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.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is ultimately pessimistic about the human condition.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is ultimately optimistic about the human condition.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being presents a forceful and very particular view of sex. In this novel, sex is always about power and never about equality; one person always has control over the other. The women in the novel express their sexuality in a desire to be degraded and sometimes humiliated by the men who love them. Through Tomas, one of the novel's main characters, Kundera takes a look at the different kinds of sexual obsessions that drive womanizing men. He ends up arguing that, for some, promiscuity is a compulsion beyond an individual's control. Tomas himself argues that sex and love are completely different things, and that to be faithful to someone emotionally does not require sexual fidelity.
The political turmoil of Czechoslovakia during the Russian invasion is reflected in the sexual lives of the novel's main characters.
Every sexual relationship in The Unbearable Lightness of Being is based on inequality.
In some sense, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an epic love story. Love is certainly a battle in this novel, which becomes a particularly apt metaphor given the stormy backdrop of political and social turmoil. The couples in this story struggle with issues of fidelity, power, fate, fortuity, and miscommunication. Kundera uses the metaphor of interwoven music compositions to describe the melding of two different lives into a common set of experiences and motifs. The question is raised as to the relationship between love and sex, and whether or not they can be separated.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is primarily a philosophical work of ideas. The love stories are secondary to the philosophy.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is primarily a novel about love, not a philosophical work of ideas.
The characters in The Unbearable Lightness of Being are interesting because the narrator admits to having created them. They are fictional beings, he explains, born of a metaphor or an idea that encapsulates a basic human possibility. This raises interesting questions in regard to the way identity is crafted in real life – what lies at the core of an individual's "I"? Many characters in the novel, and Tereza in particular, are concerned with just this question. The divide between soul and body, and the attempt to identify the "I" of the soul are explored at great length.
In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, identity is only discovered through sex.
This novel argues that, in the search for self-identity, the soul cannot be separated from the body.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being takes a look at power relationships in love, sex, and politics. The sexual and romantic battles of the novel's four main characters parallel the political and social tensions of the historical backdrop against which the story is set. In this novel, there is no equality in sex or in love – one person is always in control of the other. In the political realm, the novel takes a look at kitsch, which the narrator defines as the aesthetic ideal used by politicians of every kind to enforce their ideologies. The novel also explores weakness and strength as character traits, and asks what personal qualities contribute to each.
In this novel, sexual relationships are based on an inequality of power.
No matter how strong a character is in this novel, he or she is ultimately at the mercy of his or her own es muss sein.
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.
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.
Much of the philosophical content of The Unbearable Lightness of Being begins with the idea of eternal return, or the notion that our lives are repeated ad infinitum throughout a circular passing of time. Kundera rejects the idea of eternal return and argues that our lives occur only once, and that time is in fact linear, not circular. Because our lives occur only once, they fail to gain weight or significance, and are unbearably light. Kundera compares human time, which is linear, to animal time and idyllic time in biblical Paradise, which he argues are circular. Kundera claims that happiness is the longing for repetition – the longing for circular time. We're out of luck, then, since we cannot experience time this way. Instead, we struggle to give our lives meaning and to be happy when neither are strictly possible.
The novel itself is the narrator's form of eternal return.
The bowler hat is a symbol of eternal return.
In this novel, betrayal is not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, betrayal is defined as "going off into the unknown" and frequently equated with an individual's rebellion against totalitarian power. In other words, betrayal is the path to freedom. Through Sabina, one of the novel's four main characters, the narrator examines the attraction to and the consequences of betrayal. He concludes that one betrayal leads to subsequent betrayals, and explores what lies at the end of this road.
Every character in The Unbearable Lightness of Being harbors a self-destructive impulse that takes its form in self-betrayal.
Every character in The Unbearable Lightness of Being fundamentally betrays the person he or she loves.