The Unbearable Lightness of Being
by Milan Kundera
The Unbearable Lightness of Being Theme of Language and Communication
The Unbearable Lightness of Being explores the miscommunication that passes between a man and a woman in a relationship together. Kundera uses the metaphor of musical compositions with repeated motifs to describe an individual's life and the recurring concepts in it. If two people meet too late in life, he says, their musical compositions are already written. They cannot exchange motifs and will forever misunderstand the recurring ideas in each other's life. In one brilliant section of the novel, Kundera presents a "Dictionary of Misunderstood Words" that pass between two lovers – Franz and Sabina – who define everything from "betrayal" to "woman" in opposite terms.
Questions About Language and Communication
- What does photography mean to Tereza? Why does she take pictures of the Russian invasion? Similarly, what does painting mean to Sabina?
- At one point the narrator writes that happiness is the longing for repetition. In what other ways is happiness defined in this novel? Which characters are happy in this novel?
- Kundera devotes an entire section of Unbearable Lightness to the misunderstood words that pass between Sabina and Franz. Why is this idea of miscommunication so central to the novel? Is it relevant to the love story, the philosophy, or both?
- What do we hear of the content of Sabina's paintings, and what does this tell us about her character?
- What sort of communication passes between Tereza and Karenin?
- How is language and communication hampered by the political atmosphere in Prague? Consider verbal, written, and artistic communication. Why is it that, even after she's escaped Prague, Sabina still isn't able to properly express herself through her paintings?
Chew on This
The only pure, effective communication in this novel is that which is unspoken. Language necessarily corrupts communication.
Tereza and Tomas's communication is perfect and stands in opposition to that of Franz and Sabina.