The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by

Milan Kundera

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Tereza’s Suitcase Symbol Analysis

Tereza’s Suitcase  Symbol Icon

Tereza carries a “large and enormously heavy” suitcase throughout much of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and it symbolizes Tereza’s figuratively “heavy” character formed by her devotion to love and deep emotional connections. But Tereza’s suitcase also represents the inevitable weight of human existence within Kundera’s novel. When Tereza first arrives in Prague, she lugs the massive bag along with her. It holds her entire life, which she plans to “offer up” to Tomas, a perpetual bachelor and serial womanizer. Tomas’s character is “light”—he is sexually liberated and unattached—compared to Tereza and her huge suitcase, which serves as the physical representation of her emotional baggage, so to speak. Even though she tries in different ways, Tereza never manages to rid herself of her heavy bag. When she leaves Tomas in Zurich and heads back to Prague, the suitcase goes along with her, suggesting that Tereza’s “heaviness” is a key part of her core identity.

Kundera’s novel explores the philosophical theory of eternal return and Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of cyclical existence as “the heaviest of burdens.” According to Nietzsche’s understanding of eternal return, within a cyclical existence, “the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make.” Conversely, a life which does not return “is like a shadow, without weight.” Kundera ultimately rejects the notion of eternal return and posits that since human life only occurs once, one’s existence is incredibly light. Despite the supposed weightlessness of human existence, however, Kundera’s characters are not able to fully rid themselves of all heaviness, and Tereza’s suitcase is evidence of this. Thus, Tereza’s heavy suitcase represents the inescapable weight of human existence in the face of “the unbearable lightness of being.”

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Tereza’s Suitcase Symbol Timeline in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The timeline below shows where the symbol Tereza’s Suitcase appears in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 4
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
...she is staying, and Tereza says she doesn’t have a hotel yet. She left her suitcase at the train station, she says, so Tomas immediately takes her to get it, bringing... (full context)
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...Sleeping next to Tereza, however, he wakes holding her hand and looks at the massive suitcase sitting by the bed. He thinks again that she is a child floated downstream to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
...Czechoslovakia. Tereza has left his life the same way she entered it: with an enormous suitcase. Without Tereza, Tomas feels less heavy, and, as Parmenides’s theory stipulates, Tomas is “enjoying the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 28
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
As Tereza sat on the train to Prague with her massive suitcase and Karenin, she began again to feel vertigo and the intense desire to fall. Vertigo,... (full context)