The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by

Milan Kundera

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The Narrator Character Analysis

The unnamed narrator is often considered by critics to be a stand-in for Kundera himself, which is why this guide uses masculine pronouns to refer to this character (though it's impossible to say for sure whether Kundera intends the narrator to be a character apart from himself). The narrator does not have an active role in the plot, but he often breaks into the narrative to provide philosophical or historical context, such as explaining the ideas of eternal return and kitsch and offering his opinions on them. Additionally, the narrator makes it clear that he is inventing the novel's characters, especially Tereza and Tomas, and he often comments on the storytelling process as it's happening. At times, the narrator provides small amounts of information about his own life (referring to childhood experiences, for example), but he never reveals much about himself or clearly identifies himself to the reader.
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The Narrator Character Timeline in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
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...associated with it has “become lighter than feathers,” and it is no longer frightening. The narrator thinks back to many years before, when he had looked at some portraits painted by... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
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...heaviest of burdens,” which means that human life stands out in its weightlessness, but the narrator questions whether heaviness is truly negative compared to lightness. Life’s most meaningful aspects—like love—are heavy.... (full context)
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...half negative. For instance, Parmenides claimed that lightness is positive and weight negative, but the narrator isn’t so sure that Parmenides was correct. According to the narrator, the lightness/weight opposition is... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
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The narrator has been thinking about the character of Tomas for years. He sees Tomas standing in... (full context)
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Tomas doesn’t know what to do about his feelings for Tereza, but, the narrator says, such indecisiveness is natural. Life occurs only once, and one does not have a... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
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...cycles between three nightmares. In one nightmare, cats claw at Tereza’s face and body (the narrator points out that “cat” in Czech slang means “pretty woman”), and in another, Tereza is... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
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In languages that are rooted in Latin, the narrator says, the word “compassion” is formed using the prefix “with” and the root word for... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 15
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Tomas’s words are a reference to one of Beethoven’s quartets, the narrator says. The quartet is based on two motifs—Muss es sein? (Must it be?), Es muss... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 16
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Beethoven, the narrator says, considered weight positive, unlike Parmenides. The “weighty resolution” of Beethoven’s quartet describes Fate, and... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
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The narrator claims that he will not try to convince the reader that Tomas and Tereza actually... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
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Tereza, the narrator says, illustrates “the irreconcilable duality of body and soul.” The body is a “cage,” the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
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...need to do so in old age. Tereza is a continuation of her mother, the narrator says, because her mother’s behavior has left “an indelible imprint on her.” (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
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...that her body were unique and unlike any other, including her mother’s. Tereza’s soul, the narrator says, was therefore buried deep in her bowels, which is exactly where it was the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 9
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...relationship with Tereza is based on six coincidences. But isn’t an event more significant, the narrator asks, if it takes multiple chance happenings for it to occur? When Tomas sat down... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
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Life is full of such coincidences, the narrator claims, which most of the time go unnoticed. The narrator notes that such coincidences are... (full context)
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Human life, the narrator says, is like the “symmetrical composition” of the book Anna Karenina. What occurs at the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
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Tomas is the one who has sent Tereza to stand with the other women, the narrator says, and that is what the dream is meant to tell both of them. Tereza... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 17
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...“something higher,” like Tereza does with her obsession with books, will suffer vertigo. Vertigo, the narrator says, is more than just the fear of falling. Vertigo is “the voice of the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 23
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...printed in Western publications. The Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia was not merely a tragedy, the narrator says, but “a carnival of hate.” (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 28
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...Karenin, she began again to feel vertigo and the intense desire to fall. Vertigo, the narrator says, can also be called “the intoxication of the weak.” It is an awareness of... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 29
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The narrator returns to the present moment. Tomas has a stomachache, and he can’t sleep. As Russian... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
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...incredibly unsure of himself, and he worries constantly that Sabina will leave him. Franz, the narrator interrupts, believes that love is the “antithesis” of public life, and he also believes that... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
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The bowler hat, the narrator says, signifies many things in Sabina’s life. It reminds Sabina of her grandfather, who originally... (full context)
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...what it meant. To him, it was “an incomprehensible gesture.” When people are young, the narrator says, the “musical composition of their lives” is still being written, but by now, Sabina... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 3
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...day and goes back to bed after he leaves for work. One particular day, the narrator says, Tereza doesn’t go back to bed because she has an appointment at the sauna... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 8
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...about this as she flirts with strangers at the restaurant where she works. Flirting, the narrator says, “is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee,” and Tereza is very bad... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 2
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Contrary to popular belief, the Communist regimes of Central Europe were not all bad, the narrator says. Most Communists weren’t innate criminals; they merely believed that their ideology would lead to... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 7
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...clinic wasn’t exactly medicine in his opinion, so quitting was no big deal. Still, the narrator says, it seems as if Tomas made the decision too quickly and was, perhaps, missing... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 12
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...it is only Tereza who occupies Tomas’s poetic memory. “Love begins with a metaphor,” the narrator claims, at the very moment a woman’s words enter one’s poetic memory.  (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 15
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...Tomas to know if he made the right decision. “Human life occurs only once,” the narrator says.   (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 2
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...a powerful Bolshevik leader, people mostly feared Yakov. “Rejection and privilege, happiness and woe,” the narrator says, “no one felt more concretely than Yakov how interchangeable opposites are, how short the... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 3
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Ever since childhood, the narrator has had a theory that the idea of God’s intestines is sacrilegious. God and “shit”... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 4
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The narrator further claims that when humankind lived in Paradise, either they did not “shit” at all,... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 5
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According to the narrator, humankind’s “objection to shit is a metaphysical one.” The daily emptying of the bowels proves... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 8
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...be moved by such things. “It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch,” the narrator says. (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 9
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No one knows kitsch better than politicians, the narrator says, as kitsch is present in all political parties and movements. Politicians kissing babies in... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 12
...lives with an elderly couple who refer to her as their “daughter.” No one, the narrator says, can completely escape kitsch, even if you try your whole life to avoid it. (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 16
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It is interesting, the narrator notes, that leftists want to join a Grand March against communism when communism has always... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 21
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...that the Grand March wouldn’t amount to much. The point of the Grand March, the narrator says, is to prove that there are still some people who aren’t afraid. As Franz... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 23
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All people need someone to look at them, the narrator claims, and everyone fits into one of four categories. The first group of people, like... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 29
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...left of Beethoven is “Es muss sein!” All that is left is kitsch, which, the narrator says, is “the stopover” between being and nonbeing. (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 2
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...is spreading, but he still goes to work every day with Tereza. Human goodness, the narrator says, if it is truly pure, can only exist if the recipient of said goodness... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 4
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...expressed life in Paradise. Life in Paradise did not occur on a straight line, the narrator contends; rather, it moved along a circle, and this circle bred happiness. Living in nature,... (full context)