Study Guide

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Part 7, Chapter 2

By Milan Kundera

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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.

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