Commentary based on : “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”

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Last updated: December 3, 2020

Nesnesiteln� lehkost byt� is a novel written by Milan Kundera in 1982, first published in 1984 in France. For many years, it has been forbidden in the Soviet countries since it depicted the communist system very negatively. Nowadays, to most people communism seems an alien topic. Young individuals might have problems in understanding the message hidden within this literary work.The main plot consists of the lives of four Czechoslovakians living under the communist regime. However, in Kundera’s novel there are many subplots present, such as analyses of Tereza’s dreams, stories related to “Est must sein” by Beethoven, and many others. Their presence is very useful, because they give the reader a sense of relief and let him create a distance towards the main storyline.

Many allusions towards Nietzsche, Parmenides and other philosophers are clearly visible in this book. Kundera speaks of the motif of lightness and weight, in the context of Nietzsche who, by saying : “Einmal mist keinmal” proved that our lives are meaningless since we cannot remove errors from our past nor examine how our future life would look like after taking different decisions. We live our life once and we are determined only by coincidence. There is no Higher Being, which decides upon our destiny-we are the ones who create our life and we cannot escape from it.

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That’s what Kundera meant by “unbearable lightness of being”. On one hand, human beings are perceived as lonely creatures deprived of any sense of being. On the other hand, we might interpret this novel by means of showing how totalitarianism destroys individuals.

The novel is set in 1968, in the wake of the Prague Spring. This clearly indicates that communism should be blamed for the increasing “unbearable lightness of being”. All literary characters suffer from the consequences of living in a communist system and are forced to either live in exile or hide.The narrative viewpoint is polyphonic, which means that the whole story is shown from the perspective of four, different people and a dog(Karenin). The narrator is omniscient and sees through the minds of all his characters. This technique has many advantages, since it does not enclose the reader’s perception up to one person and eventually allows him to see a wider range of problems within the novel.The atmosphere is rather melancholic, yet slightly changes depending on which antagonist’s view is being presented.

On the example of Tereza, the atmosphere may either change from ecstasy to a world of absurd and bathos. Tereza easily switches from reality to dreams-sometimes it becomes impossible to distinguish between them. Bathos is present in “Karenin’s Smile”, when Tereza decides to engrave on Karenin’s tombstone that “he gave birth to two rolls and a bee”.

In Tomas’s example however the amplitude has a much smaller range. He seems to be a sensible, firm man and yet, at some stage, he goes through a metamorphosis. He rejects the proposition of declining an antisocialist article written by him and as a result loses his job as a surgeon.Sabina, Tomas’s lover, is an artist and most of her reactions are extreme, which means that the atmosphere may dramatically change from euphoria to a feeling of hopelessness and humiliation.In Franz’s case, there is also a wide range of emotions present. Even though he gives lectures as a professor in the Prague University, he loves to participate in demonstrations and release the passions that torment him. That is why he decides to participate in an anti-communist march in Cambodia.

Karenin is a down to earth creature. All she wants is to play with Tomas and Tereza, eat her roll and live a life of perfect routine. She has been named Karenin after “Anna Karenina “by Tolstoy, but Tomas decided that Karenina is too long and shortened it. Apparently, Karenin seems to be the most stable character out of all (perhaps dogs do not have a need to discover the reason for their existence?).To conclude, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is an interesting piece of literature, it is definitely worth reading.

However, before reading this book, it would be wise for the reader to realize how did the communist system affect the behavior of the society and find out some information concerning The Prague Spring.

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