The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by

Milan Kundera

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Themes and Colors
Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return Theme Icon
Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies  Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Power, Politics, and Inequality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Time, Happiness, and Eternal Return

At the center of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the philosophical concept of eternal return, which assumes that everything in the universe—people, animals, events, and the like—recurs and repeats in a more or less similar fashion over infinite time and space. The theory of eternal return has been around since antiquity and can be found in ancient Indian, Greek, and Egyptian writings; however, in modernity, it is most often associated with…

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Lightness, Weight, and Dichotomies

As Kundera examines the philosophical concept of eternal return at the beginning of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, he explains Nietzsche’s view of eternal return as “the heaviest of burdens.” The heaviness implied in Nietzsche’s understanding of eternal return makes the concept appear “unbearable” and negative, yet Kundera isn’t convinced. “But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?” he asks. To answer this question, Kundera references Parmenides, a Greek philosopher from the 5th century…

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Sex, Love, and Duality of Body and Soul

Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being centers on the story of Tomas and Tereza, two people who fall deeply in love despite Tomas’s constant womanizing and infidelity. Tomas represents lightness—he is sexually liberated and, as a general rule, avoids heavy emotions like love—and his libertine lifestyle and aversion to commitment mean that he is free and unattached. He believes that sex and love are completely unrelated, and he has multiple mistresses, none of…

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Words and Language

Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being examines the lives of four main characters—Tomas, Tereza, Sabina, and Franz—and their conflicting and contradictory use of words and language. For instance, Tomas and Tereza define sex differently. Tereza defines sex as an intimate act between two people in a committed relationship, and she considers it the physical manifestation of her and Tomas’s love. Tomas, on the other hand, defines sex as a…

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Power, Politics, and Inequality

Power is constantly at play in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The novel largely takes place in Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s, during a time known as the Prague Spring. In the winter of 1968, mass protests broke out across Czechoslovakia to push back against the Communist state that had been declared in the country after World War II. The protests lasted until late August, at which time the Soviet Union…

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