The Unbearable Lightness of Being
How we cite our quotes:
The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition that was Sabina's life. It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. I might call it Heraclitus' ("You can't step twice into the same river") riverbed: the bowler hat was a bed through which each time Sabina saw another river flow, another semantic river: each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one. Each new experience would re-sound, each time enriching the harmony. The reason why Tomas and Sabina were touched by the sight of the bowler hat in a Zurich hotel and made love almost in tears was that its black presence was not merely a reminder of their love games but also a memento of Sabina's father and of her grandfather, who lived in a century without airplanes and cars. (3.2.9)
The bowler hat carries weight primarily because it has recurred. This is exactly why motifs give meaning to an individual's life – because they recur over and over again. This is how we are able to give our lives meaning despite the fact that our life occurs only once.
Let there be no mistake: Tereza did not wish to take revenge on Tomas; she merely wished to find a way out of the maze. She knew that she had become a burden to him: she took things too seriously, turning everything into a tragedy, and failed to grasp the lightness and amusing insignificance of physical love. How she wished she could learn lightness! She yearned for someone to help her out of her anachronistic shell. (4.8.4)
Tereza's inability to embrace lightness is presented as anachronistic. The modern lifestyle seems from the narrator's perspective to be characterized by the lifestyles of Tomas and Sabina.
Tereza could think of nothing but the possibility that the engineer had been sent by the police. And who was that strange boy who drank himself silly and told her he loved her? It was because of him that the bald police spy had launched into her and the engineer stood up for her. So all three had been playing parts in a prearranged scenario meant to soften her up for the seduction! (4.24.9)
Again we see how the political and historical content of Unbearable Lightness is interwoven with the personal, romantic, and sexual. The lives of these characters are the product of their surroundings. This story could not have played out and these characters could not have existed in any other time or setting. There is a degree of irony in Tereza's belief that she is anachronistic, because she is molded by the times in which she lives.