The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by

Milan Kundera

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Unbearable Lightness of Being can help.

Tereza’s Mother Character Analysis

After Tereza’s mother gives birth to Tereza, she decides that she looks “old and ugly.” She ultimately resents Tereza for taking her youth, so she abandons Tereza and Tereza’s father. After Tereza’s father is imprisoned by the regime for anti-communist sentiments, Tereza moves back in with her mother, who makes Tereza completely miserable. Tereza’s mother believes that the world is a “vast concentration camp of bodies,” and she thinks all bodies are the same. Tereza’s mother has zero modesty, and she frequently walks around naked. She is at the root of Tereza’s hang-ups about her own body, and when Tereza moves to Prague to be with Tomas, Tereza’s mother lies and says she has cancer in an attempt to get Tereza to return home. It doesn’t work, and Tereza never sees her mother again; however, Tereza has many of her mother’s physical features, and Tereza sees her every time she looks in the mirror. Tereza tries to “banish” the parts of herself that resemble her mother, although she is never successful. In this way, Tereza and her mother are another example of eternal return in the novel, as Tereza’s mother repeats, in more or less the same way, through Tereza’s physical traits.

Tereza’s Mother Quotes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The The Unbearable Lightness of Being quotes below are all either spoken by Tereza’s Mother or refer to Tereza’s Mother. 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 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

Let me return to this dream. Its horror did not begin with Tomas’s first pistol shot; it was horrifying from the outset. Marching naked in formation with a group of naked women was for Tereza the quintessential image of horror. When she lived at home, her mother forbade her to lock the bathroom door. What she meant by her injunction was: Your body is just like all other bodies; you have no right to shame; you have no reason to hide something that exists in millions of identical copies. In her mother’s world all bodies were the same and marched behind one another in formation. Since childhood, Tereza had seen nudity as a sign of concentration camp uniformity, a sign of humiliation.

Related Characters: Tomas, Tereza, Tereza’s Mother
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Unbearable Lightness of Being LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being PDF

Tereza’s Mother Character Timeline in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The timeline below shows where the character Tereza’s Mother appears in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 3
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
...front of the mirror and stare at her body. Afraid of being caught by her mother, Tereza only looked at her body in secret. Tereza, however, didn’t at first realize that... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Tereza takes after her mother, physically and in other ways. At times, the narrator thinks of Tereza’s life as “a... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Tereza’s mother resented her “old and ugly” reflection and took her negative feelings out on Tereza, who... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Tereza’s mother was not modest in the least. She talked publically about sex and even removed her... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Tereza’s mother thought that the world was a “vast concentration camp of bodies,” each one alike in... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...dream is meant to tell both of them. Tereza came to Prague to escape her mother’s world where all  bodies are the same, but Tomas has “drawn an equal sign” between... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 18
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Before leaving Prague for Zurich, Tereza’s mother had called Tereza and told her that she was dying of cancer. Tereza told Tomas... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...about a time when she was a young girl and kept a secret diary. Tereza’s mother found the diary, Tereza says, and read it out loud at dinner. Tereza was humiliated,... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 4
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
As Tereza walks to the sauna, she thinks about her mother. What is gained by exposing someone else’s misery, Tereza wonders? She has been thinking about... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...she also uses the term to describe the total lack of privacy. Living in her mother’s house was like living in a concentration camp, and like a real camp, her mother’s... (full context)