Study Guide

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Power

By Milan Kundera

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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.

Questions About Power

  1. Sabina tells Tomas that he is the opposite of kitsch. How so? Do you agree with her assessment, or disagree?
  2. What are the power relationships between the different pairs we see in the novel? Describe the power relationship between Sabina and Tomas, Tomas and Tereza, Franz and Sabina, Marie-Claude and Sabina, and Tereza and Karenin. Who is in control and why? Do any of these shift over the course of the novel?
  3. Kundera spends quite a bit of time discussing different types of weakness and strength. Which characters are weak, which are strong, and why? Which type of characters, strong or weak, finds lightness to be unbearable? Which type finds it desirable?

Chew on This

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.

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