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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 2 chapter 6)

2006-08-22 19:24

  6

  Of course, Tereza did not know the story of the night when her mother whispered Be careful into the ear of her father. Her guilty conscience was as vague as original sin. But she did what she could to rid herself of it. Her mother took her out of school at the age of fifteen, and Tereza went to work as a waitress, handing over all her earnings. She was willing to do anything to gain her mother's love. She ran the household, took care of her siblings, and spent all day Sunday cleaning house and doing the family wash. It was a pity, because she was the brightest in her class. She yearned for something higher, but in the small town there was nothing higher for her. Whenever she did the clothes, she kept a book next to the tub. As she turned the pages, the wash water dripped all over them.

  At home, there was no such thing as shame. Her mother marched about the flat in her underwear, sometimes braless and sometimes, on summer days, stark naked. Her stepfather did not walk about naked, but he did go into the bathroom every time Tereza was in the bath. Once she locked herself in and her mother was furious. Who do you think you are, anyway? Do you think he's going to bite off a piece of your beauty?

  (This confrontation shows clearly that hatred for her daughter outweighed suspicion of her husband. Her daughter's guilt was infinite and included the husband's infidelities. Tereza's desire to be emancipated and insist on her rights-like the right to lock herself in the bathroom-was more objectionable to Tereza's mother than the possibility of her husband's taking a prurient interest in Tereza.)

  Once her mother decided to go naked in the winter when the lights were on. Tereza quickly ran to pull the curtains so that no one could see her from across the street. She heard her mother's laughter behind her. The following day her mother had some friends over: a neighbor, a woman she worked with, a local schoolmistress, and two or three other women in the habit of getting together regularly. Tereza and the sixteen-year-old son of one of them came in at one point to say hello, and her mother immediately took advantage of their presence to tell how Tereza had tried to protect her mother's modesty. She laughed, and all the women laughed with her. Tereza can't reconcile herself to the idea that the human body pisses and farts, she said. Tereza turned bright red, but her mother would not stop. What's so terrible about that? and in answer to her own question she broke wind loudly. All the women laughed again.

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