The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 2, Chapters 1–6 : Soul and Body | Summary

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Summary

Part 2 is called "Soul and Body" after the dichotomy that obsesses the character Tereza. While Part 2 mainly follows Tereza's close third-person point of view, in the first chapter Kundera's author/narrator persona admits he made up his characters. Tereza "was born of the rumbling of a stomach."

These short chapters, some less than a page long, fill in Tereza's back story and complement the events of Part 1. In Chapter 2 when she shows up at Tomas's flat for the first time, her hungry stomach embarrasses her. The situation "brutally reveals the irreconcilable duality of body and soul."

In Chapter 3 Tereza tries "to see herself through her body." She stares at herself in the mirror often, believing she might be able to see her soul. Chapter 4 provides Tereza's history with her vain mother. Tereza's father essentially killed himself after having been discarded by Tereza's mother. A former beauty, the mother had chosen him from nine suitors.

Chapter 5 reveals that Tereza's mother uses guilt against Tereza to control her and blames her daughter for the loss of her looks. In Chapter 6 Tereza tries to hide her mother's nudity, and her mother laughs at her.

Analysis

In Part 2 Kundera is explicit in his declaration that he made up his characters to explore ideas in the novel. This frank acknowledgement is a characteristic of metafiction, a type of fiction that directly addresses its fictional nature. But even though the narrator is aware the characters are fictional, the characters themselves are not. This raises interesting questions about the nature of their identity. They believe themselves to be autonomous, at least to the degree that fate allows. But how can they be when they exist only on the page? Rather than answering the question, Kundera—like other writers of metafiction—forces the reader to consider the nature of art and its relationship to its audience.

Tereza's point of view in Part 2 adds depth to her interactions with Tomas in Part 1. The reader learns that Tereza's life experiences with her mother shaped her attitudes and gave her a reason to stay in Prague. Tereza's mother links her to her body, and her body is not something she wants to inhabit. In the "irreconcilable duality of body and soul," Tereza wishes to be more on the side of the soul, as evidenced by her feelings of intoxication and jubilation in front of a mirror. She looks at herself in the mirror not to admire her body, but because she thinks she see "her soul shining through the features of her face." She is amazed to see her own "I." This "I" is her individual identity, the part of her that separates her from everyone else, especially her mother.

Part of what gives Tereza her weight is her dependence on her soul for her identity. Tomas does not seem to think of his soul, only his body. It is clear that Kundera equates the soul with weight and the body with lightness. This would seem to suggest the immortality of the soul, for if the body exists only for one life and is therefore weightless, the soul can continue into eternity.

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