Eternal Recurrence In The Unbearable Essay

Length: 13 pages Sources: 7 Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy Type: Essay Paper: #78328469 Related Topics: Car Accident, Peace Like A River, Egyptian Revolution, Gay Parenting
Excerpt from Essay :

Despite Kundera's own assertion that Nietzsche's eternal recurrence can only be interpreted metaphorically, he manifests four different forms of this philosophy by means of the lives he describes. These indeed include the literal interpretation, where actions and events literally repeat throughout a lifetime; the collective, where similar events occur in different lives but in similar relationships; the symbolic, where symbols recur within lifetimes, and the metaphorical, which Kundera describes in the beginning of the novel, where the same events occur in different forms. These forms of recurrence deserve some more detailed discussion, as follows.

Literal Recurrence

Tereza and Tomas's relationship is somewhat problematic from the beginning, but no less inevitable for it. It is as if the decision to stay together despite the fact that their needs and goals are incompatible is made on their behalf by a power similar to fate. Hence the various fateful events that resulted in their relationship. At their first encounter, Tereza comes down with a fever and Tomas nurses her back to health before she returns to her home. His indecision of whether to see her again is annihilated by Tereza's ultimate decision to visit him, complete with life in a suitcase.

At the beginning of the relationship, Tomas's recurring infidelities lead to recurring nightmares for Tereza. She suffers pain, humiliation and death during these dreams, signifying her subconscious experience of Tomas's addiction to other women. Tomas on the other hand suffers recurring pain at Tereza's unhappiness, which reaches its climax when she leaves him. Particularly, Tomas recurrently cheats on his wife with Sabina, his favorite mistress. These are all cases of literal recurrence in the relationship; similar choices are continually made, and Tereza and Tomas are condemned to eternal suffering as a result of choosing to stay together.

Even when they leave Prague for Switzerland, Tomas continues his choice to maintain his relationships with both Sabina and Tereza. It appears that the two supplement each other, which is why Tomas never leaves his wife for Sabina or indeed Sabina for is wife. It is a repetition that he needs to remain fulfilled in his life, as well as to maintain a sense of meaning and joy. Kundera (17) writes of Tomas:

"he thought happily that he carried his way of living with him as a snail carries his house. Tereza and Sabina represented the two poles of his life, sepa-rate and irreconcilable, yet equally appealing."

He therefore literally perpetuates the choices that he made in Prague, where he sees both his wife and mistress as supplemental to his happiness. This repetitive happiness is however destroyed when Tereza decides to move back to Prague. Although Tomas finds this mildly shocking when reading Tereza's letter to him, his first sensation is of joy and freedom. This freedom is a repetition of the lifestyle he enjoyed before agonizing over his feelings for Tereza. Tomas was once again free to pursue his carefree lifestyle in terms of several mistresses at the same time. He views his recurrence of freedom as follows (Kundera 18):

"New adventures hid around each corner. The future was again a secret. He was on his way back to the bachelor life, the life he had once felt destined for, the life that would let him be what he actually was."

This sense of freedom however does not last, and he finds that the only way to relieve his agony is to repeat his actions of the past: choose life with Tereza. Sadly, only the dog Karenin was happy to see him, effectively repeating the pattern of the relationship. Indeed, Karenin's experience of life and happiness is perhaps most representative of Kundera's central theme: recurrence is a requirement of the security that underlies human happiness. Indeed, Karenin is a model for Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence. Kundera (41) says that his concept of time moves "in a circle like the hands of a clock." Any change "disturbed his sense of time," whether this change entailed a minor modification like a new chair or a major event like the move to Switzerland. This is probably the most literal representation of the eternal recurrence theme in the novel.

The concept of collective recurrence is somewhat literal, in that events that are nearly the same repeat themselves for different


An interesting phenomenon here is the literal repetition of the events in the novel from the viewpoint of each character.

Collective Recurrence

As mentioned above, Kundera quite literally addresses the concept of eternal recurrence by means of construction in the novel. He returns to each event several times, from the viewpoint of different characters. Initially, the various stages of Tomas and Tereza's love is told from Tomas's viewpoint, while later the events are viewed through Tereza's eyes. Sabina and Franz also have some part in completing the full story of Tomas and Tereza's love. Their story ends in a fatal car accident, but the book and the author's narration of the story do not. Tomas and Tereza are "revived" through the viewpoint of others' experience of their story. This complicated construction of the novel promotes the idea of eternal recurrence, where time is experienced as circular rather than linear. The indication is also that life does not end with death, but that death is simply a stage among many that make up the construction of life. In this way, the collective experience of the same events, as repeated throughout the novel, provides a symbolic sense of repetition.

The eternal recurrence is also demonstrated by collective experience as denoted by means of parallel events within different lives and individuals. One such parallel narrative is that of Franz and Marie-Claude. They are also married, like Tomas and Tereza, although Marie-Claude takes a decidedly subordinate role to that of Tereza. She simply acts as support for the roles of the others. Sabina is the connecting device between the two couples by being the mistress of both Franz and Tomas.

Specifically, events that recur in these parallel relationships are the meetings between Sabina and the respective wives, and also the addictive relationships she has with the respective husbands. Both Tomas and Franz display a sense of joy at the prospect of meeting with Sabina. Neither would leave his wife for her, and indeed this is not a requirement for a relationship with Sabina. She attracts them because of the uncomplicated physical fulfillment she provides. In keeping with the title of the novel, she represents lightness as opposed to the "heavy" responsibility and bondage of marriage. In this, the types of relationships that Sabina engages in repeat themselves. They are uncomplicated and shallow, but also provides all involved with the lightness that they need as a temporary escape from responsibility.

Her encounters with the wives Marie-Claude and Tereza are somewhat more complicated. Both wives initiate the meetings, although on much different terms in relation to power. Tereza initiates a friendship with Sabina, because she believes that such a relationship will dispel the demons of her recurrent dreams. In this way, she plans to sacrifice her own marital need for fidelity for Tomas's happiness by encouraging Sabina's role in his life. When she meets Sabina, it is in her professional capacity as photographer. The professionalism however soon gives way to the erotic, ending with a breathless moment where both women are undressed and looking at each other. In this, Tereza takes a subordinate role to Sabina, whom she sees as her superior in the potentially erotic relationship.

In contrast, Marie-Claude's encounter with Sabina is one where the former attempts to establish power over the latter. With her words, she attempts to create a situation where she is in control, and where this control is accepted by all parties. In general, her encounter of Sabina is one of enmity, whereas Tereza's is one of friendship and potential desire.

A further parallel in experience can be seen in the experience of the mother-child relationship, most notably those of Tereza and Franz with their respective mothers. This can be seen as another connecting element between the parallel stories of Franz and Marie-Claude and Tomas and Tereza. Tereza's relationship with her mother and stepfather is one of emotional and physical abuse. She experiences a subordination of her nature and self-worth as a woman to her mother's views of her as unworthy of love. This can then be seen as a reason for Tereza's later need from Tomas, which she ultimately fulfills by befriending the "enemy" in the form of Sabina. For Tereza, her mother then represents the cause of her own weakness. She views her mother as superior to herself, and hence does her best to win her mother's unattainable love. For Franz, on the other hand, his mother also represents need, but in a reversed form from Tereza's experience. Franz's mother is dependent on him for care, as she is old and ill. Franz therefore stands in the superior position in terms…

Sources Used in Documents:


Corbett, Bob. Comments on The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Oct 2001.

Fraser, Giles. Meet Dr. Nietzsche: Response to comments. 2 Nov 2008

Gorfu, G.E. Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence. 2000.

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. 1984 Available online:
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spake Zarathustra. Available online:
Pike, Matt. The Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence Comes Back Again… 2005.

Cite this Document:

"Eternal Recurrence In The Unbearable" (2009, November 29) Retrieved May 25, 2022, from

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