The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Part 1, Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
During the first week of the Russian occupation, Tereza walks the streets of Prague taking pictures. She gives most of her film undeveloped to the foreign press, and then she is arrested by the Russian military but is released the next day. After being released from Russian custody, Tereza asks Tomas why he doesn’t take the job in Zurich. He then asks Tereza if she could live abroad, and she doesn’t see why not. Since Dubcek has returned, Tereza says, things are different in Czechoslovakia.
Dubcek represent weakness and loss of power within the book. He is a Czech politician—the president for all intents and purposes—yet he is completely controlled by the Russians. Tereza’s stint in military custody illustrates her parallel loss of freedom and the power the Russian military has over her. Tereza isn’t even free to take photographs as she likes.
Themes
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
Dubcek and the other Czech representatives had been taken as criminals by the Russian military and sent to Moscow, where they were forced to sign a compromise agreement. When Dubcek was brought back to Czechoslovakia, he addressed the nation on the radio, but his speech was littered with long pauses, and he stuttered and stammered throughout the entire address. Most of the Czechs are nervous; there have been mass executions and deportations to Siberia, and it is clear they will now “have to bow to the conqueror.” Given all this, Tereza says, she is willing to go to Zurich, even though she knows that Sabina has since moved to Geneva.
Again, having to “bow” to the Russians as “conquerors” underscores the absolute power of the Soviet Union over Czechoslovakia. Dubcek, the actual president of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1968, is like a puppet controlled by the Russians. They are dictating his speech to his own people, and he practically chokes on his false words. Tereza may escape the power of the Soviet Union by going to Zurich, but she will still lose power due to Tomas’s affair with Sabina.
Themes
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon