“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” created by Milan Kundera provides the readers with philosophical insights on the reality of love and relationship. Reading this book, one might say that Milan Kundera was perhaps a student of a school of thought under philosophy. This book gives much philosophical points of view that seem unique. However, it would be wrong to regard Kundera as a philosopher in education because he is a proponent of no concrete school of thinking (Culik).
Nevertheless, Kundera created limitless possibilities in his characters’ fate and experience which he playfully analyzed rationally. As the novel has historical perspective, the work is full of reflection where most of the settings happened during the times of political struggles. Although the characters are fictional, the setting is a gentle inspiration from Kundera’s unique and personal experience of disillusionment with the left-wing mythology of communism in Central European particularly in Prague, Czechoslovakia (Culik).
Aside from the exploration of human intimate relationship from love to infidelities, betrayal, and forgiveness, Kundera not only provided straightforward philosophical accounts of human lives but also gave subtle political ideas and speculation from the “Russian communist who run Czechoslovakia between 1968 and the early 1980s” (Kundera 67). In history, Kundera is known to be antagonist of people who employ or advocate communism as a system.
He used to be a Czechoslovakian writer who described life under communism with harsh pessimism and satire. As a matter of fact, he was accused to be a communist informant or spy against the communist regime in 1950, although he strongly denied it recently in the month of October this year (Associated Press [AP]). His views in Communism was also reflected in his earlier novels, “The Joke” and “Life is Elsewhere,” where “he bitterly satirised the Communist system” (“The Unbearable Betrayal of Milan Kundera”).
Since the setting of the “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” happened during Russian invasion which promoted communism, it is inevitable to expect that the creation of this novel is Kundera’s another way to illustrate his ideas towards Communist political regimes. Like other writers and fan of art, they used their works for social awakening. The story revolves in the interlocking stories of four complicated and unfaithful relationships that primarily focus on Tomas, a man torn between his love and commitment for Tereza and his habitual erotic adventures with women particularly his long time affair with the international painter, Sabina.
The beauty of this story can be perceived on how the characters shaped their lives with the irrevocable choices they made in the midst of unexplainable human desires and intruding demands and standards of the society. Kundera’s fictional characters struggled to construct a meaningful life despite human imperfections and political domination. The four central relationships of the novel Tomas and Tereza, Tomas and Sabina, Fanz and Sabina embody Kundera’s primary themes and concerns.
The choices that will define the faith of these characters can either bring them into the gift of eternal return or not. Kundera opens the story with a sentence that will makes sense as the story progresses, “In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make” (Kundera 5). The story examines how the characters approach burden and human responsibility to achieve eternity. Kundera asks in the beginning of his novel whether an individual should choose “weight or lightness”.
He subtly defined lightness and weight when he said, “the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant” (Kundera 5). The number of questions that Kundera poses in the beginning of the novel specifically the comparison between the weight and the lightness will be answered through the characters’ choices, fulfillment of dreams, moods and motivations.
To attain meaning, peace and happiness in life, one must live a life with purpose outside himself. In this book Thomas and Sabina chose the road of “lightness” who unconsciously live superficially, uncommitted and selfishly. Both don’t believe in commitment and responsibility outside themselves. They are the personas that carry the attributes of the unbearable lightness of being. Thomas and Sabina believe that body and soul are two different division of an individual, that sex without love is possible.
They considered sex and love two unrelated entities and see no problem in the simultaneous application of these two activities. Light individuals cultivate the idea that life must be live fully since we live our life only once so such events and actions human makes are futile that will carry no major implication. Thomas wanted a light relationship with Teresa where he can still enjoy his sexuality, career and freedom to the fullest. Tereza on the other hand desired a heavier brand of love with Thomas where she’s asking him to devote himself emotionally and physically alone to her.
Thomas’s unending desire for sex with different women even though he undoubtedly loves Tereza is for him a no crime. Lightness here is associated with freedom, sexual pleasure and unrestricted choices. Not knowing the purpose in life though is one of the heaviest burdens and that burden alone will teach Thomas and Sabina to search for that purpose. Weight or “heaviness” is the path Tereza chose who despite Tomas infidelities has struggled to adhere to her commitment as a loving wife despite the unbearable pain and sacrifices.
Tereza is the female counterpart of Thomas who believes that body and soul go together, that love and sex must be one. Tereza was born in a “situation that reveals the irreconcilable duality of body and soul, that fundamental human experience” (Kundera, p. 40). She is the representation of “weight” who suffers from the heaviness of life because of her persistence and the loyalty to commitment. Tereza stayed with Tomas even though she’s aware of Thomas’ adulteries because she simply loves him and she’s willing to accept him.
She is weighted because she finds a sense of purpose in every action. Tereza’s passion in Bethoven’s music, her compassion towards her cat Ana Karenina and the suitcase she carries when she transferred to Tomas’s place symbolizes the heaviness of Tereza’s character. Her heaviness seems beautiful and noble but that heaviness makes her sympathetic at times. She takes everything in her life seriously and meaningfully. As a result, she suffered painfully particularly when she discovered Tomas infidelity.
However that heaviness allows and motivates Tereza to find beauty and meaning in her life, a benefit Kundera gave in experiencing heaviness. Heaviness is associated with honesty in love, responsibility, commitment and destiny. The characters particularly Thomas who represents lightness, and Tereza who symbolizes heaviness were portrayed as both sympathetic characters; both meaningful and desirable in their own ways. Kundera through playing and comparing the lightness and heaviness throughout the story let the readers decide what life is happier: light or heavy.
The unbearable Lightness of Being definitely talks about the ambiguity of human existence that each individual is sometimes forced to teeter between lightness and weight because of the standard and concept of eternal return. “The unbearable lightness of being” is experienced without following the standard of religion, psychology, philosophy, politics and romantic beliefs. Man according to Kundera has only one opportunity to live life wherein every circumstance only happens once so there’s no point of comparison when it comes to meaning. So why not live life with unrestricted choices to completely enjoy freedom.
After all, as Kundera says, eternal return does not exist. Kundera also employed sexuality in his novel. He as well presented it in terms of lightness and weight. Those lighter characters, that maybe considered as “worldly”, are strongly erotic and who exercise sex creatively. Sabina for example imaginatively paints her experience in making love. Thomas has unique ways in seducing women. The heavy characters of Franz, Sabina’s lover, and Tereza are smudge by sexual guilt. Tereza and Franz believe that sex is associated with love and is not freely given. Sex is only surrendered when there is love.
Politics also exist as a background in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being. ” Politics greatly affects the choices of the characters. The participation or non participation of the major characters in the story maybe reflects Kundera’s political view. The characters of Sabina, Tereza and Thomas can all be identified apolitical at the end of the novel since they became uncomfortable to participate in any political activities. This is perhaps one of the most important ideas of Kundera in this novel that all “isms” or political ideologies are fundamentally the same.
They are purely propaganda and thus employ a dirty and bad art. That is the reason why Sabina abandoned her own country because they restrict her to express her art because political standard says hers lack moral responsibility and commitment. Sabina decided to be unattached to the real earth to save herself from moral burden. Politics most of the time deceives people. Tereza on the other hand understands that political parties deny her privacy and sometimes her individual freedom. Though intuition tells Tereza that she has a commitment to the real earth and that includes conforming to politics at times.
One of the most notable part of his novel is the used of Tereza’s dog Karenin. One of the readings says, “Kundera has always been a passionate defender of animals not out of simple sentiment, but in the conviction that it is by our treatment of animals that we most clearly display our essential and unforgivable” evil side of human nature (Banville). Unlike other writers who also give emphasis to the importance of the physical appearance of the characters, Kundera in this novel gives more stress to the characters’ words and focused on the essential parts.
Kundera’s style of writing is somehow intriguing. He only gives the circumstances his characters are involved with and uses them to raise issues and pose problems towards human existence. Kundera analyze the situations from the characters’ moods, convictions, desires and dreams. But never analyzes the characters’ psychological in depth, their human nature and human tendencies. The detailed analyses are left for the readers. Kundera also used symbolisms. The most dominant literary theory applied in the novel is the “deconstruction” theory”.
Writers who applied deconstructions theory have “a work of lasting literary value in part because of its narrative incongruities and the duplicitous nature of its narrator” (Dennis and Trotman). It is an endless source of philosophical speculation where the author himself sometimes doesn’t know the answer. Kundera’s book though contains many philosophical ideas that are left undeveloped. It contains many discussions and criticisms about communism and Soviet “invasion” that is sometimes unpredictable to follow. The plot is sometimes inconsistent with so many themes. That is perhaps what makes this novel authentic to read.
Works Cited Associated Press. “Milan Kundera Denies Being Communist informant. ” International Herald Tribune. 13 October 2008. 28 November 2008 <http://www. iht. com/articles/2008/10/13/europe/czech. php>. Banville, John. “Light but Sound”. guardian. co. uk. 1 May 2004. Guardian News and Media Limited. 2008. 28 November 2008 <http://www. guardian. co. uk/books/2004/may/01/fiction. johnbanville>. Culik, Jan. “Milan Kundera (b. 1st April, 1929). ” University of Glasgow. 2000. 28 November 2008 <http://www. arts. gla. ac. uk/Slavonic/Kundera. htm>. Dennis, Deborah and Charlene C.
Trotman. “Deconstruction Literary Theory and a Creative Reading of ‘The Great Gatsby’. ” ERIC Education Resources Information Center. ED351684. 28 November 2008 <http://eric. ed. gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/12/fa/11. pdf>. Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1982. Tonkin, Boyd. “The unbearable betrayal of Milan Kundera?. ” The Independent. 14 October 2008. 28 November 2008 <http://www. independent. co. uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/the-unbearable-betrayal-of-milan-kundera-960266. html>.