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The Role of Animals in The Unbearable Lightness of Being Essay Sample

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The Role of Animals in The Unbearable Lightness of Being Essay Sample

What role do animals (Karenin, Mefisto, the crow, the cows, etc.) play in the philosophic structure of The Unbearable Lightness of Being?

In Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the role of animals is always the opposite of the behavior of human being in the philosophic structure. For example, when a human character such as Tomas is experiencing heavy weight, the animals will always be the opposite — lightness.

In this novel, the relationship between of body and soul plays an important part in the role of animals. Tereza had always seen body and soul as one under the influence of her mother “where youth and beauty mean nothing, where the world is nothing but a vast concentration camp of bodies one like the next, with souls invisible” (47), until the day the engineer “lured her up to his flat” (152). Kundera contrasts the “excited” “soul” with the “betraying” “body” revealing the tension between the body and soul. (155) She also understood that “the soul for the first time saw the body as something other than banal” (155) that “this was not the most ordinary of bodies; this was the most extraordinary body” (155). On the contrary, “Karenin knew nothing about the duality of body and soul and had no concept of disgust” (297). Although Kundera does not entirely agree with Descartes, he noted that Descartes belives “when animals laments, it is not a lament; it is merely the rasp of a poorly functioning mechanism” (288).

“Karenin always kept [Tereza] company.” (284) He does not understand the concept of body and soul because his goal through his entire life is to serve and be loyal to his master, he does not need to satisfy anyone’s sexual needs, and does not need to carry the unbearable weight that Tomas and Tereza have to carry. During the period of time when he has cancer, Karenin was so weak that even chocolate didn’t lift up his mood. Yet he know his duty is to serve his masters, “as soon as he saw Tomas, he gave him a weak wag of the tail. “Look,” said Tereza, “he’s still smiling.””(301). When he is facing the death of cancer, all he can think of is the physical pain and “lying in a corner whimpering” (294). And this is why Tereza and Karenin both love each other so much in their own ways, because they fill in each other’s missing parts in their lives, and balancing the body and soul levels as they live. “That is why Tereza felt so free and easy with him.” (297). Gradually, Tereza’s love and tenderness began to fill Karenin’s missing hole (to learn how to identify the body and soul), because “no one forced her to love Karenin; love for dogs is voluntary” (298), therefore, when Tomas and Tereza “both have to go to work, Tereza went into see Karenin” (300), and “when he heard the door open and saw Tereza come in, he raised his head and looked at her” (300). The look that Karenin gave was not just a loyal and dutiful look, it was a stare.

The most frightening thing was “he did not look that way at Tomas” (300), but only at her. “it was not a desperate look, or even sad” (300). “It was a look of awful, unbearable trust. The look was an eager question. All his life Karenin had waited for answers from Tereza, and he was letting her know that he was still ready to learn the truth from her” (300). This stare proved that Tereza taught Karenin how to love and learn, to have an inner soul inside the body that came out the dying body; hence, she had filled in his empty space. It happens again when Tereza named a heifer, and it is a human being’s advantage to grant souls to animals, because “having a name is a sign of a soul” (290). Therefore, once Tereza named her Marketa, a soul comes along as a side order, building up their relationship to the next level.

Throughout the novel “weight” exemplifies characteristics of humans; whereas “lightness” reflects qualities similar to those of animals. The animals Kundera mention all symbolize lightness. Tomas and Tereza each have their own weight to carry; therefore having Karenin around made their lives happier because Karenin represented the opposite of weight and as mentioned above, they complete each other’s puzzle. Karenin was sent here from his God to balance their unbearable weight. Kundera mentioned the reason why “a dog’s menstruation made [Tereza] lighthearted and gay, while her own menstruation made her squeamish” (297) was because “dogs were never expelled from Paradise. Karenin knew nothing about the duality of body and soul and had no concept of disgust. That is why Tereza felt so free and easy with him” (297). When Karenin smiles, it takes off the weight from Tereza and Tomas, and therefore “they wanted [Karenin’s smile] to last as long as possible” (292). The same applies to the cows: when Tereza was “watching her heifers rub against one another, she thought what nice animals they were. Calm, guileless, and sometimes childishly animated, they looked like fat fifty-year-olds pretending they were fourteen. There was nothing more touching than cows at play” (287). This demonstrates how free they felt, having no worries or burden to bear.

Although the animals represent lightness, which is also happiness, they are the opposite of strong : weak. Karenin perform this statement well enough, no matter how happy and free he feels, he has a weak body, he needs care and love from others, Tereza and Tomas. He needs someone to “put a wad of absorbent cotton between his legs and pull a pair of old panties over [his bottom]” (296) when he has his periods. Especially when he has cancer, he needs the utmost care and time from them both in order to survive through day by day until the day he dies. When Tereza dreams that Tomas is shot and turned into a rabbit, it symbolizes weakness, showing that Tomas is afraid and weak inside, but he just looks strong outside. When Tereza see the crow buried alive, it represents weakness, reflecting Tereza’s own fate, for she is always drawn to weakness.

Tomas and Tereza have never believed in eternal return, so their lifetime goal is to march onward, and make progress. On the other hand, Karenin has always committed to a happy weightless routine. As the novel comes to the end, they each once again learn from each other, Tomas and Tereza move to the country where “it was a harmonious world; everyone came together in one big happy family with common interests and routines” (282). It proves that their contradictions connect to each other, which make them a happy family.

Through this novel, animals demonstrate their status and present the role often as opposites of the human beings in order to fill in the missing gaps. Kundera first show how human beings have souls while animals have none; he then show how human beings define weight whilst animals are as light as a feather; following up by human beings as strength opposing to animals as weakness; lastly, he makes a point that human beings only march onward while animals go around the cycle, eternally returning to their routines. Hence, the role of the animals is the opposite of the behavior of the human beings.

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