"It was a rabbit"

This is the climax of Tereza’s final dream in the novel -- one that suggests she has arrived at a point of peace and contentment in her spiritual and emotional life.

Over the estimated 14 years of her life with Tomas, she has had nightmares of intense jealousy (watching Tomas and Sabina making love in section 7 of Part One, pages 15-16); of having her face torn by cats, watching Tomas shoot women at an indoor swimming pool, and lying in a hearse (section 8 of Part One, page 18); of her near-execution on Petrin Hill as she anticipated letting the engineer take her home to his bed (sections 11-14 of Part Four, pages 146-151); and of being buried while Tomas disappears for a month with another woman (section 18 of Part Five, page 227).

In this new dream, Tomas and Tereza feel fearful and threatened at first -- he has been summoned by the authorities, they encounter a series of closed doors, three men in hoods with rifles shoot him, and a “feeling of horror overwhelmed all other emotions and instincts”  -- but after Tomas is shot he turns into a rabbit, and one of the men takes off his hood and smiles while handing Tereza the rabbit.

Rabbit in arms
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRabbit in arms - Credit: Nevit Dilmen
“At that instant her fear and sadness subsided and she was happy to be holding an animal in her arms.... She burst into tears of joy.” This contrasts sharply with the other instance in which Tereza holds an animal in her arms: the wounded crow that malicious boys tried to bury alive (sections 20-21 of Part Four, pages 158-160). Then, she broke a nail and bled while digging the bird out, and while watching it die in the bath, "she saw a reflection of her own fate" in its "solitude and desolation."

The narrator reports this dream following his discussion of the innocence of animals, who continue to inhabit state of Paradise that consists of lack of self-consciousness and unconditional love. We have also just read of Tereza’s love for and comfort among animals such as Karenin and the creatures she tends at the collective farm.

Having become a rabbit, Tomas in effect becomes one of those lovable creatures, restored to Paradise, and no longer her loving torturer. Tereza “took the rabbit home with the feeling that she was nearly at her goal, the place where she wanted to be and would never forsake.”