Study Guide

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Part 5, Chapter 15

By Milan Kundera

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Part 5, Chapter 15

  • Days later, Tomas reads in the newspaper about the petition. It doesn't mention that the petition was about releasing political prisoners.
  • Instead, it says that the petition was anti-state, and it slanders all the men who signed it. Part of him is sorry he didn't sign it. He can't quite remember why he didn't.
  • The narrator again sees an image of Tomas as he did at the beginning of the novel: standing at the window of his apartment and staring out the window to the walls across the courtyard.
  • Tomas was born from that image, he says. Characters are always born of an image, a sentence, a metaphor, or something "containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about" (5.15.5).
  • On the other hand, it may be true that the author can only really write about himself, he says.
  • Yes, he has known all the moments, images, and metaphors that define his characters. And yet he is not the characters in his novel; in this way, his characters are his "own unrealized possibilities" (5.15.7).
  • And now back to Tomas. He wonders if he should have signed the petition.
  • The question is whether it's better to shout and hasten one's own death, or keep silent and prolong one's life.
  • The problem, as we know, is that human life only occurs once. We can't ever compare the different outcomes of making different decisions.
  • History works the same way, just like the human life.
  • We can't know what would have happened if different events in history were to be changed.
  • Einmal ist keinmal, the narrator says, which means that things, which happen only once, might as well not have happened at all.
  • Because life and history happen only once, they are light, unbearably light.
  • Tomas thinks about the editor, who acts with no hesitation, as though his actions are to be endlessly repeated.

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