The role of Animals in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Poems New and Collected

The role of Animals in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Poems New and Collected

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Since animals, usually pets, are sometimes an essential part of one’s life, it is not surprising that we find frequent references to its role in works of social realism, such as Wislawa Szymborska’s Poems New and Collected and Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being. Animals in literature could be used to symbolize all sorts of things, but in particular, animals may represent the personality of a character. This is because as humans and animals co-exist in the same atmosphere, certain aspects of a character reveal themselves in the compassion or even hatred towards the animal. Since animals are often known to trigger the interests of humans, the attitude of the humans towards the animals contributes much to character revelation. Both Szymborska and Kundera use animals to symbolize character personality in their works. Therefore, through looking at animals, although it does seem to be a very commonplace topic, we may gain insight to what the writers are trying to convey about the character. This paper will compare the ways the writers use animals to determine a character’s personality or characteristics.
A recurring character in Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of being is Karenin, a dog saved from death by one of the novel’s protagonists, Tomas. He had wanted some sort of a distraction that would keep Tereza’s attention off him so that he could persist with his life that he believed he had control over:
At last he made his choice: a bitch whose body seemed reminiscent of the German shepherd and whose head belonged to its Saint Bernard mother. He took it home to Tereza, who picked it up and pressed it to her breast.¹
Through the novel, Karenin, the ‘ugly dog’ Tomas brings home for Tereza, develops a bond between Tereza, which grows throughout the novel. Tereza is portrayed as a ‘heavy’ individual with considerably heavy burdens on both her shoulders. One other burden Tereza carries is, essentially, Karenin. It takes the place of Tomas when Tereza is alone, therefore – Tereza is bound, with love, to it. Kundera shows here, how Karenin affects Tereza’s personality by being next to her and being a comfort to her at times when heaviness settles in.
     Furthermore, with no baby between Tereza and Tomas’ marriage, Karenin acts as Tereza’s responsibility, both emotionally and financially. It seems that Tereza can make decisions only...


... middle of paper ...


...tion by executing government opposition – an example how humanity acted in ‘other’ moral situations.
The last chapter, ’Karenin’s Smile’, is counting up to Karenin’s death, while ‘between the lines’, Tereza and Tomas dies. Their death is outweighed by their dog’s death and its funeral. This shows how humanity seems to be condemned by their moral actions towards animals, the ‘test’ mentioned above.
     The way that the role of animals can be used as a literary effect is evident in both Kundera and Szymborska’s works. The two contrast eachother, Kundera suggests that the role of animals in his novel is that they become their owner’s peaceful character builder by having characters of their own. In Szymborska’s works, we see quite the opposite; she portrays the role of animals as people’s irritation, a vexation – where characters are rather barbaric and careless towards the animals. The two works show the same superiority of human over animals, yet the human attitudes towards them entirely dissimilar. We may perceive that the presence of animals, such delicate literary technique, determines the attitudes and personality of the characters of a literary work.

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