Could this description of Karenin’s death be a gently humorous example of “eternal return”? (See Bookmark, page 3.)
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.
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.”
Tereza’s dream of transformation and renewal concludes in a space of complete innocence and safety: “the room she had been given at the age of five….” In her dream, the room contains a “table [that] had a lamp on it … and on the lamp perched a butterfly with two large eyes painted on its widespread wings.”
The table, lamp, and butterfly -- elements of her affirmative dream -- will recur in reality in the final scene of the novel, eight pages later: “Tereza saw … a bedside table and lamp,” from whose lampshade, “startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly….”
Though we know Tereza and Tomas will soon die in a truck accident, perhaps even the following day, after many years of pain and suffering (some caused by the state and people around them, some they inflicted upon each other) they have reached a point of acceptance, calm love, and contentment.