The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by

Milan Kundera

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Tereza Character Analysis

Tomas’s wife. Tereza first meets Tomas working in a country restaurant in Czechoslovakia. When Tomas walks through the door of the restaurant, Beethoven, Tereza’s favorite composer, is playing on the radio. Tomas places an open book—which, to Tereza, is the symbol of a “secret brotherhood” and “something higher” in the form of knowledge and enlightenment—on the table. When Tomas says his train is leaving at six—Tereza’s childhood address—she knows that Tomas is her Fate, and she follows him to Prague and marries him. Tereza serves as the personification of the soul in the novel, and she despises her physical body, an aversion that is worsened by Tomas’s repeated infidelity. Lost amongst Tomas’s many mistresses, Tereza is just one body out of many, and she is convinced that Tomas does not love her if he can have sex with other women. Tomas, however, claims that sex and love exist independent of each other and says his affairs are no threat to his love for Tereza. Tereza tries to understand his lighthearted approach to sex, but she is represented in the novel as “heavy” compared to Tomas. Tereza believes in love and committed relationships, and she carries her entire life around in a massive suitcase, a physical symbol of her weighty character. To test Tomas’s theory about love and sex, Tereza has sex with a tall stranger she meets in the Prague bar where she works, but she doesn’t leave the encounter convinced that Tomas is right. She tries to disconnect her soul from her body, and she refuses to enjoy sex with the stranger. She is ultimately unable, and when she begins to orgasm, she spits in his face. Through Tereza, Kundera implies that the body and soul cannot be separated as easily as their duality might suggest. Tereza and Tomas are killed in a car accident near the middle of novel, crushed under the weight of a truck; however, the night before they are killed, Tereza is secure in her love for Tomas and is convinced that it knows no bounds.

Tereza Quotes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The The Unbearable Lightness of Being quotes below are all either spoken by Tereza or refer to Tereza. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of The Unbearable Lightness of Being published in 2009.
Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Tomas came to this conclusion: Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).

Related Characters: Tomas, Tereza
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

Something else raised him above the others as well: he had an open book on his table. No one had ever opened a book in that restaurant before. In Tereza’s eyes, books were the emblems of a secret brotherhood. For she had but a single weapon against the world of crudity surrounding her: the books she took out of the municipal library, and above all, the novels. She had read any number of them, from Fielding to Thomas Mann. They not only offered the possibility of an imaginary escape from a life she found unsatisfying; they also had a meaning for her as physical objects: she loved to walk down the street with a book under her arm. It had the same significance for her as an elegant cane for the dandy a century ago. It differentiated her from others.

Related Characters: Tomas, Tereza
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 47-8
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

Early in the novel that Tereza clutched under her arm when she went to visit Tomas, Anna meets Vronsky in curious circumstances: they are at the railway station when someone is run over by a train. At the end of the novel, Anna throws herself under a train. This symmetrical composition—the same motif appears at the beginning and at the end—may seem quite “novelistic” to you, and I am willing to agree, but only on condition that you refrain from reading such notions as “fictive,” “fabricated,” and “untrue to life” into the word “novelistic.” Because human lives are composed in precisely such a fashion.

Related Characters: Tomas, Tereza
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

Let me return to this dream. Its horror did not begin with Tomas’s first pistol shot; it was horrifying from the outset. Marching naked in formation with a group of naked women was for Tereza the quintessential image of horror. When she lived at home, her mother forbade her to lock the bathroom door. What she meant by her injunction was: Your body is just like all other bodies; you have no right to shame; you have no reason to hide something that exists in millions of identical copies. In her mother’s world all bodies were the same and marched behind one another in formation. Since childhood, Tereza had seen nudity as a sign of concentration camp uniformity, a sign of humiliation.

Related Characters: Tomas, Tereza, Tereza’s Mother
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 20 Quotes

“Here is a painting I happened to drip red paint on. At first I was terribly upset, but then I started enjoying it. The trickle looked like a crack; it turned the building site into a battered old backdrop, a backdrop with a building site painted on it. I began playing with the crack, filling it out, wondering what might be visible behind it. And that’s how I began my first cycle of paintings. I called it “Behind the Scenes.” Of course, I couldn’t show them to anybody. I’d have been kicked out of the Academy. On the surface, there was always an impeccably realistic world, but underneath, behind the backdrop’s cracked canvas, lurked something different, something mysterious or abstract.”

Related Characters: Sabina (speaker), Tomas, Tereza
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 26 Quotes

Thinking in Zurich of those days, she no longer felt any aversion to the man. The word “weak” no longer sounded like a verdict. Any man confronted with superior strength is weak, even if he has an athletic body like Dubcek’s. The very weakness that at the time had seemed unbearable and repulsive, the weakness that had driven Tereza and Tomas from the country, suddenly attracted her. 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 precisely because they were weak and gasped for breath in the middle of sentences.

Related Characters: Tereza, Alexander Dubcek
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5, Chapter 21 Quotes

The pain grew more intense. He could not speak. It occurred to him that his womanizing was also something of an “Es muss sein!”—an imperative enslaving him. He longed for a holiday. But for an absolute holiday, a rest from all imperatives, from all “Es muss sein!" If he could take a rest (a permanent rest) from the hospital operating table, then why not from the world operating table, the one where his imaginary scalpel opened the strongbox women use to hide their illusory one-millionth part dissimilarity?

Related Characters: Tomas, Tereza
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5, Chapter 22 Quotes

He thought: In the clockwork of the head, two cogwheels turn opposite each other. On the one, images; on the other, the body’s reactions. The cog carrying the image of a naked woman meshes with the corresponding erection-command cog. But when, for one reason or another, the wheels go out of phase and the excitement cog meshes with a cog bearing the image of a swallow in flight, the penis rises at the sight of a swallow.

Moreover, a study by one of Tomas’s colleagues, a specialist in human sleep, claimed that during any kind of dream men have erections, which means that the link between erections and naked women is only one of a thousand ways the Creator can set the clockwork moving in a man’s head.

And what has love in common with all this? Nothing. If a cogwheel in Tomas’s head goes out of phase and he is excited by seeing a swallow, it has absolutely no effect on his love for Tereza.

Related Characters: Tomas, Tereza
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 7, Chapter 4 Quotes

But most of all: No one can give anyone else the gift of the idyll; only an animal can do so, because only animals were not expelled from Paradise. The love between dog and man is idyllic. It knows no conflicts, no hair-raising scenes; it knows no development. Karenin surrounded Tereza and Tomas with a life based on repetition, and he expected the same from them.

Related Characters: Tomas, Tereza, Karenin
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

If Karenin had been a person instead of a dog, he would surely have long since said to Tereza, “Look, I’m sick and tired of carrying that roll in my mouth every day. Can’t you come up with something different?’’ And therein lies the whole of man’s plight. Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition

Related Characters: Tomas, Tereza, Karenin
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Unbearable Lightness of Being PDF

Tereza Character Timeline in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The timeline below shows where the character Tereza appears in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 3
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...front of a window, absentmindedly staring outside. It has been three weeks since Tomas met Tereza. They met briefly in Tereza’s small Czech town, but she soon visited Tomas in Prague.... (full context)
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
Tomas doesn’t know what to do about his feelings for Tereza, but, the narrator says, such indecisiveness is natural. Life occurs only once, and one does... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
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One day at the hospital (Tomas is a surgeon), Tereza calls and tells him she is coming to Prague on business. He is ecstatic, and... (full context)
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Inviting Tereza to stay at his flat violates Tomas’s way of living. Tomas, who has long since... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
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Until Tereza, Tomas made a concerted effort to remove all love from his life. If he allowed... (full context)
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Whenever Tereza spends the night alone in the small flat Tomas has rented for her, she is... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
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One night, Tereza wakes from a nightmare. She tells Tomas that in her dream, she was forced to... (full context)
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Tomas confronts Tereza about the letter, and she admits to reading it. Tereza tells him to kick her... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
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Despite Tomas’s attempts to convince Tereza that the other women in his life mean nothing, Tereza can think of little else.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
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...in Czech at least, a superior form of love. This is how Tomas feels about Tereza—he shares all her emotions, including her anger over his infidelity, and he finds it impossible... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 10
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After two years with Tereza, Tomas still has not given up his mistresses, but he has found he is unable... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
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To convince Tereza of his love for her, Tomas marries her and gives her a puppy. The dog... (full context)
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Even with Karenin’s help, Tomas isn’t able to make Tereza happy, and Tomas becomes acutely aware of this fact on the 10th day of Russia’s... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
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During the first week of the Russian occupation, Tereza walks the streets of Prague taking pictures. She gives most of her film undeveloped to... (full context)
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...it is clear they will now “have to bow to the conqueror.” Given all this, Tereza says, she is willing to go to Zurich, even though she knows that Sabina has... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
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Tomas and Tereza move to Switzerland with Karenin, and it isn’t long before Tomas makes plans to see... (full context)
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Tomas and Tereza live in Zurich for about six months, and then Tomas comes home to find that... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14
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Tomas feels “utterly powerless” after Tereza leaves, but he finds this feeling strangely comforting. He is not being forced by anyone... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 16
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...“Es muss sein!” he says to himself again. Tomas knows that staying in Zurich without Tereza would have been unbearable, but he wonders how long this feeling would have lasted. A... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 17
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Words and Language Theme Icon
...circling the night sky. He thinks back to when he first fell in love with Tereza, and she told him that if she hadn’t fallen in love with him, she would... (full context)
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Tomas has returned to Prague because of Tereza, and the need to make such a heavy decision would not have existed if not... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
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The narrator claims that he will not try to convince the reader that Tomas and Tereza actually lived. He has created them, and Tereza was born the first day she visited... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
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Tereza, the narrator says, illustrates “the irreconcilable duality of body and soul.” The body is a... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
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As a girl, Tereza would stand in front of the mirror and stare at her body. Afraid of being... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
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Tereza takes after her mother, physically and in other ways. At times, the narrator thinks of... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
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Tereza’s mother resented her “old and ugly” reflection and took her negative feelings out on Tereza,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
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At age 15, Tereza’s mother forced Tereza to quit school and go to work in a restaurant. Tereza was... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
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Tereza’s mother was not modest in the least. She talked publically about sex and even removed... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
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Tereza’s mother thought that the world was a “vast concentration camp of bodies,” each one alike... (full context)
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The first time Tereza met Tomas, he was a customer in the restaurant where she worked. He placed a... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 9
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Back in Prague after leaving Zurich, Tomas becomes worried that his relationship with Tereza is based on six coincidences. But isn’t an event more significant, the narrator asks, if... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
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...restaurant of the small Czech town and motioned to his waitress, who happened to be Tereza, Tereza took note of the book. He told her to charge his bill to his... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
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...unnoticed. The narrator notes that such coincidences are what bring Anna and Vronsky together in Tereza’s favorite book, Anna Karenina. Anna and Vronsky meet at a train station when someone falls... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
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When Tereza left her small town for Prague to visit Tomas, she felt a slight scratch in... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13
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When Tomas and Tereza made love, Tereza screamed at the top of her lungs. Her scream was not one... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 14
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...to differentiate herself from the drunk patrons she was forced to serve in the restaurant, Tereza read as many books as she could, even more than most university students. Living in... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
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Tereza’s recurring dream, in which she walks naked around a pool with other naked women, is... (full context)
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Tomas is the one who has sent Tereza to stand with the other women, the narrator says, and that is what the dream... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 16
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Tereza soon comes to understand that her three reoccurring nightmares are meant to accuse Tomas of... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 17
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Anyone who aspires to “something higher,” like Tereza does with her obsession with books, will suffer vertigo. Vertigo, the narrator says, is more... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 18
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Before leaving Prague for Zurich, Tereza’s mother had called Tereza and told her that she was dying of cancer. Tereza told... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 19
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Tereza kept thinking about Sabina’s letter to Tomas, the one in which Sabina said she wanted... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 20
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Tereza wanted to understand Tomas’s infidelity, which is why she befriended Sabina before Sabina left Prague... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 21
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At Sabina’s studio, Tereza noticed a black bowler hat on a stand. Sabina said it had been her grandfather’s,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 22
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Tereza’s camera was both an eye for her to see Tomas’s mistress through and a way... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 23
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Tereza took hundreds of photos of the Russian occupation of Prague before moving to Switzerland. She... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 24
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When Tereza was in Zurich, she tried to sell some of her photographs of the Russian invasion... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 25
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As the magazine editor looked at Tereza’s photographs, she remarked that Tereza would make a good fashion photographer. She agreed that Tereza’s... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 26
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In Zurich, Tomas was always at work, and Tereza was left alone with Karenin. She kept thinking about Dubcek and his speech on the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 27
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...tried to establish his routine in Zurich, and he was “the timepiece” of Tomas and Tereza’s lives. (full context)
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One day, the phone rang and Tereza answered it. It was a woman asking for Tomas, and Tereza immediately began thinking of... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 28
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As Tereza sat on the train to Prague with her massive suitcase and Karenin, she began again... (full context)
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Tereza had planned on returning to her small hometown rather than staying on in Prague, but... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 29
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...present moment. Tomas has a stomachache, and he can’t sleep. As Russian planes fly overhead, Tereza wakes, too. She thinks about Tomas and how he left Zurich for her and feels... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10
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...then she receives a letter from Simon, Tomas’s son, which informs her of Tomas and Tereza’s deaths. (full context)
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According to Simon’s letter, Tomas and Tereza had lived the last few years in a small town in Czechoslovakia. They were killed... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 1
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When Tereza comes home from work, it is already late, and by the time she climbs into... (full context)
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At six o’clock, the alarm goes off, and Karenin jumps onto the bed, licking Tereza and Tomas. Karenin has been up waiting for hours (as he always is) but waited... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2
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...things to say about each other. “Every country has its secret police,” Tomas says to Tereza. “But a secret police that broadcasts its tapes over the radio—there’s something that could happen... (full context)
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Tereza tells Tomas about a time when she was a young girl and kept a secret... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 3
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Tereza always gets up to have breakfast with Tomas, even though she works until midnight. If... (full context)
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Tereza walks to her appointment because she hates the crowded trains. On her way to the... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 4
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As Tereza walks to the sauna, she thinks about her mother. What is gained by exposing someone... (full context)
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Tereza always uses the term “concentration camp” to explain where her family was kept during World... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 5
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Tereza sits in the sauna, sweating with the other naked women, and she stares at a... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 6
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After showering, Tereza stares at her naked body in the mirror. She does not have big breasts or... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 7
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Back at home, Tereza eats lunch standing up at the sink. She has to go to work soon, a... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 8
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Tomas always tries to convince Tereza that love and sex are different things, and she tries to think about this as... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 9
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One day, a young man of about 16 comes into Tereza’s restaurant and begins to flirt with her. He compliments Tereza’s legs and asks for a... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 10
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A few days later, the tall stranger comes back to Tereza’s restaurant and begins to flirt with her. He tells her that he is an engineer... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 11
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Tereza looks at Tomas and admits that she can’t take his infidelity or her guilt anymore.... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 12
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Tereza finds herself at the foot of Petrin Hill and walks to the top. There are... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 13
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One of the men approaches Tereza to blindfold her, but she stops him and says she would rather watch. She doesn’t... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 14
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Tereza cries as she walks down Petrin Hill. The man with the gun was kind, and... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 15
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The tall stranger keeps inviting Tereza to his flat. She knows nothing about him except that he is an engineer, and... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 16
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...a curtain dividing it. He has little furniture, but hundreds of books line the walls. Tereza feels instantly comfortable. This many books have to be a good sign. She reaches up... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 17
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The tall stranger begins to undress Tereza, but she refuses to help. Her soul disagrees with what her body is doing, and... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 18
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Alone in the tall stranger’s bathroom, Tereza sits on the cold porcelain toilet. She feels the urge to empty her bowels and... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 19
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Outside the bathroom, Tereza stands on the other side of the curtain. The tall stranger calls her from behind... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 20
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Later, walking home with Karenin, Tereza notices the head of a crow on the ground near a housing development. As she... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 21
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Sitting on the bathroom floor with the crow, Tereza thinks about the tall stranger. She asks herself if her visit to the tall stranger... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 22
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When Tereza and Tomas were in the first year of their relationship, Tereza used to scream during... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 23
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Every day Tereza secretly wishes for the tall stranger to return to the bar, but he never does.... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 24
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Tereza learns soon afterward from one of the men she works with that the obnoxious man... (full context)
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Tereza is suddenly convinced that the tall stranger was sent to trap and incriminate her. No... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 25
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...to think about a place and time where their current troubles no longer matter, but Tereza feels a strong desire to go backward, so she and Tomas decide to go for... (full context)
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When Tereza and Tomas arrive at the spa hotel, which was previously named “Grand,” they find that... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 26
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Tereza can not stop thinking that the tall stranger is part of the secret police. When... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 27
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After leaving the spa, Tomas and Tereza go to a small café, where Tomas runs into one of his old patients. The... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 28
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Driving back to Prague, Tereza wonders if any photographs exist of her with the tall stranger. Maybe the secret police... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 29
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Alone at home, Tereza wakes up. She dresses and goes outside to see the Vltava. Standing over the river,... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 1
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When Tereza first came to Prague, Tomas had thought her like a child who had been floated... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 8
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Tomas loves Beethoven because Tereza loves Beethoven, so he has no idea about the story behind “Muss es sein? Es... (full context)
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...when his former patients find out what he is doing, they begin to request him. Tereza works the night shift, and the only time they see each other is at breakfast.... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 12
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...certain “poetic memory,” such as that which remembers thunderstorms during love-making, and it is only Tereza who occupies Tomas’s poetic memory. “Love begins with a metaphor,” the narrator claims, at the... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 13
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...doesn’t want to be with other women today, as his thoughts are completely focused on Tereza. Arriving at the address, Tomas is relieved when a man answers the door. He is... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 18
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Tomas hardly sees Tereza anymore. They are only off from work on Sundays, but they sleep next to each... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 21
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...depression. He usually keeps medicine on hand, but he has not stocked the cabinet recently. Tereza comments on how terrible Prague has been lately and suggests moving to the country. They... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 22
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...erection looking at a bird, it would have nothing to do with his love for Tereza. Equating love with sex is one of the Creator’s strangest ideas, Tomas thinks. (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 10
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...Soviet kitsch becoming reality, it sends a shiver down her spine. She feels much like Tereza felt during her reoccurring dream of being marched naked around the pool. Sabina and Tereza’s... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 23
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...at by many familiar eyes, like at parties and dinners. The third group, such as Tereza and Tomas, need the constant gaze of one specific person. The fourth group, where Franz... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 24
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...had a nice visit, and then a few months later, Simon found out Tomas and Tereza had been crushed by a truck. Simon heard about Sabina, his father’s former mistress, and... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 1
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Tereza and Tomas sell nearly everything they own in Prague and move to the country. The... (full context)
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...autonomy. No one actually wants to live there, and country people are mostly left alone. Tereza and Tomas went to the country voluntarily, and they had no problem finding a small... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 2
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...clear that Karenin’s cancer is spreading, but he still goes to work every day with Tereza. Human goodness, the narrator says, if it is truly pure, can only exist if the... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 3
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The next morning, Karenin refuses to get up for his morning walk. Tereza marks a place out between two apple trees. Tomas asks her if she is marking... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 4
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The word “idyll” has always been very important to Tereza. The “idyll” began in the Old Testament, and it expressed life in Paradise. Life in... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 5
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Tomas and Tereza decide that it is time to euthanize Karenin. He is suffering, and neither one of... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 6
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...hands the letter, which requests his presence at the airfield in the next town, to Tereza. Tereza insists on going with him, and they immediately leave for the airport. When they... (full context)
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When the plane lands, Tereza and Tomas see three men outside wearing hooded masks and holding rifles. They step off... (full context)
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Tereza walks the streets of Prague holding the rabbit until she comes to her childhood home.... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 7
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...the years, but he gives no return address, and until now, Tomas has never told Tereza about them. Tomas tells her about the letters and adds that Simon’s mother was a... (full context)
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Tereza convinces Tomas to invite Simon to visit. They can tell by the postmark which collective... (full context)
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Later, Tereza takes a bath and thinks about how “aggressive” her weakness was, and how it  “transformed... (full context)
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...a bar and dancefloor, and they rent two rooms for the night. They drink, and Tereza dances with the collective farm chairman and then Tomas. As they dance, Tereza apologizes for... (full context)
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After drinking and dancing, Tereza and Tomas go upstairs to their room. They feel both happiness and sadness. Sadness because... (full context)