).
- Since his divorce Tomas has never fallen asleep with another woman. After sex he always wants to be alone.
- That's why he was so surprised at himself for falling asleep with Tereza.
- He was even more surprised to find that this made him happy. From then on, the point of making love was more about getting to fall asleep together after. Tereza always held on to some part of Tomas as she slept (like his hand, ankle, pajamas, etc.).
- One night he tries to get out of bed while she was half-asleep. She followed him down the stairs of his apartment, took him by the hand, and led him back to bed.
- Tomas then concludes that sex and sleeping together are completely different. And love is known only in the latter.
Part 1, Chapter 7
- Tomas wakes Tereza up in the middle of the night because she's moaning in her sleep.
- She tells him about her dream; she was with him and Sabina in a room with a large bed in the middle, like a platform in a theatre. Tomas made her stand in the corner while he made love to Sabina. Tereza, to distract herself, shoved needles under her fingernails.
- The next day, Tomas realizes that Sabina wrote about a similar fantasy (making love to him on a bed on a platform like in a theater, while others watched) in a letter. He realizes that Tereza went through his stuff and confronts her about it.
- She admits it, but is still angry at him for cheating.
- Tomas's incessant womanizing becomes a major issue. He insists that having sex with other women in no way compromises his love for Tereza.
- Tereza is a nervous wreck; the infidelities are taking their toll on her.
- Tomas also recognizes that their relationship is totally unequal; he would never let her sleep with another man. He even gets jealous when she dances with another man while they're out one night, as he realizes that she might just as easily have given herself to another man instead of to him (Tomas).
Part 1, Chapter 8
- Tereza continues to be haunted by dreams that symbolize her jealousy.
- One night she dreams of being clawed by cats, and we're told that in Czech slang the word for "cat" means "pretty woman."
- In another dream she and dozens of other naked women are marching around a swimming pool. Tomas stands in a basket hanging from the ceiling shooting orders at them to march and sing. When a woman doesn't obey his orders, he shoots her and she falls into the swimming pool.
- In yet another dream, Tereza is dead in a hearse, surrounded by other dead women who talk to her as though they are good friends.
Part 1, Chapter 9
- In languages that come from Latin (i.e., the romance languages), the narrator begins, the word "compassion" is formed from the prefix meaning "with" and the word "suffering."
- In other languages, like Czech, the main root means "feeling."
- According to the romance languages, to love someone out of compassion or pity is a second-rate emotion.
- But in the second family of languages, this is not the case. To love someone out of compassion is the greatest kind of love, because it signifies "emotional telepathy."
- Had any other women gone through Tomas's letters, as Tereza did, he would have thrown her out.
- But Tomas did not throw Tereza out. Instead, he felt the pain of needles under her fingernails that she had felt in her dream.
Part 1, Chapter 10
- Tomas is incapable of giving up his erotic friendships and being faithful to Tereza. He also sees no reason to do so, because he doesn't think that they threaten his love for her.
- And yet, when he goes out to meet other women, he feels it is distasteful. He can't even bring himself to cheat on her unless he drinks alcohol first.
- Unfortunately, Tereza then knows he's cheated every time she smells alcohol on his breath.
- Sabina still makes Tomas happy, because he knows she is discreet, and she is a symbol of his bachelor past.
- One day, while Tomas and Sabina are having sex, she catches him looking at his watch (he's obviously worried about getting home in time for Tereza).
- Afterwards, as he gets dressed, he cannot find his sock.
- Sabina lazily tells him that he's becoming the focus of her paintings – the meeting of two different worlds. In Tomas's case, he is part Libertine and lover, and part Tristan, always thinking of his Tereza.
- Tomas never finds his sock. He knows that Sabina hid it to get back at him for looking at his watch during sex, so that he would have to go home one sock short.
- He realizes that Sabina resents his love for Tereza as much as Tereza resents his lust for Sabina.
Part 1, Chapter 11
- "To assuage Tereza's sufferings, [Tomas] married her […] and gave her a puppy" (1.11.1). The female puppy was half Saint Bernard and half German shepherd.
- Tomas wants to give the puppy a name that will indicate it belongs to Tereza, not to both of them. Tereza chooses to call it Karenin (a male character from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina) even though the puppy is a girl.
- The puppy quickly falls in love with Tereza. Tomas is pleased, as he got the dog to share some of the responsibility to love her.
- Yet, in the long run, Tomas would still fail to make Tereza happy. He realizes this years later, in August of 1968, ten days after his country is occupied by Russia, when the director of a hospital in Zurich kept offering Tomas a job.
Part 1, Chapter 12
- Tomas knows that if he turns down the job offer, it is for Tereza's sake.
- During the first week of the occupation, she had gone around the streets taking pictures of the Russian tanks and giving the film to foreign journalists. She seems almost happy.
- But she tells Tomas that she would be fine with leaving the country with him. The "general euphoria" of the first week of occupation quickly turns to "drunken a carnival of hate" (1.12.9). Alexander Dubcek, the temporary leader of Czechoslovakia, has returned to Prague from Moscow, having been put under the thumb of the Russians.
- It's clear to Tereza that her country has to submit to Russian forces.
- Tomas asks if Tereza is bothered by the fact that Sabina has also immigrated to Switzerland. Tereza responds that they will be in Zurich while Sabina is in Geneva, so she will be less trouble than she was when they all lived in Prague.
- And so the couple moves to Zurich.
Part 1, Chapter 13
- Tomas is soon in touch with Sabina. She had a show for her paintings a week after she moved to Geneva that sold out completely. Because Tomas can't get away to see her, she comes to Zurich to see him.
- Tomas goes to see her in her hotel room after work. She opens the door wearing lingerie and a black bowler hat. Without saying a word, he takes the hat off her head and the two of them make love.
- Going home that night, Tomas realizes that Tereza and Sabina "represent the two poles of his life, separate and irreconcilable, yet equally appealing" (1.13.5).
- Tereza continues to be haunted by nightmares. One night Tomas comes home for work to find her gone. She left a note saying that she went back to Prague, that she was silly for thinking she could make it living abroad. She realized she was weighing Tomas down and didn't want to any longer. She took Karenin with her.
- Tomas realizes that at this point, the borders to Czechoslovakia are closed; Tereza's departure is definite because there's no way she can come back to Switzerland.
Part 1, Chapter 14
- Tomas goes out to lunch to think things over. He decides that this was the best way for their relationship to end. She came into his life seven years earlier, uninvited, with a heavy suitcase, and she left of her own accord, with her heavy suitcase.
- His love for Tereza was a beautiful thing, he knows, but also exhausting. He hated having to hide things from her and apologize all the time.
- She did in fact weigh him down; now that she is gone, he is free, he is light, he is in "Parmenides' magic field" and enjoying "the sweet lightness of being" (1.14.8).
- And yet, he does not call Sabina, or find another woman to celebrate his bachelor freedom. "Perhaps," surmises the narrator, "he sensed that any woman would make his memory of Tereza unbearably painful" (1.14.8).
Part 1, Chapter 15
- Tomas keeps up this perspective for about two days. Then he sees Tereza everywhere. He can't stop thinking about her. He feels as though she's infected with compassion and he cannot be rid of it.
- So for two days Tomas enjoys lightness; but after that he is "hit by a weight the likes of which he has never known […], for there is nothing heavier than compassion." (1.15.4). On the fifth day after Tereza's departure, Tomas quits his job at the hospital in order to return to Prague to find Tereza.
- The director of the hospital is offended, but Tomas just tells him, "Es muss sein."
- The line is from Beethoven's last quartet, and means, "It must be." The narrator points out that this is Tomas's first step back to Tereza, because she is the one who introduced him to Beethoven's music.
Part 1, Chapter 16
- Unlike Parmenides, Beethoven thought that weight was something positive. Necessity, weight, and value were all bound together for him. If something has no weight, it is not important or valuable. A hero, in Beethoven's mind, was a man who bore his fate the way Atlas bore the weight of the world on his shoulders.
- When Tomas crosses the Czech borders he has to wait for a stream of Russian tanks to go by before he can pass.
- He wonders for how long he will be tortured by his compassion for Tereza. He can't even decide whether or not to follow his compassion, since he has only one life to live and cannot test different hypotheses.
- When he gets to their old place, he no longer feels the urge to fall into Tereza's arms. Instead, "he fancie[s] himself standing opposite her in the midst of a snowy plain, the two of them shivering from the cold" (1.16.10).
Part 1, Chapter 17
- Tomas has trouble sleeping in Prague because Russian military planes fly overhead during the night.
- Instead, he spends his nights thinking. He remembers when Tereza told him that, had she not fallen in love with him (with Tomas), she would have fallen in love instead with Tomas's friend Z.
- Tomas realizes that it is only by chance that Tereza fell in love with him and not his friend. In fact, there are any number of other men she could have fallen in love with.
- We all like to think that our love has weight, and that it belongs to the realm of Beethoven's "Es muss sein!"
- But in fact, Tomas and Tereza's love isn't so much an "It must be!" as an "It could just as well be otherwise."
- Tomas thinks back to all the random events that had to occur seven years earlier to bring him and Tereza together. It had taken six chance happenings, all combined together just right.
- He sees Tereza as "the personification of absolute fortuity" (1.17.7). (You can think of a "fortuity" as a lucky or chance happening.)
- As Tereza lies snoring beside him, Tomas feels no compassion. Instead, he feels "pressure in his stomach and the despair of having returned" (1.17.9).
Part 2, Chapter 1
- "It would be senseless of the author to try to convince the reader that his characters once actually lived," begins the narrator.
- Characters are born of "a stimulating phrase or two from a basic situation" (2.1.1). Tomas, for example, was born of the "Es muss sein!", whereas Tereza was born from the rumbling of a stomach.
- When Tereza went up to Tomas's apartment for the first time, she was embarrassed that her stomach was rumbling.
Part 2, Chapter 2
- Tereza's stomach rumbling reveals "the irreconcilable duality of body and soul" (2.2.1).
- Before we understood the body scientifically, man could not identify himself with so foreign an object.
- But now that we understand the body, we can't simply imagine it as a cage, and can't pretend that our real self is the soul buried inside. The soul and the body are mixed up together.
- Except not in Tereza's case. She had just fallen in love with Tomas, and then her stomach rumbled.
- The contrast between something so spiritual and something so physical wrenched a divide between her soul and her body.
Part 2, Chapter 3
- Tereza tries to see herself through her body. Ever since she was a little girl, she's been standing in front of the mirror, experiencing "amazement at seeing her own 'I.'" She thinks she can see her soul shining through her body.
- Sometimes, however, Tereza is upset to see her mother's features staring back at her in the mirror. She tries to wish them away.
Part 2, Chapter 4
- The narrator admits that he sometimes has the feeling that Tereza's life is a mere of her mother's.
- When Tereza's mother was four, her father (Tereza's grandfather) said that she was as beautiful as Raphael's Madonna. Tereza's mother, from then on, sat around and thought about which paintings she was like.
- When it was time for her to marry, she had to choose from nine suitors. Each one had a different strong suit (the strongest, the richest, the handsomest, etc.). Tereza's mother went with the most manly of the nine, not because he was manly, but because he had gotten her pregnant. Of course, at that point, all other eight suitors looked like better choices.
- Tereza's mother was distraught to find herself getting older and less attractive. To make herself feel better, she began an affair with an unmanly man who as far as we can tell was not such a great guy.
- This left Tereza and her manly father pretty much to their own devices. Tereza's father was brash and arrested by the Communist police for his outspoken political opinions. He ended up in prison and then died, which left Tereza alone with her mother.
Part 2, Chapter 5
- At this point, Tereza's mother was widowed, old, unattractive, and unhappy. She took it out on her daughter, on whom she blamed her whole mess of a life.
- Tereza soon learned that to be a mother was to make a sacrifice, and to be a daughter was to personify guilt.
Part 2, Chapter 6
- When Tereza was fifteen, her mother took her out of school. She went to work as a waitress and gave all her money to her mother, eager to do anything she could to earn her mother's love. She basically ran their household as well.
- Her mother used to walk around the house naked. She had no shame.
- Tereza did, and it used to bother her that her stepfather would walk in to the bathroom all the time when she was bathing. Tereza's shame made her mother angry; who did Tereza think she was? Why did she feel the need to safeguard her beauty?
- Tereza's mother used to make fun of her publicly for her shame at the human body.
Part 2, Chapter 7
- Tereza's mother used to flaunt her lack of shame. The narrator interprets this as "a single grand gesture, a casting off of youth and beauty" (2.7.1). She used "her new immodesty to draw a dividing line through her life and proclaim that youth and beauty were overrated and worthless" (2.7.2).
- Tereza's life seems to the narrator to be a continuation of her mother's gesture of casting off her youth and beauty.
Part 2, Chapter 8
- Because Tereza's mother blamed Tereza for the way her life turned out, she insisted on keeping Tereza trapped with her in a world of immodesty, "a vast concentration camp of bodies," as punishment.
- This is why Tereza looks in the mirror as she does; she longs to be "a body unlike other bodies," to find within her body her "sad, timid, self-effacing soul" (2.8.2).
- Consider the day that she met Tomas. She was working as a waitress, her body was tired, and her soul lay somewhere in the pit of her stomach.
- And then she saw Tomas. He seemed special to her because he had an open book on the table.
- Books are special to Tereza; in her eyes, they are "emblematic of a secret brotherhood" (2.8.4). When she was a child, they were a way of escaping from the world of her mother. Reading them made her different from others.
- The narrator notes that the books indeed made Tereza different, but they also made her old-fashioned.
- Anyway, when Tomas appeared to Tereza, her soul rose from the pit of her stomach to show itself to him.
Part 2, Chapter 9
- Now we return to Tomas after he's come back to Prague from Zurich to be with Tereza again. Remember that he feels uneasy about the fact that he and Tereza are only together as the result of "six improbable fortuities" (2.9.1). But, the narrator asks, isn't an event more significant, the greater number of fortuities it takes to bring it about?
- Indeed, it is chance that has a real message for us. Things that happen out of necessity are mute, but chance can speak to us.
- When Tereza came over to Tomas's table at the restaurant, he asked for a drink, and she heard Beethoven come on the radio. Beethoven had long been a symbol to her of that secret world she longed to be a part of.
- If love is to be unforgettable, argues the narrator, "fortuities must immediately start fluttering down to it like birds to Francis of Assisi's shoulders" (2.9.7).
Part 2, Chapter 10
- After his drink Tomas asked Tereza to charge it to his room at the hotel, room number six.
- Tereza remembered that she used to live in a house numbered six, and she told Tomas that this is a coincidence, since her shift ends at six.
- He responded that his train leaves at seven.
- After her shift, Tereza found Tomas sitting on a park bench (her favorite one) across the restaurant.
- She took this to be another sign, and believes that this man is her fate.
- He calls to her; "the crew of her soul rushed up to the deck of her body," and he gave her his card should she ever find herself in Prague (2.10.11).
Part 2, Chapter 11
- All these fortuities combined to give Tereza the courage to go to Prague to see Tomas.
- We are daily bombarded with coincidences, explains the narrator, and we don't notice most of them. But for Tereza, love "inflamed her sense of beauty," making everything around her take on a sense of beauty.
- In the book, Anna Karenina, which Tereza carried with her to Prague, Anna and Vronsky meet in a train station, where someone is run over by a train. At the end of the novel, Anna throws herself under a train. This is a very symmetrical composition, says the narrator, and it probably seems very "novelistic" to you.
- The narrator is willing to agree that it is very literary, but warns you against calling it contrived or fabricated. "Human lives," he argues, "are composed in precisely such a fashion" (2.11.3).
- In fact, human lives are composed like music.
- A given motif takes up a permanent place in a person's life (Beethoven is Tereza's motif) and without knowing it, "the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty" (2.11.4).
- Therefore we shouldn't criticize novels for being contrived when such coincidences occur; we can only criticize man for being blind to such coincidences in real life.
- When you ignores these kinds of coincidences, you deprive your life of beauty.
Part 2, Chapter 12
- Soon after her fortuitous meeting with Tomas, Tereza takes a week off from waitressing and goes to Prague to find him.
- During the train ride, she looks at herself in the mirror and begs her soul not to retreat from the surface of her body.
- She started to feel sick and hoped she wasn't coming down with something.
- When Tomas opened the door to her, her stomach began rumbling. She was terribly embarrassed, but Tomas kissed her and they ended up making love.
- Tereza had a fever and quickly showed symptoms of the flu.
- The second time she came to Prague, Tereza brought with her a heavy suitcase. She brought all her stuff, determined never to return to her small home-town.
- She kept Anna Karenina under her arm as she traveled. She considered the novel her ticket into Tomas's world.
- Again, she went over to his place and they made love.
Part 2, Chapter 13
- Tereza screamed while she and Tomas made love. It was not an expression of sensuality, explains the narrator, rather it was aimed at "crippling the senses, preventing all seeing and hearing" (2.13.1).
- She was trying to banish all contradictions, including the duality of her body and soul.
- She fell asleep clutching Tomas's hand. Ever since she was a girl, she fell asleep by pretending she was holding the hand of the man she loved.
Part 2, Chapter 14
- As a young woman, because she was running her household and waitressing, Tereza "stored up great reserves of vitality" (2.14.1). She learned a lot about life though she was not a formal student.
- As a result, she threw herself into life in Prague with great energy, though she worried someone would know she didn't belong there.
- Tereza quickly got a job developing photographs, though she really wanted to take photographs. Sabina helped her develop an artistic sense, and she started taking photos on her own.
- One night, Tomas admitted to being jealous watching Tereza dance with his friend. Tereza was pleased with his jealousy. But later, when Tereza became jealous herself, Tomas saw it as a burden.
Part 2, Chapter 15
- The narrator returns to Tereza's dream of marching around the pool while Tomas shouted orders and shot those who disobeyed.
- For Tereza, the horror of the dream was the naked marching part. This stems from her childhood, when her mother never let her have her shame.
- She was also horrified that the women were all singing in unison, rejoicing that they had no individuality.
- Why was Tomas the one shooting them? Because Tereza came to him to make her and her body unique. But by cheating on her, Tomas does to other women the same things he does to Tereza's body. In this way, he sends her to march naked with the other women.
Part 2, Chapter 16
- Teresa's dreams are clearly an accusation against Tomas.
- Dreams don't just exist for communication, however – they are also beautiful in and of themselves.
- Tomas laments that Tereza dreams of death so often. She responds that there's nothing she can do about it, though she knows Tomas loves her and that his infidelities are "no great tragedy" (2.16.5).
Part 2, Chapter 17
- "Anyone whose goal is something higher," begins the narrator, "must expect someday to suffer vertigo" (2.17.1). Vertigo, he explains, is not the fear of falling, but rather the desire to fall.
- Tereza experiences this – a longing to "renounce her fate and soul," to "dismiss the crew of her soul from the deck of her body," to march naked around the pool singing with other women (2.17.2).
Part 2, Chapter 18
- Tereza would have done anything for her mother's love.
- Now that she was with Tomas, she got letters from her mother regularly, and they made her want to return home. This is her vertigo, her desire to fall.
- When Tereza finds out that her mother has cancer, she is even more angry at Tomas; she feels as though she's abandoned her mother for a man who doesn't even love her enough to be faithful. She prepares to take a trip to see her mother.
- But Tomas, being a doctor, does some hunting around and discovers that Tereza's mother does not have cancer. He stops her from going on the trip.
- Tereza begins accidentally hurting herself by tripping or falling; this is a manifestation of her vertigo. But Tomas always picks her up.
Part 2, Chapter 19
- Tereza remembers the fantasy Sabina outlined to Tomas in the letter she discovered (in which Sabina and Tomas make love on a stage). Tereza is now excited by the thought and repeats Sabina's words to Tomas while they make love.
- She considers that, if Tomas took her along on his affairs, she would no longer feel betrayed.
- She and Tomas would be one, and other women would merely be their playthings.
Part 2, Chapter 20
- So Tereza takes a first step in befriending Sabina. She offers to take photographs of Sabina in Sabina's studio.
- Sabina shows her some of her paintings from a series she calls "Behind the Scenes."
- On the surface they depict a realistic world, and underneath something mysterious or abstract.
- Tereza admires the artwork and the artist.
Part 2, Chapter 21
- Next to Sabina's head is a wig-stand bearing a bowler hat.
- Sabina explains to Tereza that the hat used to belong to her grandfather. The women decide that Sabina should wear it while Tereza takes photographs of her.
- After a few shots, Tereza suggests that Sabina undress for some nude photos. Sabina has a drink, talks about her grandfather and his bowler hat, and then undresses.
Part 2, Chapter 22
- Tereza's camera serves as "both a mechanical eye through which to observe Tomas's mistress and a veil by which to conceal her face from her" (2.22.1).
- After Sabina has posed for nude photos, she takes the camera from Teresa and tells her that it's her turn to strip.
- Tereza notes that Sabina uses the same command ("Strip!") that Tomas uses on women.
- Tereza obeys, "intoxicated" by the "beauty" of submitting completely to another person's commands (2.22.4).
- After a few photos, Tereza bursts out laughing, and the two women get dressed.
Part 2, Chapter 23
- Before the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the narrator tells us, Russian crimes were masked, hidden. But in 1968, there were photographers everywhere documenting the Russians' actions.
- Tereza was one of these photographers. Many of her pictures ended up published.
Part 2, Chapter 24
- Tereza took her photographs with her to Switzerland, looking to get them published.
- The editor was kind but refused them on the grounds that they were out of date. Tereza was still in his office when a female employee dropped off an article on nudist beaches.
- The editor nearly apologized to Tereza for publishing something so trivial (nude beaches) and refusing her serious photos.
- But Tereza says, without explanation, that the nude beach photos are the same as her photos of the tanks invading Prague.
- The editor doesn't understand what she means.
- Tereza thinks about her mother walking around naked when she was a little girl, and how she used to try to close the curtains to their apartment to hide her.
Part 2, Chapter 25
- The woman photographer who had dropped off the nude beach article took Tereza out to coffee and told her that, from what she'd seen of Tereza's photographs, she would be an excellent fashion photographer.
- But Tereza isn't interested. She knows her enthusiasm for photography is just an excuse to get at something higher, to be part of Tomas's world.
- The pictures of the Russian invasion are different, however.
- She did not take them for Tomas. She took them out of hatred. And no one wanted to publish them because they were out of date, and the situation (the invasion) would never recur.
- Tereza explains to the woman that she doesn't want a trivial job taking photographs, and that she's fine staying at home because her husband can support her.
- The other woman calls her anachronistic (i.e., out-of-date, belonging to another time) in response.
Part 2, Chapter 26
- So Tereza ended up staying at home with Karenin.
- She thought a lot about Dubcek, the leader of her country, and how he was taken away by the Russians and sounded so defeated when he returned. Everyone felt humiliated by his defeat.
- But in Zurich Tereza no longer felt shame at her leader's weakness. "She realized that she belonged among the weak, in the camp of the weak, in the country of the weak, and that she had to be faithful to them" (2.26.4).
- When she was upset one night, Tomas tried to comfort her. She told him she wanted him to be twenty years older. She meant that she wanted him to be weak like her.
Part 2, Chapter 27
- Karenin did not like the move to Switzerland. Dogs don't like change, because time for them is circular, not linear.
- Karenin helped Tereza to hold on, because the dog was weaker than she, and she felt she needed to take care of him.
- One day, a woman calls their flat looking or Tomas, while he is at work. Tereza doesn't know who the woman is. She realizes it could just be a secretary or something insignificant, but it's too much for her. She can't bear being in a foreign country, dependent totally on Tomas, having nowhere to turn should he abandon her.
- She decides that she is too weak to live with Tomas, and so that's why she returns to Prague.
Part 2, Chapter 28
- On the train on the way back to Prague, Tereza thinks about the cook at the restaurant where she used to work. He used to sexually harass her all the time at work. She thought of showing up and offering herself to him, because that would mean that she no longer belonged to Tomas.
- This was vertigo; her longing to destroy her past.
- In this sense, explains the narrator, vertigo is an intoxication of the weak.
- But five days after she returns to Prague, Tomas shows up again. She's been waiting for him, but cannot bring herself to tell him this.
Part 2, Chapter 29
- We return to the present time, when Tomas and Tereza are together again in Prague.
- Tereza wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes that she is now responsible for Tomas, because he came back to Prague for her. She's not sure she has to strength to shoulder this responsibility.
- But then she remembers the fortuities on the day they met. Her sense of beauty cures her depression and "imbue[s] her with a new will to live" (2.29.5).
Part 3, Chapter 1
- Franz is a professor at a University in Geneva. On his way home from a lecture, he stops to see his mistress in her studio.
- He never makes love to her in Geneva, however, because he feels it would be disrespectful to go from her bed to his wife's bed in the same day.
- Franz fell in love with his mistress several months ago. He tries to carve out a space for her that is separate from the rest of his life. Whenever he travels to give lectures or attend conferences, he brings his mistress with him.
- Today, he asks her if she'll go to Palermo with him. She responds that she prefers Geneva. He interprets this to mean that she doesn't want him anymore.
- He wonders how he can be so insecure with his mistress when he is so secure in all other aspects of his life.
- The narrator offers an explanation: for Franz, love is the opposite of his public life.
- It means offering yourself up to your lover and constantly expecting a blow.
- Franz's painter-mistress pours them a drink and Franz realized that she does want him, just at home and not abroad.
- He sees that she's violating the zone of purity he set up around her.
- His lover takes off her shirt and fixes Franz with a gaze. This confuses him. She seems to be asking him something, but he doesn't know what. She puts on a bowler hat and stares at herself in the mirror.
- Finally he takes the hat off her head, kisses her, and gets her to agree to go to Palermo with him.
- Then he leaves and goes home.
Part 3, Chapter 2
- The mistress, a.k.a. Sabina, now alone, puts the hat back on her head and returns to staring at herself in the mirror.
- She remembers once standing next to Tomas, wearing the hat and lingerie, and staring at the mirror. They were both excited by what they saw.
- Tomas was fully dressed. The hat symbolized violence against Sabina, because she was nearly naked and her femininity was ridiculed by its masculinity.
- The narrator wants to talk some more about the hat. It reminds Sabina of her grandfather and her father. It is a sexual prop with Tomas and marks her individuality. It also has sentimental value for her and Tomas, as it is a testament to their shared past together.
- Consider Sabina's life a musical composition; the hat is a motif. Each time it reappears, it does so with a new meaning.
- When people meet when they are young, says the narrator, their musical compositions are still developing, and they can exchange motifs, as Sabina and Tomas did.
- But if they meet when they are older, as Sabina and Franz, every motif means something different to them. That is why Franz was so confused by Sabina's actions.
- And it was not the first time. The narrator has composed an entire lexicon of their misunderstandings.
Part 3, Chapter 3
- The first word is "Woman." Sabina didn't choose to be a woman; to her it is just a fact of being female. For Franz, it is a value. Not every woman is a woman. Once he told Sabina, "You are a woman," and this meant nothing to her and everything to him.
- Franz's wife is named Marie-Claude. Early in their relationship she threatened to kill herself if he ever left her. This fascinated him, though he didn't like her that much.
- In Franz's mind, the value of woman is based on his mother, who was abandoned by his father. He stays with Marie-Claude because he wants to respect the woman in her.
- The next entry in the lexicon is "Fidelity and Betrayal."
- Franz was all about fidelity; he felt it gave meaning to a life. He prides his faithfulness on his mother.
- Sabina is more taken with the idea of betrayal. Fidelity reminds her of her father, a small-town Puritan who was very strict. She reveled in the idea of finally being able to betray him when she was old enough. When she got older, Communism became another father that she wanted to betray.
- Later, when she felt guilty for betraying her father, she wanted to betray her own betrayal. And so began a long chain of betrayal after betrayal for Sabina.
- Next in the lexicon is "Music." For Franz, music is an example of Dionysian beauty. It is intoxicating and it liberates him.
- Sabina doesn't like the music of her day. She associates it with the loud, obnoxious songs students used to play at her art school. To her modern music was ugly.
- Franz, who talks for a living (by giving lectures), realizes that words are imprecise, and loves music because it is "the anti-word" (3.3.26).
- The final entry is "Light and Darkness." Sabina dislikes extremes, including extreme light or dark. To live is to see, and she doesn't want to be blinded.
- Franz is attracted by darkness and brightness. He always closes his eyes at the moment of penetration during sex, because to him darkness is infinite and boundless. But Sabina finds the fact that he closes his eyes at this moment to be distasteful. She thinks to close your eyes is to negate or refuse what you see.
Part 3, Chapter 4
- Sabina was once taken to a gathering of other Czech émigrés. They were all standing around talking about how the right thing to do was fight back against the Russians. Sabina tells them that they ought to go back and take up arms.
- This leads to some finger pointing against Sabina. Who is she to talk? She didn't oppose the Russians; all she did was paint.
- Sabina listens to a grey-haired man talking and knows that all he cares about is everyone else's political profile, not how good they are at whatever they do for a living.
- Because Sabina is a painter, she has an eye for detail. She knows this type of man – there are others like him, and they all have long index fingers they use to point at other people. She tells the grey-haired man he looks like President Novotny and then leaves the gathering.
- Sabina wonders what binds her to the other Czech émigrés. "The only things that [hold] them together," she decides, are "their defeats and the reproaches they address to one another" (3.4.9).
- She realizes she's not being fair; there are many other émigrés who, unlike the grey-haired man, are not finger-pointers. But remember that Sabina is attracted by betrayal. By resenting the other émigrés, she is betraying her country.
- Sooner or later, her string of betrayals will have to come to an end.
- Sabina gets onto a train where she meets Franz for their trip to Amsterdam. She wants to tell him to make her his slave, but she is too reserved to do this.
- Instead, she tells him that he makes her happy.
Part 3, Chapter 5
- Chapter 5 is a continuation of the Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words. We start with "Parades."
- Sabina's father used to force her to march in Communist parades. She hated them.
- Franz lives a stifled, professional life. For him, parades represent freedom. He loves them. He considers his own book-ish life to be unreal, not realizing that the parades and demonstrations he loves are only carnivals and theatre.
- When the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, her friends were amazed that Sabina didn't want to fight against the invading forces. Sabina couldn't explain that the same force lies behind both communism and fascism, a "pervasive evil" the image of which is people marching in a parade with their fists raised.
- We then have "The Beauty of New York"
- Sabina and Franz have been to New York together. Sabina likes the incongruities of different things in the city, as they remind her of her paintings.
- Franz thinks the beauty of New York is unintentional and fortuitous, whereas European cities have such a premeditated feel to them.
- Sabina understands this idea of "beauty by mistake." Her first "mature" painting came about because she accidentally dripped red paint across the canvas.
- Do they at last agree on something then?
- No. Sabina is attracted by New York's accidental beauty; Franz is frightened by it and longs for home.
- The next entry in the lexicon is "Sabina's Country"
- Franz admires Sabina's country. (Remember that he feels as though parades and political activism are a real alternative to his fake and bookish life.)
- Sabina disagrees; protest and political drama don't mean anything, she says. It is Franz's life of peace and quiet that is admirable.
- But Franz thinks that, in academia, "culture is perishing in overproduction" of theses and research. He has a weakness for revolution, because it represents to him a life of daring and courage. Much of his attraction to Sabina has to do with her association with this kind of life.
- The last entry in this chapter is "Cemetery"
- The only thing Sabina likes in her own country are the cemeteries, which are like gardens. She likes that they are always peaceful even in times of turmoil.
- Franz thinks cemeteries are ugly dumps of stones and bones.
Part 3, Chapter 6
- Franz's wife, Marie-Claude, is throwing a party at their home. She owns a private gallery and has invited all the artists who display work in it.
- We get a good sense of Marie-Claude's character when she tells a group of captive guests that, after she was in an accident, she enjoyed her time in the hospital because she got to read day and night.
- Franz knows that she fell into a deep depression in the hospital and complained incessantly.
- Franz is nervous waiting for Sabina to show up. Marie-Claude has met her before, but in general Sabina avoids the woman, who doesn't know about the affair.
- Franz's eighteen-year-old daughter, Marie-Anne, is also at the party, acting rather rudely toward an artist with whom she is conversing (she's whistling while he talks to her).
- Franz resents that his daughter is so much like his wife and wishes that she could be more like him instead.
- Sabina shows up. Marie-Claude greets her and then declares that the pendant Sabina is wearing is terribly ugly.
- Everyone laughs, and it's clear Marie-Claude didn't mean to be combative.
- Franz wonders why his wife said this, and realizes that she did it because she is socially above Sabina.
- Sabina depended on Marie-Claude to show her work in the gallery, but Marie-Claude did not depend on Sabina. Her comment served the purpose of reinforcing the balance of power between them.
Part 3, Chapter 7
- Chapter 7 is the last part of the "Dictionary of Misunderstood Words," starting with "The Old Church in Amsterdam."
- On one side of an old street in Amsterdam is a large, gothic church. It's been emptied out completely, except for a few stalls that were placed there for the rich during services.
- On the other side of the street are a series of brothels. The prostitutes lounge in lingerie in the windows, displaying themselves to the world outside.
- Franz is fascinated by the church because of its historical weight.
- Sabina is reminded of the castles in her hometown, Bohemia, after the Communist coup. They were emptied out, as is this church. She knows that the rich got to sit in the stalls, while the poor had to stand. Yet she tells Franz that the beggars and the wealthy were united by a shared hatred of beauty.
- When Franz hears the word "beauty," he thinks of the vanity of art and culture propagated by people like his wife.
- Sabina remembers leaving the city one day when she was younger and escaping to the country on a rented motorcycle. She went into a church where a service was taking place and sat in the back. She didn't find God there, but she found beauty.
- It was beautiful to her because the church seemed to be a world betrayed. This is how Sabina defines beauty: a world betrayed. The only way to find it is to demolish the scenery, to look behind the loud May Day parades, where it is hiding.
- Franz, on the other hand, likes the emptiness of the old church in Amsterdam because it is empty of all the "vanity of culture," of people like his wife.
- The next entry is "Strength"
- One day, in bed together, Sabina admires Franz's muscles. But she knows that his strength is only physical. He is weak when it comes to the people that he loves. This weakness is his goodness. He could never order Sabina to strip the way that Tomas does, because he is not strong enough.
- Then again, Sabina knows that she could never put up with a man who ordered her about all the time. She decides that no man, strong or weak, would be good for her.
- In Sabina's mind, physical love can't exist without violence. In Franz's mind, love means renouncing strength. She knows that his take on this matter "disqualifies him from her love life" (3.7.26).
- The last entry in the lexicon is "Living in Truth"
- Franz has been living in lies since he met Sabina nine months earlier, because he hides the affair from his wife. His private life is a life of lies.
- For Sabina, the public life is a life of lies, because living publicly means putting forth a certain false, crafted image. For her, only the private life can be a life of truth.
- Franz thinks the only way he can live in truth is to break down the barriers between his private and public life. And so he tells his wife about his affair with Sabina right before he leaves for the trip to Geneva. This makes him feel lighter.
Part 3, Chapter 8
- Sabina feels as though Franz has destroyed their privacy. She has no interest in being viewed publicly as Marie-Claude's rival.
- Now that her life is public, she has to start cultivating a public image, which means living in lies.
- But she assures Franz that she is not angry. That night, she turns off the light before getting into bed with him. This should have tipped him off that something was wrong, but he doesn't notice (because he makes love with his eyes closed anyway).
- Sabina couldn't stand to look at his closed eyes any longer. When he closed his eyes, he became just a body without a soul, and this disgusted her.
- Sabina knows that Franz is the best, kindest man she's ever had. But she wants to defile his kindness.
- That night they make love and she feels a longing for betrayal, for freedom.
- The narrator points out that both are "drunk on betrayal" – Sabina for betraying Franz and Franz for betraying his wife (3.8.14).
Part 3, Chapter 9
- When Franz gets home from his trip, he wonders if his wife is OK. He goes home to find her there.
- She tells him that she's fine, and has no problem with him leaving to move in with Sabina.
- Franz is disappointed. He stayed married to Marie-Claude all this time because he thought she couldn't handle him leaving her. And now she seems to be fine with everything.
- He gives his lecture that afternoon and then goes to Sabina's place. No one comes to the door when he rings. He feels he can't go home, so he takes a hotel for the night.
- The next day he looks for Sabina again and finds that she's left town. The movers refuse to give him her new address. So Franz rents himself a small flat.
- Franz moves on with his life and starts to forget about Marie-Claude.
- Eventually he realizes that, contrary to expectations, he is not unhappy. He doesn't need Sabina's physical presence. Instead, "what was important was the golden footprint, the magic footprint she had left on his life and no one could ever remove" (3.9.18). Sabina helped him sweep everything he didn't like out of his life.
- In fact, Franz had always preferred the unreal to the real. Now that he lives with Sabina's ethereal presence, he doesn't have to worry about losing her love.
- His newfound independence makes him very attractive to women, and one of his students falls in love with him.
- Franz ends up in a relationship with the student. She loves and admires him the way he once did Sabina.
- He decides he wants to marry her and goes to his wife to get a divorce; she refuses to give it to him on the grounds that "love is a battle" and she intends to keep fighting (2.9.29). Franz tells her he doesn't feel like fighting, and leaves.
Part 3, Chapter 10
- Sabina ends up moving to Paris. She's melancholy, but it's hard to explain why. She left a man and he didn't come after her. Her melancholy is not that of weight, says the narrator, but of lightness.
- She's always found joy in betrayals – but now what does she have left to betray? She is surrounded by emptiness. Was that her goal?
- Our goals are always hidden from us, says the narrator. What was Sabina's goal – the unbearable lightness of being? If so, her departure from Geneva brought her closer to it.
- Three years after she moved to Paris, Sabina gets a letter from Tomas's son in Prague informing her that Tomas and Tereza have died.
- For the past few years, the letter explains, Tomas and Tereza have been living in a farm village. They died in a car accident when Tomas's pickup truck careened down a steep incline.
- To Sabina, this means that "the last link to her past had been broken" (3.10.7).
- Sabina decides to calm herself by walking in a cemetery. She drops a flower into a grave and notices how deep it is. The stone next to the grave makes her feel horrified. She later figures out that the weight of the stone on the grave is the problem. It keeps the dead where they are.
- After her father died, Sabina spoke to him and felt as though he forgave her for her betrayal. He wouldn't have been able to do this if there had been a heavy stone over his grave.
- She wonders about Tomas and Tereza's grave. She remembers her painting and how Tomas was half Don Juan and half Tristan. She feels that he died as Tristan.
- She misses Franz, and remembers that he couldn't understand her love of cemeteries. She wishes she had been more patient with him. Maybe if they had stayed together longer, their respective dictionaries of words would have melded.
- Sabina decides to leave Paris, in part because she doesn't want to die in a place where they cover your grave with a stone. "In the mind of a woman for whom no place is home the thought of an end to all flight is unbearable" (3.10.18).
Part 3, Chapter 11
- Franz's circle of friends knows about his student-lover and his separated wife Marie-Claude. But no one knows about Sabina. Marie-Claude didn't want word to get out because Sabina was so much more beautiful than she.
- Franz doesn't even have any mementos of Sabina after her departure. This makes him want to remain faithful to her. Even when he's with his student-lover, he's thinking of Sabina. Yet he doesn't feel he's doing wrong by his young lover; "he nourished the cult of Sabina more as religion than as love" (3.11.7).
- His student-lover is young and has not yet developed her own musical motifs. She is grateful to take on Franz's. The only thing she doesn't adopt, indeed does not understand, is his love of countries occupied by the Russian empire.
- Franz once takes her to a meeting on Geneva of Czech émigrés. Franz sees in the speaker a secret messenger, an intermediary between him and his goddess, Sabina.
Part 4, Chapter 1
- (We now jump back in time to when Tomas and Tereza are still alive.)
- Tereza comes home late one night and gets into bed with Tomas. She smells something curious on his hair, and soon realizes that it is the smell of another woman's sex organs.
- The next morning, Karenin wakes up with the six o'clock alarm ready to start the morning ritual (in which she takes a walk with Tereza and fights with Tomas for a roll). But this morning, Tomas is busy listening intently to the radio.
Part 4, Chapter 2
- The program Tomas is listening to is a montage of recordings; private conversations of Czechs recorded on secret bugging devices and brought back to Prague.
- Tomas says that it all started with Jan Prochazka, a 40-year-old Czech novelist who in the 60s was outwardly criticizing public affairs. After the Russian invasion, the press tried to silence him with a smear campaign, but this just made the people like him more. Finally, the radio broadcast Prochazka's private, bugged conversations in which he made fun of many of his friends.
- Tomas is disgusted and thinks that such a violation of privacy could only happen in Prague. But Tereza tells him that, when she was fourteen, she kept a secret diary. Her mother found it one day and read it aloud to all her friends during lunch.
Part 4, Chapter 3
- Tomas always wants Tereza to stay in bed in the morning and let him have breakfast alone. But she never does, because it's really the only time of the day she can spend time with him.
- One morning, after Tomas goes to work, Tereza gets ready to go to the sauna. It's raining, so she makes her way through streets crowded with umbrellas. She notes that the umbrella-bearing women are particularly aggressive.
- Tereza remembers taking photographs of these same women when the Russians invaded. They were taking a sexual vengeance on the celibate Russian soldiers by parading around in miniskirts. Tereza used to admire them.
Part 4, Chapter 4
- Tereza walks into Old Town Square, where the old town hall lies in ruins. The people of Prague left the ruined building as a monument to their suffering.
- Tereza is reminded of her mother and her perverse need to parade her suffering and personal ugliness.
- She feels as though her mother's world is coming back to her. It's becoming a concentration camp, which is what she used to call her mother's world.
- In her mind, a concentration camp is "the complete obliteration of privacy" (4.4.3). We are born into a concentration camp and "can escape only with the greatest of efforts" (4.4.3).
Part 4, Chapter 5
- In the sauna, Tereza sits next to two naked women with large breasts. She wonders if these women also looked at themselves in the mirror, as Tereza did, trying to see her soul through her body.
Part 4, Chapter 6
- Tereza leaves the sauna room to get dressed. She looks at herself in the mirror and decides that, unlike the woman with large breasts, there's nothing monstrous about her body. She's glad she has small breasts, but she dislikes her large nipples.
- The narrator asks what would happen if Tereza's body changed – would she still be herself?
- Yes, he answers. Her soul inside would still be the same. If this is true, he asks, then what is the relationship between Tereza and her body?
- These are the questions that Tereza has been asking herself since she was a little girl.
- They are questions with no answers, and they are serious.
- Questions with no answers, says the narrator, are the questions that "set the limits of human possibilities" and "describe the boundaries of human existence" (4.6.7).
- Tereza, still staring into the mirror, is disgusted by her body, because it "lacks the power to become the only body in Tomas's life" (4.6.8).
- She believes that it is because of the inadequacy of her body that she has to smell another woman on Tomas all night long.
- Tereza wants to dismiss her body so that she can stay on with Tomas only as a soul.
Part 4, Chapter 7
- Tereza goes home. We learn that, after she came back from Zurich, she ended up working at a bar at a hotel with other professionals who had been fired from their jobs on account of politics.
- At the end of her shift Tereza says good-bye to the ambassador, who works the night shift. He is speaking with a man whose son got five years in prison earlier that day. He was initially arrested for trailing and publicly announcing the identities of the men who worked for the Russian army special staff.
- The son was able to deny it until the Russians dug up a newspaper photo of him. Tereza is relieved to see that the photo is not one of hers.
- On the way home, she thinks about how naïve she was taking pictures during the Russian invasion.
- She thought she was helping her country, and in fact she was just helping the Russians.
- She gets home, and Tomas is asleep. Again she finds that he smells of another woman on his hair.
Part 4, Chapter 8
- The narrator defines flirtation as leading another to believe that sex is possible while at the same time preventing that possibility from becoming a certainty.
- When Tereza works behind the bar, the men flirt with her, Yet it doesn't bother her.
- On the contrary, she wants to expose her body to that "undertow" (4.8.2).
- Tomas is always trying to convince her that love and sex are two different things.
- She now wonders what it would be like to have sex with the men who flirt with her at the bar.
- The narrator clarifies; it's not that she wants to take revenge on Tomas; it's just that she wants to "learn lightness," so as to be less of a burden to Tomas (4.8.4).
- But flirting doesn't come naturally to Tereza.
- Instead, she studies it seriously, and in doing so, deprives it of its lightness.
- She doesn't understand how to suggest sex without promising it, and she ends up giving everyone the impression that she's easy.
- When men try honestly and are turned down, they think she's a tease.
Part 4, Chapter 9
- One day a boy of about sixteen starts hitting on Tereza at the bar.
- She cards him when he asks for a drink, and he gets belligerent. She realizes that he is already drunk and berates him for it. He drunkenly shouts that he loves her and then leaves.
- After, a bald-headed man tells Tereza that she shouldn't serve underage drinkers like that.
- She tries to explain, but he keeps harassing her. A tall man comes to her defense, and she thanks him.
Part 4, Chapter 10
- A few days later, the tall chivalrous man comes back.
- Tereza chats with him again and learns that he is an engineer and stopped in her bar by chance on the way home the other day.
Part 4, Chapter 11
- When Tereza looks at Tomas now, she looks not at his eyes, but his hair, which smells like another woman.
- Finally she breaks down.
- She tells him that she isn't strong enough to stand up to her jealousy anymore, and asks him to help her.
- Tomas takes her to a park with red, blue, and yellow benches. Though the narrator doesn't say so explicitly, it soon becomes clear that we are in a dream sequence.
- Tomas sits her down on a bench. He tells her he will take care of her, all she has to do is climb Petrin hill. (Petrin hill is in the center of Prague: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4b/Petrin_Praha.jpg)
- Tereza is terribly nervous about the idea of going, but she is "constitutionally unable to disobey Tomas" (4.11.6).
- So she goes on her way.
Part 4, Chapter 12
- Still in the dream sequence, Tereza begins climbing the hill, which is strangely empty.
- She looks back on Prague as she climbs and finds that it is the most beautiful city in the world.
- She reaches the top, and finds that all the tourist shops are closed.
- Six men there walking around there; three of them nervous, like she, and the other three are there to run things. One of them has a rifle.
- The man with the rifle tells Tereza that she is in the right place. He asks her if it is her choice to be there.
- Tereza thinks about how easy it would be to tell him that no, it was not her choice. But she can't bear the thought of disappointing Tomas. So she tells him that yes, it is her choice.
- The man with the rifle explains that it must be so, because he is there to perform a service: help those who want to die by shooting them.
- He asks if Tereza would like to go first; she asks to go last.
- One at a time, the three men who are there to die are led across the lawn at the top of Petrin hill. They are allowed to choose which tree they want to be executed by.
- Tereza watches the man with the rifle shoot the three men, now blindfolded, who chose to die.
Part 4, Chapter 13
- It is Tereza's turn. She refuses to wear the blindfold because she is too scared to enter death's antechamber.
- One of the men walks her over to a tree. Finally, she blurts out, "But it wasn't my choice" (4.13.6).
- The men stop and tell her that, if this is true, then they do not have the right to kill her.
- Tereza turns toward the tree and bursts into tears.
Part 4, Chapter 14
- After she has a god cry against the tree, Tereza begins the walk back down Petrin hill.
- She longs for the man with the rifle to come back. Since Tomas can't help her, someone else will have to help her.
- The closer she gets to the city, the more she fears seeing Tomas, whom she has disappointed. She feels physically sick.
Part 4, Chapter 15
- The tall man/engineer starts frequenting the bar and tries to get Tereza to come back to his place. At first she resists, but then she realizes that she is being sent to this man by Tomas. So by going, all she is doing is following Tomas's command.
- Tereza wants to go to his apartment and get to the border of infidelity without actually having sex with him. She will wait until he makes his move, and then she will say, "It was not my choice" (4.15.6).
Part 4, Chapter 16
- Tereza goes to the engineer's apartment, a one-room deal loaded with bookshelves stuffed with books.
- (Remember that, to Tereza, books are the symbol of a secret brotherhood she longed for as a child.)
- He asks her if she wants wine, and she asks for coffee instead.
- She notices a copy of Sophocles' Oedipus on his bookshelf. It seems odd to her to find it here, given Tomas's obsession with the text. It makes her feel as though Tomas is sending her a secret message, that it was his decision to send her here.
- The engineer comes back and puts his hand on her; she says the words, "But it wasn't my choice," but this time it has no effect at all (4.16.10). He embraces her.
- Tereza realizes that the real Tereza – her soul – is not involved in this embrace. Only her body is.
Part 4, Chapter 17
- The engineer starts unbuttoning her blouse.
- He wants her to take part in the foreplay, but she remains passive; she doesn't want to take any responsibility for what happens.
- Her soul remains neutral with regards to what happens to her body.
- And yet she becomes incredibly aroused, all the more because she is becoming aroused against her will.
- By the time she is naked in his arms, Tereza's soul sees her body, for the first time, not as something banal but as something fascinating.
- As they begin to have sex, Tereza is filled with hatred.
- She doesn't want to let her body take pleasure in a stranger's embrace, and yet her body is taking pleasure in it.
- At the moment when she has an orgasm, she spits in his face.
Part 4, Chapter 18
- Nowadays, says the narrator, toilets are designed to look nice in bathrooms. But in the engineer's old flat, this was not the case. The toilet did not disguise the fact that it was basically the open end of a sewer pipe.
- Tereza goes into the engineer's bathroom and suddenly desires to void her bowels, because it would mean utter humiliation, the extreme of being only a body and not a soul. Her soul is no longer looking on, interested, at her body. Instead, it has retreated deep inside her body, "waiting desperately for someone to call it out" (4.18.4).
Part 4, Chapter 19
- Tereza leaves the bathroom. She wants to hear the engineer call out to her soul in a deep, rich voice. She feels that she will fall in love with him if he does.
- He does indeed call out to her from the next room, but his voice, now separate from his tall stature, is thin and high-pitched, and it turns her off.
- This saves her from temptation. She quickly dresses and leaves.
Part 4, Chapter 20
- Tereza is on her way home one morning with Karenin when she comes across the head of a crow sticking up out of the ground where it has been half-buried. The crow, still alive, crows weakly.
- Tereza tries to dig up the crow. In doing so, she breaks a nail and her finger starts bleeding.
- She sees some small boys nearby who are clearly responsible for burying the creature in the first place.
- She finally extracts the bird, now weak, wraps it in her scarf, and takes it home.
Part 4, Chapter 21
- Tereza puts the crow in a bed of old rags on the bathroom floor. She sees in it a reflection of her own fate, and knows that she has no one except Tomas.
- The narrator asks what Tereza learned from her escapade with the engineer. Did she learn that casual sex is light and weightless?
- Nope. She can't get her mind off the scene when she came out of the bathroom and wanted the man to call to her soul.
- She wonders what would have happened if Tomas and one of his mistresses had been in the same situation. Tomas would have said a single word, and the woman would have been his for the taking.
- Tereza knows how it works, "the moment love is born: the woman cannot resist the voice calling forth her terrified soul; the man cannot resist the woman whose soul thus responds to his voice" (4.21.6).
- She knows that Tomas is defenseless against the lure of love.
- Tereza has no weapons but her own fidelity, which is the cornerstone of their relationship.
- She finally leaves the crow for a moment to get a bite to eat.
- When she returns, the crow is dead.
Part 4, Chapter 22
- For the first year with Tomas, Tereza used to scream during sex, as a way of blinding her senses.
- Similarly, her soul was blinded by love.
- But sex with the engineer restored her soul's sight.
- During her next visit to the sauna, she takes a long look at her body in the mirror again.
- She remembers how it looked in the engineer's arms. She wants to see her body again next to a strange man, because that context makes her body interesting to her.
Part 4, Chapter 23
- Tereza fears that the engineer will come back to the bar, because she knows she won't be able to resist him.
- But then, after a month goes by without him, she wonders why he didn't come back.
- One day the rude bald-headed man tells a dirty joke.
- Tereza feels her mother's vulgar world intruding on her again, and so she interrupts him.
- They begin to argue. The bald-headed man tells her to be careful, since the only reason she's allowed to work at the bar is because "we let you" (4.23.6).
- He then makes it clear that, if he wanted to get rid of her, he could just accuse her of prostitution and get her fired.
Part 4, Chapter 24
- The ambassador tells Tereza that the rude bald-headed man is with the secret police.
- He explains that the secret police remains secret to spy on people, but want to make themselves known for purposes of intimidation.
- They want to stage situations to incriminate their enemies. They trap them.
- Tereza immediately imagines that the engineer was sent by the secret police. It was all a set-up; even the drunk sixteen-year-old boy was in on it.
- Now if they wanted to accuse her of prostitution, they have the engineer's testimonial.
Part 4, Chapter 25
- Tomas and Tereza go for a long drive outside of Prague.
- They stop in a small rural town at a hotel they have been to before.
- Tomas notices that the name of the hotel has changed. All the new street names and business names are now Russian.
- Tereza remembers that when the Russians first invaded, the Czechs pulled down all the street signs and business signs so that the Russians couldn't find the businesses or places they were looking to take over.
- In retrospect, though, this was a bad idea – it meant that their country lost itself in the anonymity.
Part 4, Chapter 26
- Back in the car, Tereza starts thinking that everything is in disguise: the old Czech town is covered in Russian names; the photographers who thought they were helping their country were really helping the Russians; the spies at her bar.
- She remembers back to the scene in the engineer's apartment: she asked for coffee, he went to the kitchen, but he came back without the coffee. She is certain that he used the time he was gone to set up a camera to photograph them together.
- Tereza thought she gained her privacy when she left her mother's house., but now she sees that she is still living under her mother's roof.
- She and Tomas are still walking through the Czech square when someone calls out his name.
Part 4, Chapter 27
- The man who calls Tomas's name is about fifty. He's a former patient of Tomas's and a farm-worker. He asks them to have a glass of wine with him.
- Tereza finds the man to be very kind – a rare find for her. As he talks about his life in the country, she finds the whole thing to be very idyllic.
- The man describes the pains he sometimes gets in his neck.
- Tomas writes down the name of a medicine to help the man with the pains in his neck he describes.
Part 4, Chapter 28
- On the way home, Tereza can only think about the photograph that might exist of her and the engineer.
- She's mostly concerned with whether Tomas will ever see it or not.
- Tereza knows that their love rests on her fidelity, and that it would come tumbling down if he knew she was unfaithful.
- She wants she and Tomas to move to the country, away from Prague. She feels that this would be their only path to salvation.
- But she doesn't have the courage to say this to Tomas.
- She is afraid of him, because he is strong and she is weak. She wants to go back to Petrin Hill (the place from her dream) and die.
Part 4, Chapter 29
- Tereza wakes up at home alone.
- She leaves home and goes to the Vltava river.
- In it, she sees Prague's red, yellow, and blue benches floating down its waters.
- (We can take a stab here and say we're in another dream sequence.)
- She understands that what she is looking at is a farewell.
Part 5, Chapter 1
- The narrator reminds you that, when Tereza first came to Prague, Tomas saw her as a child put in a basket and sent downstream to him.
- This image became very important to Tomas.
- It was in his mind when he picked up a translation of Sophocles' Oedipus https://www.shmoop.com/oedipus-the-king/.
- The narrator reminds us of the story of Oedipus, in case we aren't up to speed on our Greek mythology: Oedipus was raised by King Polybus and his wife. He was told by a prophet that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother, so he left home and went to Thebes. On the road, he quarreled with and killed a man. In Thebes, he married the newly widowed Queen. Only later did he discover that Polybus was his adopted father. The man he met on the road and killed was his real dad, and he's been married to his mother. When he realizes what he's done, he blinds himself and leaves town.
Part 5, Chapter 2
- According to the narrator, no one should believe that the Communist regimes of Central Europe were the work of criminals.
- They were the work of men who thought they had discovered the only road to paradise. Only later did it become clear that such a paradise did not exist, and so the enthusiasts were in fact murderers.
- Everyone blamed the Communists in the aftermath. But the communists shouted back that they are innocent because they did not know what they were doing was wrong.
- Tomas followed the issue closely.
- The relevant question, to him, is whether being ignorant of what they did made the Communist enthusiasts innocent.
- This brings us back to Oedipus.
- Oedipus didn't know he was sleeping with his mother; but he still felt guilty afterwards.
- Tomas thinks the Communists ought to be horrified by the sight of what they have done; they ought to want to poke out their eyes, like Oedipus.
- Tomas likes his analogy so much that he writes about it in an article and publishes it in a newspaper published by Czech writers.
- But when it is published, he is not pleased to see that they shortened it considerably, which made it seem more aggressive and less nuanced. This happened in the Spring of 1968.
- The Communists didn't like being told that they should poke their eyes out.
- Several months later, the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia.
Part 5, Chapter 3
- When Tomas returned to Prague from Zurich, the chief surgeon asked him to retract the Oedipus article he wrote.
- Tomas admits that defending the article isn't important to him (because of the way it was changed before publication).
- But he knows that two things are at stake. If he retracts the article, he loses his honor. If he does not, he loses his job – the meaning of his entire life.
- The chief tells him that they won't publish the retraction – they'll just keep it on file.
- Tomas asks for a week to think it over.
Part 5, Chapter 4
- Tomas was the best surgeon in his hospital, and rumor is that he was to be the next chief.
- Everyone assumes that, given the importance of his work, he will of course retract the article.
- Tomas doesn't like that people are ready to bet on his dishonesty, not his integrity.
- People start to smile at him conspiratorially.
- He sees that cowardice is becoming the norm. In his opinion, everyone assumes he is a coward like they are.
- He doesn't like this either, because he doesn't want to be friends with these cowards.
- He also sees people who have been persecuted, but who have refused at their own expense to compromise their beliefs.
- One such man, named S., tells him how it works: the newspaper will file his retraction, and if he ever speaks out publicly against them, they publish it, sullying his name. He, too, smiles at Tomas.
- Tomas realizes everyone is smiling at him because they all want him to (and think he will) write the retraction. It makes the cowards happy because it validates their own cowardice; it makes the rebels happy because theirs is a special privilege.
- The narrator finds it illogical that someone with as little respect for people as Tomas is so dependent on what they think of him.
- The narrator thinks this mistrust of other people played a big part in determining Tomas's profession. A doctor is not on public display; instead, he is judged man to man, by his patients and his colleagues.
- But now, with this retraction business, he is being judged publicly by everyone.
- He goes to the chief and tells him he will not write the retraction.
- The chief is pleased and shakes Tomas's hand vigorously; yet Tomas has to be fired for this decision.
Part 5, Chapter 5
- One day, after work, a man who introduces himself as representing "the Ministry of the Interior" comes to see him.
- He gets Tomas to have a drink with him, and explains that the Ministry is distressed to see so fine a surgeon dispensing Aspirin at a clinic.
- Tomas is defenseless in the face of all this flattery.
- The man asks if Tomas really thinks the Communists should blind themselves like Oedipus.
- Of course not, says Tomas; his original article didn't put it that way.
- The man starts asking more questions about the people who published the article; he wants to know the name of the editor at the paper.
- That's when Tomas realizes he is under interrogation.
- He knows every word he says can put other men in danger. He claims to not remember the man's name. So he starts listing adjectives that in no way fit with the actual editor: tall, black hair.
- Unfortunately, this describes another man the Ministry is looking for. Tomas has incriminated someone else.
- The man from the Ministry says he will try and do something for Tomas's current position.
Part 5, Chapter 6
- Tomas is angry with himself for not realizing sooner who the man represented.
- Two weeks later, the Ministry pays him another visit. This time, Tomas is on his guard.
- They meet in Tomas's office. The man has a "sample statement" for Tomas to sign.
- Tomas reads the statement. It is not only a retraction of his article, but full-on praise for the Communist Party.
- Tomas gives it back and shakes his head.
- Fine, says the man – write your own statement instead.
- Tomas worries that if he gives a flat "no," then they might publish it anyway with a fake signature from him. So he agrees to write his own to buy some time. Then he resigns from the clinic and becomes a window washer, because he knows they will have no more interest in his opinion when he is no longer a doctor.
Part 5, Chapter 7
- When he returned to Prague from Zurich years earlier, Tomas told himself, "Es muss sein!" about Tereza (i.e., that he was meant to be with her). But he began to doubt this after he crossed the border.
- Lying next to her in bed, he realizes he was drawn to her only "by a chain of laughable coincidences" (5.7.1). He decides that his love was not es muss sein.
- But the narrator believes that there was an element of es muss sein in Tomas's life after all with his profession. His career choice was rooted in a deep-seated desire.
- If we can separate man into three categories, says the narrator, we can do so by deep-seated desires that drive them to their profession of choice.
- Surgery is interesting because it "takes the basic imperative of the medical profession to its outermost border, where the human makes contact with the divine" (5.7.1). God never took surgery into account, he explains.
- And Tomas sensed this blasphemy the first time he operated. But this is also what attracted him to it. Surgery is his "es muss sein!"
- For this reason, it seems to odd to the narrator that Tomas could so easily cast off his profession and become a window washer.
- Could his decision perhaps conceal some other reasoning that explains it?
Part 5, Chapter 8
- Through Tereza, Tomas came to love Beethoven. But he didn't know the real history of the phrase "es muss sein." The narrator fills us in on the story:
- Some guy owed Beethoven some money. When Beethoven asked for it, the guy reluctantly asked, "Muss es sein?" and Beethoven replied with a laugh, "Es muss sein." The composer liked the sound of it so much he made it into a motif in one of his works. (You can listen yourself to the String Quartet No. 16.)
- Beethoven ended up imbuing the words with a far more serious meaning than the playful conversation in which they first arose.
- (German, argues the narrator, is the language of heavy words.)
- It's interesting to note that light goes to heavy. The narrator says that it could never be the other way around, though Parmenides would argue the opposite. "We no longer know how to think as Parmenides thought," he says (5.8.4).
- The narrator proposes that herein lies the deeper reasoning for Tomas's decision to abandon medicine.
- He secretly resented the es muss sein all his life, and longed to go, as Parmenides would have it, from heavy to light.
- As evidence for his theory, the narrator points to Tomas's break with his first wife, son, and parents – his rejection of his (heavy) duty. That was his external es muss sein; medicine was his internal es muss sein.
- When he first took the job as the window washer, he was in shock for a few days. But then he realized that he was on a long holiday.
- He felt the blissful indifference of the lightness of it all.
- His customers all knew that he was really a doctor forced to abandon his post, and so treated him with great respect. They would call up the window washing company, request Tomas, and then have him over for champagne while he was supposed to be washing their windows.
- In doing so, Tomas reverts to his bachelor existence; he sees Teresa rarely, has sixteen hours a day to himself, and has freedom.
- Of course, to Tomas, freedom means women.
Part 5, Chapter 9
- When people ask Tomas how many women he's bedded in his lifetime, he tells them about 200. He justifies this by saying that he's been having sex for twenty-five years, and eight women a year isn't actually that many.
- Now that he's a window washer, every woman who invites him over by special request is a new conquest. What attracted Tomas to all these women? Didn't he find sex repetitive?
- No. Every new woman has something unique about her, something unimaginable that Tomas can not know until he has sex with her.
- He wants to discover each woman's individual "I."
- Tomas, being a doctor, knows that only a very small part of an individual is actually unique, and he is obsessed with that tiny, one-millionth part.
- He reasons that it's like being a surgeon, and using an imaginary scalpel to cut a woman open to see what is unique.
- But why sex? Why can't he discover that one-millionth part dissimilarity some other way? Because, explains the narrator, "only in sexuality does the millionth part dissimilarity become precious, because, not accessible to the public, it must be conquered" (5.9.11).
- So Tomas's incredible womanizing is not about wanting pleasure. It is about wanting possession of the world.
Part 5, Chapter 10
- The narrator divides womanizers into two separate categories.
- The first type of womanizer has a lyrical obsession and goes through women looking for "their own subjective and unchanging" ideal of a what a woman should be (5.10.1).
- These men are endlessly disappointed, because an ideal is "by definition something that can never be found" (5.10.2).
- The other type of womanizer has an obsession that is epic.
- Everything interests him; so nothing disappoints him. Tomas belongs to this group. While the lyrical types pursue the same kind of woman all the time, the epic types are like curiosity collectors.
- Two years into his window-washing career, Tomas was sent to the apartment of a peculiar woman. She was very tall, taller than he, and had a long nose, and looked like "an odd combination of giraffe, stork, and a sensitive young boy" (5.10.6).
- Once Tomas goes inside, she tells him he can do anything he wants, and then offers him a glass of wine. He knows that she knows who he is, by reputation.
- They flirt, which inevitably leads to touching. She doesn't resist until his hand gets to her groin.
- Then he tells her that he has to get going to his next job.
- She says that she'll order him back some time, since her husband is paying for it anyway.
Part 5, Chapter 11
- Tomas is excited by the prospect of bedding such an odd (and odd-looking woman).
- The next time he is called to her apartment to wash the windows, they again drink wine and start kissing.
- But when he gives her his standard "Strip!" command, she commands back: "No! You first!" (5.11.2).
- Tomas is taken aback; he's used to being in the driver's seat.
- Finally, he compromises with her.
- For every piece of clothing that comes off of her, he has to remove one of his own. Similarly, every time he does something to her, she does the same thing to his body.
- While they have sex, Tomas watches her very carefully, recording what is unique about her. He walks away with three distinct conclusions. (His conclusions are specific and sexual – you can read your book if you want to know what they are.)
- He's psyched to have acquired another piece of the world for his own possession.
Part 5, Chapter 12
- Meanwhile, Tomas has been meeting regularly with one woman in particular.
- One night, she reminds him of an earlier night they had together, when they made love on a rug during a thunder and lightning storm.
- Tomas is appalled to find that he has completely forgotten said storm. His mind, explains the narrator, only remembers "the steep and narrow path of sexual conquest," not the other details surrounding it (5.12.3).
- Tomas feels ashamed, even though it isn't his fault that he can't remember.
- Since he met Tereza, no other woman has been able to imprint anything on his "poetic memory" (5.12.6). This is unfair to his other women, including this one in particular.
- Tomas's relationship with Tereza picks up where these other relationships leave off.
- He doesn't want to uncover anything secret in her, because he made love to her the first time before he could pick up his imaginary scalpel and start wondering what she was like.
- He didn't fall in love with her until afterwards, when she got sick and saw her as a baby sent downstream to him in a basket.
- Metaphors are dangerous, says the narrator. Love begins with a metaphor – when a woman enters her first word into a man's poetic memory.
Part 5, Chapter 13
- Tomas remembers the day when Tereza came home with a crow wrapped up in her scarf, pressed against her breast as though she were cradling a baby.
- After the crow incident, she told him how upset she was about an undercover Russian man who had been bothering her at the bar.
- Tomas feels bad that he's seen so little of her for the last two years and has had such little opportunity to calm her down.
- The next morning, Tomas is sent to a particular customer who requested him for window washing.
- It turns out to be a two men who wanted to meet with him. The first man has a big chin, and turns out to be the editor who Tomas incriminated accidentally when interrogated by the man from the Ministry. The second man, much younger, is Tomas's son from his first marriage.
- This is the first time Tomas has ever had to speak with his son, and he's not interested in knowing anything about him.
- It's clear that both these men are actively against the Russian Communists.
- The editor tells him that the paper (in which Tomas published his Oedipus article) has been banned, and most of his friends have lost their jobs, as Tomas has.
- Tomas is distracted, however, wondering about his son.
- His first wife was a Communist, and he expected that his son would be as well.
- Eventually the two guys reveal their purpose in summoning Tomas.
- They've drafted a petition to have politically imprisoned Czech intellectuals released, and they want Tomas to sign it.
- Tomas considers this. He knows that if they do send such a petition, then all it will do is convince the Russians to keep them imprisoned longer.
- Tomas wants to think it over, but the editor tells him they're sending the petition off tomorrow.
- Tomas resents that everyone is trying to get him to sign something he didn't write.
- He notices his son make an expression that Tomas often makes himself. Such a similarity is disconcerting to him. He realizes that what is at stake here is his relationship with his son.
- If he signs, he will have to be friends with his son. If he does not sign, then they will continue on their separate ways.
- Finally, he decides that signing or not signing won't make a difference in his own life or in the lives of the prisoners.
- He takes the petition from them.
Part 5, Chapter 14
- The editor then congratulates Tomas for his article on Oedipus.
- Tomas laments that he can't operate anymore, but the editor tells him to think about how many people his article helped.
- Tomas argues that no, he helped people when he was a surgeon.
- Now Tomas's son jumps in and says that ideas can save lives too.
- But Tomas doesn't want to be famous for his idea. His whole was taken the wrong way, after all.
- He remembers why he wrote it in the first place. It was his image of Tereza as a baby in a basket sent downstream that sent him to the myths of Romulus, Moses, and Oedipus.
- Tomas's son tells him that it is his [Tomas's] duty to sign the petition.
- Again Tomas thinks about Tereza – she is the only thing that matters to him now. If he signs the petition, she will continue to be bothered by undercover spies at the bar.
- Finally, he tells the two men that it is more important to dig a crow out of the ground than send petitions about political prisoners.
- He knows they don't understand, but he's happy anyway. He's doing what he wants.
Part 5, Chapter 15
- Days later, Tomas reads in the newspaper about the petition. It doesn't mention that the petition was about releasing political prisoners.
- Instead, it says that the petition was anti-state, and it slanders all the men who signed it. Part of him is sorry he didn't sign it. He can't quite remember why he didn't.
- The narrator again sees an image of Tomas as he did at the beginning of the novel: standing at the window of his apartment and staring out the window to the walls across the courtyard.
- Tomas was born from that image, he says. Characters are always born of an image, a sentence, a metaphor, or something "containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about" (5.15.5).
- On the other hand, it may be true that the author can only really write about himself, he says.
- Yes, he has known all the moments, images, and metaphors that define his characters. And yet he is not the characters in his novel; in this way, his characters are his "own unrealized possibilities" (5.15.7).
- And now back to Tomas. He wonders if he should have signed the petition.
- The question is whether it's better to shout and hasten one's own death, or keep silent and prolong one's life.
- The problem, as we know, is that human life only occurs once. We can't ever compare the different outcomes of making different decisions.
- History works the same way, just like the human life.
- We can't know what would have happened if different events in history were to be changed.
- Einmal ist keinmal, the narrator says, which means that things, which happen only once, might as well not have happened at all.
- Because life and history happen only once, they are light, unbearably light.
- Tomas thinks about the editor, who acts with no hesitation, as though his actions are to be endlessly repeated.
Part 5, Chapter 16
- Several days later, Tomas posits that somewhere out in space, there is a planet where everyone gets to be born again. They will retain all the information about their first life, and get to try again. Then there is another planet, where they get to try the third time. And so on. This is Tomas's vision of eternal return (5.16.4).
- Now, says the narrator, we have real definitions of pessimism and optimism.
- An optimist is a person who thinks that on planet number five, the history of mankind will be less bloody. A pessimist is someone who thinks otherwise.
Part 5, Chapter 17
- Two years is about as long as anyone can be on holiday, and Tomas is now in his third year of window-washing.
- He's also physically exhausted from having so much sex with so many different women, though his curiosity is still insatiable.
- One day, he's getting off early from work, and hasn't had sex with anyone.\
- He panics and tries to call a young woman about ten times, someone he's had trysts with many times in the past.
- Then, while he's walking down the street, he runs into a woman who greets him.
- He does not recognize her and tries to figure out who she is as quickly as he can so he can get her to go have sex with him.
- Finally he realizes – she is the young woman he has been trying to call all day.
- This proves to him that he is as tired mentally as he is physically, and that his two-year-long holiday has come to an end.
Part 5, Chapter 18
- This holiday from medicine was also a holiday from Tereza. They really only see each other on Sundays. Tomas worries about her, since he hasn't been around to take care of her.
- One Sunday, they go for a drive to the country and find an old town re-labeled with Russian names.
- There, he meets with a former patient of his. Tomas feels his old life coming back to him.
- Driving home, Tomas considers what a mistake he made coming back to Prague from Zurich.
- He's furious with Tereza for being responsible for it, and angry at the fortuities that led to their being together.
- A terrible silence grows between them. They don't talk all the way home or during dinner or before they go to bed.
- Tereza wakes up crying in the middle of the night.
- She tells Tomas she had a dream that she was buried, and that she only came out of the grave each week when Tomas came to see her.
- Then he was away for a month to be with another women, and when he came back she was so tired and weary that he didn't like the way she looked.
- He told her she needed a holiday, and she knew he meant that he wanted to be with another woman.
- Tomas tries to comfort her. "He thought he could not endure his love" (5.18.14).\
- The weight of her grief makes him feel as though he is about to have a heart attack.
- She goes back to sleep, but he cannot. He can only imagine that Tereza is dead, and that he is unable to wake her.
Part 5, Chapter 19
- Since the Russian army invaded his country five years ago, Tomas sees that Prague has changed considerably.
- Many of has friends have emigrated; many are dead. The death rate soared, explains the narrator, because people felt so hopeless.
- One day Tomas attends the funeral of a famous biologist who had lost his job, like Tomas, for political reasons.
- The Russian police are there, recording who attends. He spots the editor with the big chin, though the man indicates from a distance that they should not speak together.
Part 5, Chapter 20
- Later that day, Tomas is washing a display window when a man approaches. It's the hospital colleague named S., – the one who smiled at Tomas because he himself had been pressured politically but did not fold.
- Tomas gets a sense of self-satisfaction, because now S. knows that Tomas did not sign the retraction.
- The conversation is stilted; both men are uncomfortable. They speak only briefly before S. leaves.
- In general, Tomas's role as a window washer has become more normal.
- His old patients no longer send for him by name and give him champagne while he's supposed to be working
- "The situation of the déclassé intellectual was no longer exceptional; it had turned into something permanent and unpleasant to confront" (5.20.16).
Part 5, Chapter 21
- Tomas comes home, goes to sleep, and wakes up late with stomach pains.
- Tomas finds no medicine in the cabinet.
- When Tereza comes home from the bar, he tells her about the funeral, the editor, and S. They agree that Prague has grown ugly.
- Tereza suggests that they move away to the country. Tomas feels that he is old, because all he wants now is peace and quiet. He knows that moving to the country would mean an end to his erotic adventures.
- Tomas considers that his womanizing is another part of his es muss sein. If he really wants a holiday from imperatives and from weight, then a trip to the country would get the job done.
- Tereza realizes his stomach is hurting again and tries to put him to bed. Tomas asks her what is wrong – she's been uneasy lately.
- Tereza tries to say it's the same thing as always – namely Tomas's womanizing – but he pushes her to admit that there's been something different, worse, lately.
- Finally she admits that it is his hair.
- Every night she's had to go to sleep smelling the odor of another woman on his hair.
- Tomas is horrified. He remembers being with a woman who made him use his hair and head to make love to her. He had tried to be so careful about washing himself everywhere, so that Tereza would never have to smell another woman. But he forgot about his hair.
- To make Tereza feel better, he tells her that he'll call up that patient of his they met in the country to work out the details of a move for them.
Part 5, Chapter 22
- Tomas wakes up in the middle of the night from a series of erotic dreams.
- In the last dream, he was incredibly excited at the thought of making love to an obese woman floating on her back in a swimming pool, covered in hair.
- He wakes up wondering how he could be sexually excited by an image like that, especially when his stomach felt so horrible.
- He decides that there are two wheels turning in the brain. One shows images, and the other dictates the corresponding reactions from the body. The wheels must have gotten out of sync.
- The narrator points out that Tomas having an erection at the sight of another woman has no bearing on his love for Tereza.
- Perhaps our Creator uses excitement as an amusement for himself, but love belongs to us and us alone. Love is our freedom; love lies beyond es muss sein.
- No, says the narrator, that can't be strictly true. Love is somewhat attached to the clockwork running in our brains that dictates sexual attraction.
- And that's what is so bizarre.
- Attaching love to sexual excitement, thinks Tomas, is the most bizarre idea that our Creator has ever had.
- Then, as he begins to fall back to sleep, Tomas has a revelation: all he has to do is attach sexual arousal to something trivial, like the sight of a swallow, and then he can love Tereza without being disturbed by sex.
- He thinks he has found the key to all mysteries, the ultimate solution. And then he falls asleep.
Part 5, Chapter 23
- Tomas dreams that several naked women are winding themselves around him. He extricates himself and goes into the next room, where a half-naked woman on a couch is waiting for him.
- He's blissful that he found her. She radiates calm and femininity. He's been looking for her all his life.
- He wakes up, desperate to know who the woman was in his dream. Has he met her before? He can't remember. He decides he has never met her, that she is the es muss sein of his love.
- He remembers the myth from Plato that says that man used to be a hermaphrodite until God split him into man and woman. This woman must be his other half.
- Suppose this is true, the narrator says, and Tomas does later meet his other half. Should he really choose her over Tereza?
- Tomas knows that he would not be able to stand Tereza's grief if he chose the other woman.
- Choosing this woman over Tereza would mean betraying his own es muss sein for Tereza.
- He looks at her beside him in bed and is overwhelmed by his love for her. When she starts to wake, he lulls her back to sleep.
Part 6, Chapter 1
- Stalin's son, Yakov, was captured by the Germans during World War II. While in prison, he shared a latrine with British officers, who resented that he always left a mess in there for them to clean up.
- Once, when officers tried to make him clean it, he was humiliated and angry.
- He died when, in desperation at the whole situation, he took a flying jump at the electrical fence around the camp.
Part 6, Chapter 2
- The story goes that Stalin's father killed Yakov's mother, which meant Yakov was both Stalin's son and his cast-off. He understood how easy it was to go "from one pole of human existence to the other" (6.2.2).
- When these poles come so close to each other, says the narrator, it makes man dizzy and want to fall. It makes him experience vertigo.
- If man can be simultaneously close to two such different poles, he argues, "then human existence loses its dimensions and becomes unbearably light" (6.2.6).
- Yakov's death may have been over a dirty latrine, but this doesn't mean that it was senseless.
- On the other hand, the Germans who died trying to expand their country's territory – that was idiotic. "Among the general idiocy of the war," argues the narrator, "the death of Stalin's son stands out as the sole metaphysical death" (6.2.7).
Part 6, Chapter 3
- When the narrator was little, he used to look at the image of God in an illustrated Bible. God looked like a man, and had a mouth.
- But the narrator used to worry that, if God had a mouth, he must eat, and if he eats, he must defecate. This sacrilege worried him greatly.
- He points out that Gnostics in the second century thought the same way, and posited that God ate, but did not defecate.
Part 6, Chapter 4
- Similarly, theologians considered the question of whether or not Adam and Eve had sex in the Garden of Eden.
- A ninth century theologian posited that they did, but that Adam was in complete control of when he was and was not aroused. There was no involuntary sexual excitement for him.
- The narrator associates man's ability to feel excited with his ability to feel disgust. Both were off limits to Adam in Paradise.
- The narrator reminds you that, in Part 3 of this novel, he showed you Sabina standing naked with the bowler hat on her bed, next to a fully dressed Tomas.
- She was excited by the thought of her own denigration in front of him, and she fantasized about letting Tomas watch her defecate.
Part 6, Chapter 5
- The narrator is interested in the debate between men who doubt being, and men who accept it without reservation.
- Those who believe that human existence is good, as is told in Genesis, have a basic faith that the narrator calls a "categorical agreement with being" (6.5.2).
- But everyone, he reminds us, feels that defecation is disgusting. Which means that those who maintain this faith in the good of existence deny defecation – they act as though it does not exist. Such an aesthetic ideal is called kitsch.
- "Kitsch" is a 19th century German word that has taken on meaning in most Western languages. It is a perspective, which denies everything it finds unacceptable about human existence.
Part 6, Chapter 6
- Sabina's inner revolt against Communism was an aesthetic one, not an ethical one.
- She hated the mask of beauty that Communism wore – she hated its kitsch.
- She remembers the May Day parades in which the regime convinced people to celebrate life as a way of promoting Communism.
- This masked the real theses behind its foundation and tricked people into embracing it.
Part 6, Chapter 7
- Ten years later, Sabina is living in America.
- An American friend of hers, a Senator, takes her on a day trip with his children. As they watch his children running around on a grassy lawn, he says that the image of them playing is what he calls happiness.
- What he is smiling at, though, is an understanding of Sabina's escape from Communist Europe.
- Sabina knows, however, that his smile is the same smile as that of the Communist statesmen in Prague looking down at the parades on the street.
Part 6, Chapter 8
- The senator's comment was silly because he couldn't know that children meant happiness.
- His heart, not his brain, was speaking.
- In the realm of kitsch, the heart is a dictator. Kitsch unites people by relying on the sentiments they share.
- At seeing children playing, kitsch causes two tears to flow.
- The first is moved by the children running on the grass. The second is moved by the fact that the first tear flowed.
- ]The second tear, says the narrator, "is what makes kitsch kitsch" (6.8.6). He adds that a brotherhood of man on earth will only be possible through kitsch.
Part 6, Chapter 9
- Politicians use kitsch all the time – just think about a politician kissing a baby.
- What is truly dangerous is totalitarian kitsch, a kitsch that banishes that which does not belong to its aesthetic realm.
- Often, this means banishing individualism. He cites the gulag as a tool of kitsch.
Part 6, Chapter 10
- The decade after WWII ended was a terrible time of Stalinist terror.
- At the time, Tereza was ten, and her father was arrested for political reasons.
- Sabina, then twenty, was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts.
- Her Marxist professor tried to teach her a theory of Socialist art, in which conflict was not between good and evil but good and better. The narrator points out that film worked the same way at the time: only happy endings.
- What Sabina despised is that the Communist reality was totally different from this Communist ideal.
- The narrator notes that Sabina's reaction to Communist kitsch is similar to what Tereza felt when she was made to march around the swimming pool naked in her dream, singing songs with the others to mask the fact that women were being shot dead around her.
- "Tereza's dream reveals the true function of kitsch," says the narrator: "kitsch is a folding screen set up to curtain off death" (6.10.6).
Part 6, Chapter 11
- A person who asks questions is the enemy of kitsch, because questions cut through the screen to let us look behind it.
- Think about the way that Sabina explained her paintings to Tereza: on the surface, an intelligible lie, and underneath, the unintelligible truth.
- Once Sabina had an exhibition of her paintings in Germany.
- In the promotion, she read a bio of herself that painted her to be a martyr escaped from her bleeding homeland. Clearly, they did not understand her at all. Her enemy was kitsch, she fumed, not Communism.
- She started hiding the fact that she was Czech so that people would stop thinking of her this way.
Part 6, Chapter 12
- Sabina now lives in New York with an old man and his wife.
- The old man sometimes comes with her to her studio, an old stable on his property, to watch her paint.
- The narrator again reflects on kitsch.
- It is Sabina's enemy, but hasn't she also been carrying kitsch with her for her whole life, in the form of her ideal of a quiet, peaceful home?
- In some ways, Sabina functions as the parent of these two old people. In some way, she's trying to fulfill the image she has of the perfect home.
- But she knows this happy home is just an illusion. Soon enough, her path of betrayals will continue, and she will leave the old couple.
- But as soon as she recognizes that the happy home is an illusion, it loses its power and is no longer kitsch.
- The narrator makes the point that no one – not even Sabina – can escape kitsch completely.
Part 6, Chapter 13
- The source of kitsch is the categorical agreement with being which the narrator earlier discussed. As to what the source of being is, that depends on your particular brand of kitsch (in many cases, the source is religion according to the narrator).
- Franz, for example, was fascinated by the political kitsch of leftists.
- He liked the Grand March because it was the emblem of such kitsch.
- What makes a leftist a leftist, says the narrator, is not this theory or that, but his ability to integrate any theory into his own kitsch, the kitsch of the Grand March.
Part 6, Chapter 14
- But Franz was not in actuality a devotee of kitsch. He didn't even vote. He just liked the dream of the Grand March.
- One day, some friends call Franz from Paris.
- They want him to join them on a march to Cambodia.
- Cambodia is in a political and military mess, and the idea is for a group of intellectuals to march and petition to open the borders and let doctors into the country.
- Franz is excited by the thought, but then he sees his young student-mistress across the room. He feels as though she is silently begging him not to do it, so he declines.
- Except he feels guilty after he hangs up the phone. He feel as though the phone call was a secret message from Sabina.
- So he decides to go after all.
Part 6, Chapter 15
- Franz's plane lands in Bangkok, and a group of about 500 intellectuals head to a meeting to gather and plan their march.
- The European intellectuals are angry that a group of Americans have taken over the march and are trying to tell everyone else what to do.
- To protest, the Europeans argue, but refuse to do so in English, which means the Americans don't know what they're saying.
Part 6, Chapter 16
- The narrator asks why the leftist intellectuals are so willing to march against Communism, when Communism is supposed to be the domain of the left?
- When crimes of the Soviet Union became extreme, leftists had to decide whether to stop marching the Grand March, or reclassify the Soviet Union as an obstacle.
- A leftist has to remain faithful to his own kitsch, above all.
- The problem at this meeting in Bangkok is that the Americans were speaking the vocabulary of American kitsch, which has nothing to do with the kitsch of the Grand March. That's why there was so much misunderstanding and resentment between the different groups.
Part 6, Chapter 17
- The next morning the Europeans and Americans get on buses and travel towards Cambodia.
- When they arrive, and it's time for the actual march, they agree for one American, one Frenchman, and a Cambodian interpreter to take the lead.
- As they march, they are surrounded by photographers snapping shots of the celebrities amongst them.
Part 6, Chapter 18
- Among the group is an American actress who doesn't like being at the rear of the march.
- She decides to make her way to the front, and does so with a sudden sprint.
- There is a ruckus as the others protest making the march into a star-fest.
- When a professor physically stops her, she starts crying, and a photographer snaps her photo.
Part 6, Chapter 19
- A German pop singer comforts the American actress. In order to get a better picture of the scene, the photographer moves off the road and into the rice field.
- In doing so, he hits a minefield and his body explodes all over the parade.
- The flag the marchers have been carrying is covered in blood, and the march members are filled with a strange pride.
- They continue on.
Part 6, Chapter 20
- When they get to the border, the march participants shout that they only want doctors to be allowed in, that they have no ulterior motives.
- There is no response.
- Franz suddenly feels that the Grand March is coming to an end.
Part 6, Chapter 21
- Franz is again struck with how laughable they are.
- But just because the Grand March is coming to an end, does that give him the right to ridicule it? To betray it?
- After all, they had no choice but to continue putting on the show.
- The narrator agrees with this reasoning.
- He thinks back to the editor with the big chin who organized the petition for the release of the political prisoners.
- The editor with the big chin knew it would not help the prisoners, but he did it anyway to show that people without fear still existed. His choice was between playacting, or not acting at all, and he chose playacting.
Part 6, Chapter 22
- Franz next feels rage. He wishes, like Stalin's son, to throw himself at the border, to go out in a blaze of gunfire.
- Franz is having trouble reconciling the glory of the Grand March with the vanity of its members, like the actress who fights to be up front.
- He wants to prove, with a glorious death, that the Grand March is worth everything.
- But man can never prove anything like this, says the narrator. The death of Stalin's son proved that the scales can't be tipped.
- Instead of getting himself shot, Franz returns to the busses with the others.
Part 6, Chapter 23
- Everyone needs to be looked at, explains the narrator. We can divide people into four classes based on who they want to look at them.
- The first group longs to be looked at by the public, by thousands of anonymous eyes. This is the case with the American actress, or the editor with the big chin.
- The second category wants to be looked at by many known eyes. These are the people, like Marie-Claude, who cultivate large circles of personal friends.
- The third category is made of people who need to be constantly looked at by the person they love. To this category belong both Tereza and Tomas.
- The fourth category is the most rare. It comprises those who live "in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present" (6.23.5). This is the case with Franz, who lives for Sabina though she is no longer in his life.
- We can also put Tomas's son in this category. The narrator decides to call him Simon, since he would appreciate the Biblical name.
- The imaginary eyes he wanted on himself were the eyes of Tomas. When he found out that his father was, like he himself, living in the country, he wrote him a letter.
Part 6, Chapter 24
- Franz and Simon are the dreamers of this novel, explains the narrator.
- Simon never got along with his mother, and so he never blamed his father for leaving them. His whole life, he dreamed of finding his father.
- Simon lived with his mother until he was eighteen.
- Then he went to Prague, where Tomas was washing windows. He kept trying to accidentally run into him.
- Then he became involved with the editor with the big chin, because the man's fate reminded him of the fate of his father (namely, a victim of political persecution).
- The editor didn't even remember the Oedipus article, but Simon persuaded him to talk to Tomas about signing the petition.
- Simon, a Christian, liked his father even though he refused to sign the petition.
- He likens Tomas's words "punishing people who don't know what they've done is barbaric" to the words of Jesus in the Bible.
- Three years after his move to the country, Simon receives a letter from his father asking him to visit.
- They did and had a friendly visit.
- Four months later, Simon receives a telegram informing him that both Tomas and Tereza have been crushed to death under a truck.
- He starts writing to one of his father's former mistresses in France, because he needs to have imaginary eyes on his life.
Part 6, Chapter 25
- Sabina continues to receive these letters until the end of her life, but many of them go unread.
- When the old man she was living with dies, she moves to California.
- Her paintings sell well, but she likes American only on the surface. It is still very alien to her.
- Afraid of being buried and stuck in American soil, Sabina writes in her will that she wants to be cremated and scattered to the winds.
- Tomas and Tereza had died under a sign of weight; and she wants to die under the sign of lightness.
Part 6, Chapter 26
- Franz's bus returns to the hotel in Bangkok.
- Walking along the streets, Franz wonders what Sabina's imaginary eyes are thinking about him right now.
- Then he thinks about his student-mistress, and realizes how important she is to him. It was so silly for him to have come to Cambodia. She is what matters; not Sabina. His reality with her is more important than his dream with Sabina.
- At that moment, Franz is robbed on the streets of Bangkok. He is about to hand over his money when the image of Sabina returns to him. She would mock him for his weakness because she had always admired his strength. So he fights back against the muggers.
- Franz is cracked on the head and wakes up in a hospital in Geneva with Marie-Claude leaning over his bed.
- He wants to tell her to go away, and wants the doctors to send for his student-mistress whom he loves. He hates Marie-Claude and is ready to tell her so.
- But he can't.
- Franz is completely paralyzed and cannot speak.
Part 6, Chapter 27
- In death, Franz belongs completely to his wife, as he never had before.
- She took over everything, including his funeral.
- The pastor spoke about their conjugal love having withstood many tests and trials.
- Franz's student-mistress is there too, in the back row.
- She gets physically sick during the funeral and has to be taken away.
Part 6, Chapter 28
- When Simon receives the telegram about Tomas and Tereza's death, he immediately gets on his motorcycle and heads to their village to arrange the funeral.
- On Tomas's gravestone, he has engraved the words: "HE WANTED THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH" (6.28.2). He knows that Tomas would never have said these words, but feels as though they expressed what his father thought, deep down.
- Above Franz's grave were the words "A RETURN AFTER LONG WANDERINGS" (6.28.3).
- Religiously, it meant a return to God's kingdom. But of course everyone knew that it was meant to refer to his marriage with Marie-Claude.
- Indeed, Marie-Claude popularized this interpretation.
- According to Marie-Claude, Franz had simply been taken by a mid-life crisis, and was ensnared by that young girl. But deep down, Franz was good, and always loved his wife.
- This was why, tortured, he sought his own death in Cambodia.
- He even begged her forgiveness, she says, with his eyes of course, before his death. And she forgave him.
Part 6, Chapter 29
- What remains in Cambodia, the narrator asks. The answer? A large photograph of an American actress holding an Asian child in her arms.
- What remains of Tomas? The inscription on his grave.
- What remains of Beethoven? The phrase "es muss sein!"
- What remains of Franz? The inscription on his grave.
- The narrator then concludes that before we are forgotten, we are turned into kitsch.
Part 7, Chapter 1
- We backtrack to a time when Tereza and Tomas were still living.
- They purchased a tiny cottage and are now living in the country. They are safe there, because no one is interested in the political lives of people living in the middle of nowhere.
- Tereza is happy to be away from the other women and her fears about the secret police.
- She and Tomas are finally alone, together.
- Tereza imagined that the country would embody the image she had of it in her mind from books she used to read as a child. But under Communism, she finds that it breaks from this ideal.
- It's not as communal and kindhearted as she imagined, and certain things (like celebrating Church holidays) are forbidden.
- Instead of reveling in their lifestyle, the people who live in the country long to live in the city.
- This, explains the narrator, is why the secret police have no power over the people who live there – the people in the country have nothing to lose, and so they have no fear.
- For this reason, they live in freedom.
- Tereza and Tomas are the only ones who came to the country voluntarily.
- They become good friends with the collective farm chairman, the man who was Tomas's former patient. He owns a pig named Mefisto that he treats like a pet dog.
- Karenin quickly makes friends with Mefisto.
- Tomas gets a job driving a pickup truck that brings the farm workers and their equipment out to the fields every day.
- Tereza takes cows out to pasture every day, and reads while they graze.
- Karenin is the happiest of the three of them because he likes the regularity of their new schedule.
- One day Tereza notices that Karenin is limping. It turns out that he has a lump from cancer.
- Karenin has an operation to remove the cancer.
- When he recovers from his operation, Karenin wakes in the middle of the night and jumps up on Tomas and Tereza's bed, wanting to cuddle.
Part 7, Chapter 2
- Genesis explains that God gave man dominion over all his other animal creations.
- But, says the narrator, the Bible was written by man. It seems far more likely that man invented God to justify that he had dominion over animals. This seems to be the only thing that all mankind, even during bloody wars, can agree on.
- What if some third party shows up and claims that God gave them dominion over man?
- Karenin always comes out to the pasture with Tereza and the cows, but since his operation he has been limping. She has to carry him.
- One day, Tereza runs into a woman, who asks what's wrong with the dog.
- Tereza explains that he has cancer, and then begins to tear up. The woman expresses her shock that Tereza is getting so worked up over a dog.
- While she watches her cows, it occurs to her that man is a parasite of cows. We might think of this as funny, but Tereza takes it very seriously.
- She thinks that God gave man the responsibility to take care of animals, not mastery over them.
- The narrator considers the intellectual history regarding man's opinion of animals.
- Descartes said that man was master and proprietor of nature, and denied that animals had a soul.
- Tereza sits with the cows and remembers reading years ago that all the dogs in a Russian city had been shot.
- This article, says the narrator, was a premonition of things to come. The Russians wanted to capitalize on man's aggressiveness, and they gave them animals to practice on.
- A year later, when they had accumulated the necessary malice, they could turn that aggression onto its real target: people.
- Tereza decides that there is no true merit in being nice to a fellow man, because you either have to be (through social obligation) or are doing it for something in return.
- The only real measure of man's goodness is the way he treats those with no power at all, who are at his mercy: animals.
- Tereza has made friends with one of the cows, whom she calls Marketa.
- Animals used to all have names, says the narrator, but now they do not; this means that the world has proved Descartes correct, man has made animals soulless.
- The narrator continues to see the image of Tereza, sitting on the tree stump, surrounded by her grazing cows.
- Another image comes to his mind: that of Nietzsche, who in 1889, at seeing a horseman beating his horse, went up to the animal, put his arms around its neck, and burst into tears.
- The narrator feels as though Nietzsche was trying to apologize to the horse for Descartes.
- Nietzsche's lunacy (Nietzsche did indeed end his life as a lunatic), and his break from mankind, began at this moment.
- And yet this is the Nietzsche whom the narrator loves, just as he loves the image of Tereza sitting in the field with her cows.
- The narrator sees them both stepping off of the road where mankind marches forward.
Part 7, Chapter 3
- Tereza dreams that Karenin gives birth to two rolls and a bee. She tells Tomas about it, and they take comfort in the fact that her dream turns Karenin's illness into a pregnancy, and something comical at that.
- That morning, Karenin can't get out of bed. Tereza goes to the bakery without him, and brings him back his roll. He won't even get up to come get it.
- Tomas puts the roll in his own mouth and gets on all fours to play with the dog. They are both happy when Karenin finally yelps – they see this as his will to live.
- The next day they all go on a walk together. Tomas asks Tereza to bring her camera and take pictures
- The next day Tereza sees Tomas reading and then trying to quickly hide a letter.
- When he is gone, she finds the envelope it came in.
- The handwriting looks unfamiliar, but appears to be that of a woman. She is certain he does not have a mistress in the country, but is greatly depressed at the thought that he has kept up with a mistress in Prague, even through letters.
- Tereza starts thinking of what the future will be like without Karenin. She goes out into the garden and marks a spot for his grave.
- Tomas gets angry at her for this, and she responds by making him feel guilty about waking Karenin with his shouting.
- They both go inside and wait with Karenin while he dies. They do not reconcile form their squabble, so each is alone as they watch Karenin die.
Part 7, Chapter 4
- The word "idyll" is important to Tereza, and the narrator stops to consider why.
- In light of the Old Testament, he argues, an idyll is an image of Paradise that remains with us. In such an image, time runs circularly, a repeated routine.
- When people live in the country, life moves this way, circularly, and so they maintain this glimmer of Paradise. That is why the countryside conjures an image of an idyll for Teresa.
- Adam, if he saw his reflection, did not recognize that he was seeing himself. This makes him like Karenin, and unlike Tereza who has spent so much time trying to find herself by staring into the mirror.
- Because Adam was like Karenin, it means that he was not like man.
- Man's longing for Paradise, argues the narrator, is man's longing not to be man.
- When Tereza was a child, she was always disgusted by her mother's menstrual period, and wished that her mother had the shame to hide it.
- But don't forget that, despite the masculine name, Karenin is female, and so has periods. Interestingly, Tereza finds to be amusing, not disgusting. Why is this so? Because animals have no concept of disgust. This is why Tereza feels so lighthearted with him.
- It occurs to Tereza that her love for Karenin is better than her love for Tomas, because it is a selfless love.
- She didn't expect anything back from Karenin, she never tried to change him, and her love for him was voluntary.
- Animals, adds the narrator, were not expelled from Paradise, which means that the love for an animal is idyllic.
- Additionally, Karenin was happy to live his life in a circular manner, the same routine every day. He never got bored, whereas man needs repetition.
- Karenin could be happy, because "happiness is the longing for repetition" (7.4.13).
Part 7, Chapter 5
- One of the advantages that dogs have over people is that it is legal for them to be euthanized.
- When they can't bear to see Karenin suffer anymore, Tomas and Tereza decide to put him down.
- Because Tomas is a doctor, he takes responsibility for doing it himself.
- Tereza can't stand the look in Karenin's face, "a look of awful, unbearable trust" (7.5.6). His look was a question, because in Karenin's life, Tereza is his whole source of truth. Tereza knows that no one will ever look at her that way again.
- They usually don't feed Karenin sweets, but now Tereza puts a few pieces of chocolate on the floor before him. He doesn't raise his head.
- Tereza lays down on the floor and he licks her.
- She goes out to tend to her cows, and when she comes back Karenin is still lying on the floor in pain.
- When Tomas comes home, they pick up Karenin and lie him on the couch.
- Tomas cuts away the fur over a vein and while Tereza talks to the dog soothingly, Tomas injects the needle.
- Afterwards, both Tomas and Tereza have to go to work. They leave Karenin's body on the couch.
- When they come back, Tomas begins to dig the grave in the garden. Tereza leans over Karenin and mistakes her own breathing for that of the dog. She thinks he is still alive, but Tomas assures her he is not.
- They bury him in the garden along with his leash, collar, and the chocolate Tereza tried to feed him earlier.
- Tereza remembers her dream and imagines a monument above the grave with the words, "Here lies Karenin. He gave birth to two rolls and a bee" (7.5.32).
Part 7, Chapter 6
- Although we aren't told explicitly, we quickly figure out that the following is a dream sequence.
- In Tereza's dream, Tomas gets a letter saying that he has to report to the local airfield.
- Tereza insists on going with him, and they take his pickup truck to drive out there. They get in a small plane that is completely empty, and sit together.
- The airplane takes off and lands again. Tereza's reaction to the situation turns from horror to sadness, a sadness in which she is completely aware of her limitless love for Tomas.
- When they got off the plane, they see three men holding rifles.
- One of them shoots Tomas. Tereza watches his body shrink until he turns into a rabbit.
- The man with the rifle chases and catches the hare, then hands it, shaking with fear, to Tereza.
- Tereza cries tears of joy. She feels she is nearly at her goal.
- She takes the rabbit back to Prague and finds the house she grew up in.
- Her parents are not there. Instead, she is greeted by her great-grandfather and great-grandmother.
- Tereza takes the rabbit to her old room and lies down on the bed with it.
Part 7, Chapter 7
- Back to real life now.
- Finally, Tomas tells Tereza that he's been receiving letters she does not know about. They are from his son, who has been expelled from the university and now drives a tractor in a country village.
- Tomas notes that their lives may be separate, but are running parallel.
- Tereza is greatly relieved – remember that she thought the letters were from a lover.
- Tomas reveals that his son broke with his fellow political activists, whom he now calls "eternal revolutionaries" (7.7.8).
- Tomas's son, Simon, has now adopted religion as his cause. He thinks if we follow God, we can obtain the kingdom of God on earth. Tomas wonders whether his son really believes in God, or has joined the church because it helps him fight the regime.
- Tomas explains that he used to think believers were something transcendent, but now he sees that to have faith is simply a choice one makes. He finds it "terribly simple" (7.7.13).
- He adds that he's never been able to reply because his son leaves no return address.
- Tereza is ashamed for having suspected Tomas of infidelity. She suggests inviting him to come visit.
- Tomas explains that he made up his mind long ago to have nothing to do with his son, and he doesn't really know why, but that his decision has persisted by sheer inertia after all these years, getting harder and harder to change. But Tereza insists.
- That afternoon, Tereza catches a glimpse from a distance of Tomas changing a tire on his pickup and is struck by how old he looks.
- She remembers the chairman recently telling her how Tomas's truck was in such bad shape, and how he's trying to get permission for Tomas to work locally as a doctor.
- Tereza suddenly feels responsible for this whole mess.
- It's her fault Tomas came back to Prague from Zurich, and her fault that he then left Prague for the country.
- She sees how unfair she's been, always reproaching him for not loving her enough.
- If she really loved him, she would have stayed with him in Zurich. It's her fault he will never hold a scalpel again.
- Tereza goes home and takes a bath. Her weakness doesn't make her the victim, she decides. Her weakness is aggressive and has taken Tomas's strength from him, turned him into a rabbit in her arms.
- After Tereza gets dressed, Tomas bursts in with the collective farm chairman and a very pale young farm worker. He yells for her to get some alcohol for the young man. It turns out that the young man dislocated his shoulder, and Tomas jerked it quickly back into place.
- Once the hullabaloo is over, they decide to all go dancing together. They even bring the chairman's pig with them.
- On the dance floor, Tereza tells Tomas that it's her fault this life is so awful. But Tomas says that he's happier here. He's happy having no mission and being free.
- Tereza thinks of how he looked so old earlier that day. What does it mean to be a rabbit? To lose one's strength.
- She leans on Tomas and is both happy that they are together and sad that they are "at the last station" together (7.7.71). But "happiness fill[s] the space of sadness" (7.7.71).
- They've rented rooms for the night so they don't have to drive home late.
- After the dancing is over, Tomas and Tereza go upstairs to their room. A nocturnal butterfly flutters overhead the twin beds pushed together, and they can hear the piano and violin from downstairs.