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 because she has Karenin by her side; as she has someone to talk to:
And having told herself all this, she pressed her face against Karenin’s furry head and said, “Sorry Karenin. It looks as though you’re going to have to move again.²
The passage shows Tereza as if she is guilty to Karenin that she will have to take him back, but it is also as if she confirms her decision by talking to him.
Szymborska, on the other hand, does not have a particular, constantly recurring animal in her poetry. However she does have a considerable amount of animals in her poems,...