© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by Milan Kundera

Life, Consciousness, Existence Theme

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is both a work of philosophy and a work of fiction. Pages of philosophical exposition are intertwined with several intricate plotlines. The narrative supports and exemplifies the philosophy, while the philosophy explores and explains the fiction. Kundera begins his novel by rejecting the idea of eternal return and suggesting that our lives occur only once. The novel concludes that, because we live only once, our lives lack weight – they are unbearably light. The story explores the struggle to give life meaning in the face of this unbearable lightness.

Questions About Life, Consciousness, Existence

  1. Kundera asks in the beginning of his novel which is better, and which we shall choose: weight, or lightness? What does the novel ultimately argue in favor of? Are both options for us, or is only one of the two available to us? Do we have a choice at all?
  2. In Tomas's mind, Tereza is the woman born of six fortuities. Is Tomas's love for Tereza necessarily lacking in weight just because it was fortuitous? Do we need a sense of es muss sein to ascribe weight to something?
  3. What is the relationship between es muss sein and fortuities? Is a fortuitous event, as Tomas believes, the opposite of es muss sein, or are fortuities, as Tereza believes, the very evidence of es muss sein?
  4. Kundera is famously quoted as saying, "A novel that does not uncover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral. Knowledge is the novel's only morality" (New York Review of Books, July 19, 1984). How do you see this idea at work in The Unbearable Lightness of Being? What does this novel uncover about existence? How does knowledge function as morality here?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is ultimately pessimistic about the human condition.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is ultimately optimistic about the human condition.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement