Study Guide

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Love

By Milan Kundera

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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.

Questions About Love

  1. The narrator says early in the novel that "metaphors are dangerous," "not to be trifled with," and "can give birth to love" (1.4.12). This is in the context of Tomas's image of Tereza as a baby in a basket sent downriver. How is this a dangerous metaphor, and how does it, as Kundera says, "give birth" to his love for Tereza?
  2. After Tomas returns to Prague from Zurich, following Tereza, he finds her and then "fancie[s] himself standing opposite her in the midst of a snowy plain, the two of them shivering from the cold" (1.16.10). Kundera repeats these words later in the novel, when we see the scene again through Tereza's eyes. What does this image mean with regard to Tomas and Tereza's relationship?
  3. According to the narrator, how does Tereza's childhood relationship with her mother affect her relationship with Tomas an adult?
  4. Why is Franz and Sabina's relationship better for Franz after Sabina has left him?
  5. Kundera writes that "loves are like empires: when the idea they are founded on crumbles, they, too, fade away" (4.28.4). On which idea is Tereza and Tomas's love founded? Franz and Sabina's? Franz and his student-mistress?

Chew on This

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.

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