For Sabina, the word “woman” signifies one of the human sexes, but to Franz, it represents “a value.” According to Franz, not all women can be called “a woman,” and Sabina wonders if he considers his wife, Marie-Claude, a woman. Franz isn’t in love with Marie-Claude, but she loves him, and since he considers himself undeserving of love, he figures he owes Marie-Claude.
Franz has very little power in his relationship with Sabina, or in his relationship with Marie-Claude. He doesn’t love his wife, yet she still has a powerful hold over him, and this power continues when she later denies him a divorce after he admits to his infidelity. Sabina and Franz’s differing definitions of the word “woman” suggest again that even common words can have wildly different meanings from person to person.
Franz was raised by his mother and deeply loved her, and he tells Sabina all about her, hoping his faithfulness to his mother will impress her. But Sabina is “charmed more by betrayal than by fidelity.” To Sabina, “betrayal” is not an immoral offense but “means breaking ranks” and going “into the unknown,” and Sabina thinks there is nothing more wonderful than breaking ranks and heading into the unknown. From a young age, Sabina did everything she could to betray her family and her home, especially her father.
Again, the conflicting definitions for both “betrayal” and “fidelity” underscore the ambiguity of language. Sabina’s “betrayals” keep her moving through much of the book, but such betrayals are also seen in Tomas’s relationship with his son, and in Tereza and Tomas’s move to the country. Before they move they “break” from their friends, or essentially betray them to head into the unknown.
Franz thinks the word “music” signifies something of true beauty, but Sabina hates music. When she was a girl, Czechoslovakia’s Communist government played music from loudspeakers each day from early morning to late at night. To Sabina, “the music was like a pack of hounds that had been sicked on her,” and she has hated music ever since. Not only does Franz think music is beautiful, he likes it because it drowns out the sound of words. As a professor, words are Franz’s life, but he thinks words are imprecise and really don’t mean anything. To Franz, music is the “anti-word.”
This passage underscores the ambiguity of language in the most explicit terms yet—Franz makes it clear that no one, not even a professor, can really trust words. This passage also reveals the power of Czechoslovakia’s Communist government over the people. Sabina was effectively manipulated by music. Music is supposed to be beautiful, yet the Communists use it as another way to control citizens and force happiness and compliance. Sabina connects music with this experience, and it has therefore lost its beauty.