The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by

Milan Kundera

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Sabina Character Analysis

Tomas and Franz’s lover. Sabina is a painter, and like Tomas, she is represented as “light.” Sabina avoids love and committed relationships, and her entire life is a series of “betrayals.” Sabrina sees “betrayal” as a way of “breaking ranks” and going “into the unknown,” which she considers to be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Sabina has a longstanding affair with Tomas, both in Prague and Geneva, and she has an affair with Franz after she moves to Paris. Sabina is always slightly disappointed by Franz, however. Unlike Tomas, he has no power, and their relationship is riddled with misunderstandings. For instance, when Sabina puts her black bowler hat on her head, a symbol of her individuality and her sexuality, Franz has no idea what the gesture means. Tomas, on the other hand, sees the hat as a sexual “prop.” As a fluid symbol whose meaning changes throughout the novel, the masculine hat also humiliates Sabina, and her identity as a woman, and it is further symbolic of violence. When Sabina puts the hat on in front of Tomas, she willingly submits to this power sexually, but alone, the hat is a personal “sentimental object” that reminds Sabina of her grandfather. The multiple meanings of Sabina’s hat reflect the arbitrary nature of language and meaning, but Sabina also serves to illustrate Kundera’s argument regarding kitsch. Kitsch is an aesthetic ideal that Kundera defines as the exclusion from the world that which is considered unacceptable through “the denial of literal and figurative shit.” Sabina objects to Communism not because it is morally reprehensible, but because it is kitsch, and she has a strict policy against kitsch. To Sabina, the epitome of kitsch is the traditional family, an idea that first began to form after her parents died. Sabina avoids kitsch her entire life, which is difficult since there is kitsch everywhere, including “American kitsch” and “totalitarian kitsch.” By the end of the novel, Sabina has moved to America, where she lives with an elderly couple in a makeshift family—an undeniably kitschy situation. Through Sabina, Kundera argues that kitsch can never be completely avoided, no matter how hard one tries.

Sabina Quotes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The The Unbearable Lightness of Being quotes below are all either spoken by Sabina or refer to Sabina. 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 2 Quotes

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, 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.

Related Characters: Tomas, Sabina
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 20 Quotes

“Here is a painting I happened to drip red paint on. At first I was terribly upset, but then I started enjoying it. The trickle looked like a crack; it turned the building site into a battered old backdrop, a backdrop with a building site painted on it. I began playing with the crack, filling it out, wondering what might be visible behind it. And that’s how I began my first cycle of paintings. I called it “Behind the Scenes.” Of course, I couldn’t show them to anybody. I’d have been kicked out of the Academy. On the surface, there was always an impeccably realistic world, but underneath, behind the backdrop’s cracked canvas, lurked something different, something mysterious or abstract.”

Related Characters: Sabina (speaker), Tomas, Tereza
Page Number: 63
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 12 Quotes

All her life she had proclaimed kitsch her enemy. But hadn’t she in fact been carrying it with her? Her kitsch was her image of home, all peace, quiet, and harmony, and ruled by a loving mother and wise father. It was an image that took shape within her after the death of her parents. The less her life resembled that sweetest of dreams, the more sensitive she was to its magic, and more than once she shed tears when the ungrateful daughter in a sentimental film embraced the neglected father as the windows of the happy family’s house shone out into the dying day.

Related Characters: Sabina
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

Though touched by the song, Sabina did not take her feeling seriously. She knew only too well that the song was a beautiful lie. As soon as kitsch is recognized for the lie it is, it moves into the context of non-kitsch, thus losing its authoritarian power and becoming as touching as any other human weakness. For none among us is superman enough to escape kitsch completely. No matter how we scorn it, kitsch is an integral part of the human condition.

Related Characters: Sabina
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Unbearable Lightness of Being PDF

Sabina Character Timeline in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The timeline below shows where the character Sabina appears in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 5
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
...at least three weeks. Not every woman Tomas meets appreciates his approach to relationships, but Sabina does. Sabina understands Tomas, and she likes him because he is “the complete opposite of... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
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Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...nightmare. She tells Tomas that in her dream, she was forced to watch him and Sabina have sex upon a stage. Tomas lulls Tereza back to sleep, but something about her... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 10
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...unable to have sex with other women without alcohol. One night, while having sex with Sabina, Tomas keeps looking at his watch, nervous about getting home to Tereza too late. Afterward,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
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...this, Tereza says, she is willing to go to Zurich, even though she knows that Sabina has since moved to Geneva. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
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Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...move to Switzerland with Karenin, and it isn’t long before Tomas makes plans to see Sabina. He can’t get away long enough to go to Geneva, so Sabina comes to Zurich... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 19
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Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Tereza kept thinking about Sabina’s letter to Tomas, the one in which Sabina said she wanted to have sex with... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 20
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Tereza wanted to understand Tomas’s infidelity, which is why she befriended Sabina before Sabina left Prague for Geneva. She went to Sabina’s studio, and Sabina explained her... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 21
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At Sabina’s studio, Tereza noticed a black bowler hat on a stand. Sabina said it had been... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 22
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...to see Tomas’s mistress through and a way for Tereza to hide her face from Sabina. After a while, Sabina took the camera and ordered Tereza to “Strip!” It was the... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
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Words and Language Theme Icon
...is early afternoon in Geneva, and Franz is on his way to see his mistress, Sabina. He is going to Sabina’s art studio, but he doesn’t intend to have sex with... (full context)
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Alone with Sabina in her art studio, Franz asks her to go to Palermo, but she says she... (full context)
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Sabina looks at Franz and empties a glass of wine into her mouth. Just because she... (full context)
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Sabina steps out of her skirt and puts a black bowler hat on her head. Franz... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
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Many years earlier, Tomas had visited Sabina at her art studio in Prague, and he was drawn to the bowler hat. It... (full context)
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
The bowler hat, the narrator says, signifies many things in Sabina’s life. It reminds Sabina of her grandfather, who originally owned it, as well as her... (full context)
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
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The bowler hat is exceedingly important to Sabina, which is why it is like a huge chasm separating her from Franz. When Franz... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
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For Sabina, the word “woman” signifies one of the human sexes, but to Franz, it represents “a... (full context)
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Franz was raised by his mother and deeply loved her, and he tells Sabina all about her, hoping his faithfulness to his mother will impress her. But Sabina is... (full context)
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Franz thinks the word “music” signifies something of true beauty, but Sabina hates music. When she was a girl, Czechoslovakia’s Communist government played music from loudspeakers each... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
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Living in Geneva, Sabina wonders why she should continue her friendships with other Czech emigres. She has nothing in... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5
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Growing up in Czechoslovakia, Sabina was forced to participate annually in the May Day parade. Now, she hates all parades.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 6
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...painters and sculptors who have exhibited art in her private gallery, and she has invited Sabina. Sabina usually avoids Marie-Claude, but Sabina and Franz decided it would be best if she... (full context)
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As Sabina enters, Marie-Claude immediately approaches her. Marie-Claude grabs the pendant from Sabina’s neck and inspects it.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 7
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Franz is a muscular man, and Sabina likes to stroke his muscles in bed. She tells him he is strong, but Sabina... (full context)
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Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
...is why he decides to tell Marie-Claude about his affair. After telling Marie-Claude all about Sabina and their affair, Franz meets Sabina at the airport. As their plane takes off and... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9
Words and Language Theme Icon
...him what he is doing home. She has no problem with Franz moving in with Sabina, but even if he doesn’t, she wants him out of the house. Franz isn’t particularly... (full context)
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Franz leaves and goes to a hotel, and the next day he goes to Sabina’s flat. He rings the bell, but she doesn’t answer. He stops by the concierge’s desk,... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10
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Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
After spending four years in Geneva, Sabina moves to Paris, but she can’t help feeling depressed. Sabina’s depression is not the result... (full context)
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Words and Language Theme Icon
...car went off the road after spending the night at a hotel in the country. Sabina can’t get Tomas and Tereza out of her mind, so she goes to a local... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...friends know that he is dating one of his students, but they never knew about Sabina, and she simply disappears from his life. Sometimes when Franz is alone with his girlfriend,... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 6
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Sabina’s objection to communism is an aesthetic one, not an ethical one. She hates the “mask... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 7
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Ten years later, Sabina is living in America, and a friend of a friend, who just happens to be... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 10
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When Sabina thinks of Soviet kitsch becoming reality, it sends a shiver down her spine. She feels... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 11
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...like cutting through the backdrop of kitsch with a knife, exposing exactly what is below. Sabina once took part in a German exhibit in which her biography in the exhibit’s catalogue... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 12
Kitsch is Sabina’s nemesis, and she has spent her whole life trying to avoid it. Her idea of... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 14
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Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...Franz initially declines the offer to join the Grand March, but then he thinks about Sabina. Franz decides that Sabina would want him to go, so he calls his friend back... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 24
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...Simon found out Tomas and Tereza had been crushed by a truck. Simon heard about Sabina, his father’s former mistress, and took to sending her letters, because he badly wanted someone... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 25
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Sabina receives many letters from Simon, but she doesn’t read them, as she ignores most things... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 26
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...time 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... (full context)