The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 7, Chapters 1–7 : Karenin's Smile | Summary



Part 7, which concludes the novel, is called "Karenin's Smile" after Tereza and Tomas's attempts to make their dying dog happy. Its seven chapters follow Tereza's close third-person point of view.

At the start of Chapter 1 Tereza and Tomas have moved to the countryside and the collective chairman becomes a close friend. Tomas drives a truck for a living, and Tereza tends to the cows on the farm. Tragedy strikes when their beloved dog Karenin is diagnosed with cancer.

With this terrible diagnosis, Tereza reflects on her love of animals in Chapter 2. This love makes her feel "cut off, isolated" from her neighbors because they are "indignant" someone should love a dog so much. Her love extends to other animals, too, and she names one of the cows. Though the philosopher Descartes said animals are merely "animated machines," Karenin is everything to Tereza. By Chapter 3 Karenin feels worse, and Tereza and Tomas do everything they can to get him to "smile." Tereza fears life without Karenin, and she and Tomas keep vigil over the dog.

In Chapter 4 Kundera meditates on the Biblical concept of paradise. The longing for Paradise, he says, is "man's longing not to be man"—for a time when man was unaware of his own image. A dog, the author says, knows nothing about "the duality of body and soul," so dogs were never expelled from Paradise. Tereza, in fact, muses that her love for Karenin is more pure than her love for Tomas because "it is a completely selfless love." She accepts Karenin "for what he was." Both husband and wife, however, agree that it's time to end Karenin's suffering. In Chapter 5 Tomas euthanizes him, and the couple buries him in the yard.

Tereza has a nightmare in Chapter 6 in which Tomas is shot in front of a firing squad and then turns into a rabbit. Crying "tears of joy" she takes the rabbit to her childhood home "with the feeling that she [is] nearly at her goal." At her home she finds her great-grandparents and her childhood room, where she sees perched on a lamp a butterfly that has "two large eyes painted on its widespread wings." In Chapter 7, the novel's last, Tomas reveals to Tereza that he has been receiving letters from his son. Simon, he explains, believes in God and the Catholic Church. Tereza tells him to invite Simon to visit. That afternoon, Tomas has car trouble.

That afternoon she notices that Tomas is looking old and gray. She regrets that her influence over his life has caused the end of his career. They drive to a nearby town to go dancing at a hotel with the chairman of the collective and a young farmer. Tomas, dancing with her, calms her fears and tells her he is happy on the collective. She has reached her goal, she thinks: he is old, no longer stronger than she is. She is both happy and sad. They go their hotel room, where a butterfly begins circling the room.


Kundera might have ended his novel with Part 6, where he wraps up his characters' stories and reveals their fates. Readers might then wonder about the purpose of Part 7. The section heading may provide a symbolic clue. Karenin's smile represents Karenin's will to live. Karenin may be a dog, but to Tereza and Tomas, he is also a symbol of their love. Tomas got him for Tereza, and they named him after the book—Anna Karenina—that Tereza considered her ticket into Tomas's world. Not only is Karenin symbolic to Tereza and Tomas, as an animal he symbolizes Kundera's main theme of lightness versus weight. Kundera contends that because animals live circular, routine days, they are examples of the happiness that eternal return brings. The author says in Chapter 5 that because human time does not run in such a circle, "man cannot be happy."

Readers learned in Part 3, Chapter 10 that Tomas and Tereza would go to a "cheap hotel" in the next town from time to time. They crashed and died when their brakes failed coming down a steep incline. It is possible that the incident takes place the day after the last scene in the novel; Tomas's car trouble foreshadows the accident.

This foreshadowing deepens the meaning of the last scene. When Tereza and Tomas go upstairs in the hotel, a butterfly begins "circling [their] room." Through this metaphor, Kundera allows the soul to experience eternal return. Whose soul? Perhaps his, or his characters' souls, or maybe the souls of his readers. In any case, the ending seems to indicate a softening of his earlier assertion that humans cannot experience happiness. Providing this last hopeful image of the butterfly is Kundera's way of transforming linear time into circular time and allowing the possibility of happiness through mutual love.

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