The Unbearable Lightness of Being
by Milan Kundera
The Unbearable Lightness of Being Questions
Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
- What gender is the narrator? Do you assume that the narrator and the author are one and the same, and if so, why? Is this a reasonable assumption? What ramifications does this assumption have for your reading of the novel?
- In his non-fiction piece The Art of the Novel, Kundera writes that the reader's imagination "automatically completes the writer's vision." How do you see this theory at play in The Unbearable Lightness of Being?
- Kundera doesn't give any of his characters last names, and many of them have no names at all, and instead are given defining, physical characteristics (the girl with the round glasses, the editor with the big chin, the tall engineer, the bald-headed man, etc.). What effect does this have on our reading of these characters?
- Analyze the explicit structuring of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Using Kundera's titles for the individual "parts" as a starting point, consider the thematic focus of each of the seven parts. How do these seven distinct sections function together to form a whole novel? How are they integrated with one another on the level of theme, plot, concepts, images, and even individual phrases or words?
- Consider also the extremely short chapters Kundera uses. What is accomplished within a single 1-2 page chapter? Why break the novel into such tiny fragments?
- What do you make of the narrator's cryptic technique? Is it disconcerting that we don't know who he is? Do we need to know? Do we wonder, as readers? Is the question of his identity relevant to the content of the novel? What do you think of his method of narration, and in particular, the way he interrupts the story with his own comments or questions? What does this do for your understanding of the material he's presenting?
- In what way is the historical and political setting of the novel relevant to its themes of lightness and heaviness, the soul and the body? How is it relevant to the sexual and romantic relationships between Sabina, Franz, Teresa, and Tomas?
- The events in the novel are not presented chronologically. How are they ordered, if not by time? What is the effect of such a non-linear presentation?
- The narrator admits on more than one occasion that his characters are only characters, fictional inventions of his own working. Does this affect the way you read these characters? Do they seem any less "real" for the narrator telling you as much? What does such a confession do for the narrator's credibility?
- Newsweek said of this novel that "Kundera has raised the novel of ideas to a new level of dreamlike lyricism and emotional intensity." How does The Unbearable Lightness of Being function as this so-called "novel of ideas"? Is it ultimately a love story, a political story, or a philosophical story? Is it ultimately plot-driven, or idea-driven? Which is there to serve the other: the characters, or the philosophy? How do the two intersect and explain each other?
- Part 6 is chronologically the end of the story. So why do we have Part 7? And why in this order?
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