The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 1, Chapters 13–17 : Lightness and Weight | Summary



In Zurich, where he works at a hospital, Tomas continues having affairs. In Chapter 13 he visits Sabina, who has moved to Geneva. She opens the door wearing only her underwear and a black bowler hat, and they make love without a word. After seven months in Zurich, Tomas comes home to find Tereza has gone back to Prague. She leaves a letter saying she is "weighing him down and would do so no longer."

In Chapter 14 Tomas reacts to Tereza's departure. At first he is shocked, but then he is relieved to have "entered Parmenides' ... sweet lightness of being." In Chapter 15, however, Tomas realizes he must follow Tereza because of his love and compassion for her and gives his resignation at the hospital. He says, "Es muss sein!" the German for "It must be!" The words echo the motif from a Beethoven sonata that the hospital director recognizes.

Tomas crosses the heavily guarded border in Chapter 16 and returns to his flat, where he is greeted by Karenin, the dog. But by Chapter 17 Tomas regrets returning and feels despair over the decision.


When Tomas visits Sabina in Geneva in Chapter 14, he is pleased that he is able to reconcile the two opposite poles of lightness (his affairs) and weight (his responsibility to Tereza). But Tereza unexpectedly leaves him to return to Prague. He feels her departure first "like the blow of a sledgehammer," an apt reminder of her heavy presence in his life. But then he feels calm and light, and he realizes their seven years together are "more attractive in retrospect than when he was living them." Tereza weighed him down and tired him out, and with the weight gone, "what was tiring had disappeared and only beauty remained." By equating lightness with beauty, Tomas is still trying to cling to his libertine identity. His step is lighter and he enjoys "the sweet lightness of being."

But in Chapter 15 it turns out that this lightness he felt was merely an illusion. He realizes that Tereza has "infected" him with her weight. He had thought himself immune, but clearly he was wrong. When he gives his resignation, he merely says, "It must be!" With this proclamation, Tomas gives in to heaviness, making the "heavy" decision of returning to Prague and life with Tereza.

In Chapter 16 Kundera points out via his narrator persona that Beethoven viewed weight as positive, for "a weighty resolution is at one with the voice of fate." "It must be!" links necessity with something heavy and says only that which is heavy has value. Kundera again addresses the reader directly Chapter 17 as he explores the theme of chance versus fate. He says that we assume our love is "what must be," yet the series of chance events leading to the meeting of Tomas and Tereza shows that "It could just as well be otherwise." Tomas realizes "it had taken six chance happenings to push [him] towards Tereza." His fate lies with a love that chance brought into his life, and he finds this opposition difficult to reconcile.

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