The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by

Milan Kundera

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Franz Character Analysis

Sabina’s lover, Marie-Claude’s husband, and Marie-Anne’s father. Franz is a professor who makes his living with words. He gives lectures at the university and writes academic articles, yet he comes to the conclusion that “no words were precise, their meanings were obliterated, their content lost, they turned into trash, chaff, dust, sand.” Franz and Sabina have multiple misunderstandings rooted in language, and they define common words differently, which underscores Kundera’s overreaching argument that language is unstable and that meaning can never be fixed. Franz eventually comes clean to Marie-Claude about his affair with Sabina, but he is left alone when both Marie-Claude and Sabina leave him. Franz then falls in love and moves in with his girlfriend, one of his young students. Even after Sabina leaves him, Franz remains obsessed with Czechoslovakia and other Communist countries, of which he holds romanticized ideals of persecution and revolution. When a friend invites Franz to join the Grand March into Cambodia to protest the government’s refusal to let doctors into the country, Franz agrees to go because he believes Sabina would want him to. Ironically, Sabina hates the Grand March—she considers it the height of kitsch—and she wouldn’t want anyone to go. The Grand March is ultimately unsuccessful, and when they reach the border of Cambodia, they are ignored. Franz is so disappointed that he wants to rush the border and be gunned down by the Vietnamese military just to add weight and significance to the meaningless protest, but instead he returns to Bangkok and is assaulted there by three men attempting to rob him. Franz later dies at a hospital in Geneva, his life having been overwhelmingly “light” and meaningless. Franz desperately tries to add bulk and meaning to his life through relationships and protests such as the Grand March. His search for meaning proves futile, and he dies, “unbearably” light, never to return and destined to fade into obscurity and insignificance. Franz serves as the personification of “Einmal ist keinmal,” or “once is never,” an old German saying that assumes that which happens once may as well not happen at all.

Franz Quotes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The The Unbearable Lightness of Being quotes below are all either spoken by Franz or refer to Franz. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of The Unbearable Lightness of Being published in 2009.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

Putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing.

Related Characters: Franz, Franz’s Girlfriend
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition that was Sabina's life. It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. I might call it Heraclitus’ (“You can’t step twice into the same river”) riverbed; the bowler hat was a bed through which each time Sabina saw another river flow, another semantic river: each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one. Each new experience would resound, each time enriching the harmony. The reason why Tomas and Sabina were touched by the sight of the bowler hat in a Zurich hotel and made love almost in tears was that its black presence was not merely a reminder of their love games but also a memento of Sabina’s father and of her grandfather, who lived in a century without airplanes and cars.

Related Characters: Tomas, Sabina, Franz
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 6, Chapter 13 Quotes

The fantasy of the Grand March that Franz was so intoxicated by is the political kitsch joining leftists of all times and tendencies. The Grand March is the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness; it goes on and on, obstacles notwithstanding, for obstacles there must be if the march is to be the Grand March.

The dictatorship of the proletariat or democracy? Rejection of the consumer society or demands for increased productivity? The guillotine or an end to the death penalty? It is all beside the point. What makes a leftist a leftist is not this or that theory but his ability to integrate any theory into the kitsch called the Grand March.

Related Characters: Franz
Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 6, Chapter 29 Quotes

What remains of the dying population of Cambodia?

One large photograph of an American actress holding an Asian child in her arms.

What remains of Tomas?

An inscription reading HE WANTED THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH

What remains of Beethoven?

A frown, an improbably man, and a somber voice intoning “Es muss sein!

What remains of Franz?

An inscription reading A RETURN AFTER LONG WANDERINGS.

And so on and so forth. Before we are forgotten, we will be turned into kitsch. Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion.

Page Number: 277-8
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Unbearable Lightness of Being LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being PDF

Franz Character Timeline in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The timeline below shows where the character Franz appears in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 3, Chapter 1
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
It is early afternoon in Geneva, and Franz is on his way to see his mistress, Sabina. He is going to Sabina’s art... (full context)
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Alone with Sabina in her art studio, Franz asks her to go to Palermo, but she says she would rather stay in Geneva.... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Sabina looks at Franz and empties a glass of wine into her mouth. Just because she doesn’t want to... (full context)
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Sabina steps out of her skirt and puts a black bowler hat on her head. Franz thinks Sabina looks odd in the masculine hat, and it makes him slightly uncomfortable. She... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
...important to Sabina, which is why it is like a huge chasm separating her from Franz. When Franz saw Sabina wearing the hat, he was confused and had no idea what... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
For Sabina, the word “woman” signifies one of the human sexes, but to Franz, it represents “a value.” According to Franz, not all women can be called “a woman,”... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Franz was raised by his mother and deeply loved her, and he tells Sabina all about... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Franz thinks the word “music” signifies something of true beauty, but Sabina hates music. When she... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...the idea of “betraying” their relationship, just as she had “betrayed” her father. Sabina meets Franz on a train to Amsterdam, and when she first sees him, she is overjoyed. She... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...was forced to participate annually in the May Day parade. Now, she hates all parades. Franz, on the other hand, studied in Paris and took part in every demonstration he could.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 6
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Franz paces his apartment in anticipation as his wife, Marie-Claude, entertains her guests. She is throwing... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...Marie-Claude grabs the pendant from Sabina’s neck and inspects it. “How ugly!” Marie-Claude cries, but Franz knows his wife’s comment has nothing to do with the pendant. Something is ugly if... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 7
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Franz is a muscular man, and Sabina likes to stroke his muscles in bed. She tells... (full context)
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
For Franz, however, “living in truth” means living publically, which is why he decides to tell Marie-Claude... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9
Words and Language Theme Icon
For years, Franz has seen Marie-Claude as weak, and when he returns home from Rome, he expects to... (full context)
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Franz leaves and goes to a hotel, and the next day he goes to Sabina’s flat.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
...thought cemeteries peaceful places, and as she walks through the tombstones, she begins to miss Franz, even though he always said cemeteries were just dumps for bones. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
All of Franz’s friends know that he is dating one of his students, but they never knew about... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 14
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Franz is not dedicated to kitsch—in fact, he doesn’t even vote—but he is drawn to the... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Not wanting to leave his young girlfriend, Franz initially declines the offer to join the Grand March, but then he thinks about Sabina.... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 15
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Franz arrives in Bangkok, Thailand, to several upset Frenchmen. The Grand March had been their idea,... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 17
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
The next day, Franz and the other intellectuals get on a bus and head to the Cambodian border. The... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 20
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...The request is met with silence. The only sound is the clicking of cameras, and Franz worries that the Grand March is over.   (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 21
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
The request to enter Cambodia is again shouted through the megaphone, but the silence remains. Franz looks around and decides that the Grand March is definitely over. But like the editor’s... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 22
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...yelled for the third time through the megaphone, but it is again met with silence. Franz feels a sinking depression that quickly turns to anger. Why did he even bother coming... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 23
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...and the German pop star, require infinite eyes looking at them. The second group—to which Franz’s wife, Marie-Claude, and his daughter, Marie-Anne, belong—need to be looked at by many familiar eyes,... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 26
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...the bus pulls up to the Bangkok hotel, it is nearly dark. Thinking about Sabina, Franz takes a walk in the streets, and a man speaking an unknown language takes Franz’s... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 27
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Marie-Claude takes great pride in handling Franz’s burial. At the funeral, the pastor talks at length about Franz’s loving wife while somewhere... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 28
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...the life of his father however he likes.  Marie-Claude has the following words engraved on Franz’s gravestone: “A RETURN AFTER LONG WANDERINGS.” During Franz’s last days, she was the only person... (full context)