Study Guide

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Betrayal

By Milan Kundera

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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.

Questions About Betrayal

  1. Sabina understands beauty as "a world betrayed" (3.7.14). How is this different from Tereza's understanding of beauty? Tomas's? How does the narrator define and explain beauty?
  2. Why is Sabina attracted by betrayal? What does she hope to attain through her long string of betrayals?
  3. Tereza has a dream in which Tomas sends her up to Petrin Hill to die. Later, when recalling the dream, she claims that the man who sent her to die wore a mask of Tomas's face over his own. Who, then, was the man who sent her to die?
  4. In Tomas's opinion, what are the consequences of retracting his Oedipus article? What are the ramifications of not retracting it? In each case, who or what would be betrayed? Why does he make the decisions that he does regarding the retraction and then regarding the petition his son wants him to sign?

Chew on This

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.

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