“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” Analysis
This paper will discuss the historical and political setting of Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being and how its themes affect the characters of the work. The novel under analysis is one of Milan Kundera’s, a Czech-born author, most well-knows works; it was published in Paris. The novel delves into a mixture of such themes as love, sex, relationships, existence, lightness, heaviness, identity and politics. The main characters of the work are intellectuals from the Czech Republic who are entangled in these themes. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is set in Prague during the time of the Russian invasion. Thus, these intellectuals find themselves in the struggle brought about by politics and a military invasion (Kundera, 2009). The theme of love and sexual relations is one of the most evident subjects of the story, and it defines the intimate lives, behavior and outlook of the main characters.
The historical setting is year 1968, Prague. Due to the political and historical situation, the main characters are in a position where they ask themselves certain questions. They wonder how one should live in truth in an environment where everybody lives in deceit? They wonder how they should conduct themselves in a territory that is not secure due to war. Here one can see how lightness and heaviness affect the lives of the characters in areas like love and intimate relationships (Kundera, 2009).
According to the political history of Czechoslovakia, it was after World War II when the Czech Republic had been invaded by the Russians. This nation was trying to achieve communism and be independent from Russia. The reforms in the country were largely spearheaded by the Czech leader Alexander Dubcek when he came to power in 1968. Since the author wrote the novel from personal experience, the historical setting is based on what Kundera encountered in real life (Kundera, 2009).
From the small picture scenario, Milan Kundera manages to bring out the big picture of the characters’ life. For example, Tomas is a surgeon who hesitates what to do when told to sign for the release of political prisoners. The big picture is whether one can raise his or her voice when others are being silenced. Being an intellectual and living for his work, Tomas has a weakness for women and he considers love and sex to be two distinct things. Thus, he differentiates between the body and the soul. Although he loves his wife Teresa, he has sex with many other women, and he does not seem to be satisfied. The relationships between Teresa and Tomas make Teresa ask herself if she is just a body between her and him. She draws herself into pets rearing, and she considers this activity as something that originated from Adam and Eve who had many animals to interact with (Kundera, 2009).
Sabina, who is Tomas’ mistress and closest friend, is an artist and has a collection of her own paintings. She is an example of how lightness has been depicted in the novel. Her paintings show how she is struggling with the ancestry and the communist party, and she lives a life of betrayal. Through her sexual life with Tomas, the theme of relationships and love is clearly illustrated (Kundera, 2009).
Franz is Sabina’s lover. He is a professor and an idealist whose life revolves around academia and books. By participating in marches and protests, he is trying to seek for lightness and ecstasy, even though he is seriously injured in one of the protests.
In conclusion, sex and love are among the major themes represented in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Lust is directly related to power; it especially influences those who do not have control over themselves. All the characters seem to be affected by changes in love and sexual intimacy at certain points in life when they face a rough time (Kundera, 2009). They tend to differentiate between the soul and the body, between physical pleasures and mental satisfaction. Such behavior is mainly fuelled by the ongoing political events in their country and by the historical setting of the novel.
Kundera, M. (2009). The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York, NY: U.S. Harper Perennial Publishers.