The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 2, Chapters 13–18 : Soul and Body | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 13 Tereza screams loudly and then falls asleep holding on to Tomas. Chapter 14 explores her new life in Prague. She has a job in a darkroom but she wants to take pictures herself, so she asks her artist friend Sabina to teach her photography. Before long she is selling her photos as a professional photographer. After she celebrates this milestone with Tomas, he expresses his jealously that Tereza danced with another man at a party.

Kundera assumes his author/narrator persona in Chapter 15 to explain why Tereza's nightmares are so horrifying to her. They remind her that to the philandering Tomas, she is just another woman's body. In Chapter 16 Tereza uses her dreams as a way to communicate to Tomas that she hates his infidelity.

Tereza begins to feel vertigo in Chapter 17. By the following chapter, this vertigo manifests itself physically and she begins to stumble and bump into things. Tereza's mother tries to lure her back by claiming she has cancer, but Tomas investigates and discovers it is all a lie.

Analysis

In these chapters the reader is clearly meant to sympathize with Tereza's jealousy. Tomas embodies her greatest fears with his libertine ways. Tereza came to Tomas "to make her body unique," as irreplaceable as her soul. But Tomas makes no distinction between her body and other women's bodies. Tomas "kissed them all alike" and "stroked them alike," and this horrifies Tereza. She came to him to escape her mother's world of naked bodies, and she sees his infidelities as sending her "to march naked with the other naked women." This betrayal is something she cannot communicate in words, so she does it through her dreams.

Nudity is a symbol of humiliation and uniformity for Tereza, stemming from her youth when her mother allowed her no privacy. Tereza wants to be someone special to Tomas, and when she is naked for him, she is especially vulnerable because she is also exposing her valuable, weighty soul. That Tomas does not recognize or appreciate this is a constant source of humiliation for her, so her worst dreams portray her as just another naked woman among many.

By Chapter 16 her nightmares have become so frequent and damaging that she fears sleep. Even though she tells Tomas that rationally his "infidelities are no great tragedy," her dreams tell a different story. In Chapters 17 and 18 her nagging fears lead to a psychologically induced vertigo. "In times of weakness," Kundera says, "she [is] ready ... to return to her mother." Clearly, it is no longer healthy for her to maintain the status quo of her relationship with Tomas.

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