The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 2, Chapters 19–24 : Soul and Body | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 19 Tereza considers joining Tomas in his affairs in an attempt to become his alter ego. Tomas, however, refuses to agree. In Chapter 20 Tereza deepens her friendship with Sabina, knowing she is Tomas's mistress, and visits her at her studio. She realizes that Sabina's paintings all treat "the confluence of two themes, two worlds." All are double exposures; for instance, an "idyllic" still life shows a hand ripping through the canvas.

The scene between the two women continues for the next two chapters. In Chapter 21 Tereza notices Sabina's bowler hat and suggests taking nude photos of Sabina. In Chapter 22 Sabina poses nude for Tereza and then asks Tereza to similarly pose for her. Tereza does, spurred on at hearing the command "Strip!" which Tomas has issued to both women. Both women find the situation rather intoxicating.

At the beginning of Chapter 23 Russians invade Czechoslovakia. Tereza roams the streets, shooting rolls of film, and many of her photographs of tanks and corpses appear in Western press. In Chapter 24 she is once again in Switzerland, where she has brought numerous prints. She tries to sell her photos to a magazine, but they are rejected for not being timely enough. Instead the magazine is buying photos of a nude beach, pictures that remind Tereza of her mother's lack of decency regarding her nude body.

Analysis

Tereza becomes fascinated with the idea of becoming Tomas's alter ego. She sees it as a way to rise above all the other women and make herself unique. If Tomas will not allow her to be true to her "weighty" soul identity, then she wishes to join his "light" body identity. Her desire is much like the theme of double exposures in Sabina's artwork, and, in fact, she turns to Sabina when Tomas "refused to understand" Tereza's obsession with the idea of her and Tomas merging. Sabina describes her art as something abstract beneath something realistic: "On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth." A similar polarity is present in many of the novel's themes.

The scene in which Tereza asks Sabina to strip for her is Tereza's attempt to take on Tomas's identity. When Sabina agrees, however, Tereza feels "her body going weak," showing she has her doubts about this course of action. Sabina feels vulnerable and asks Tereza to strip in order to regain her power. Tereza surrenders and is intoxicated by her surrender. However, it is unclear whether this is similar to the intoxication Tereza feels on seeing her soul in the mirror or the intoxication of giving into vertigo. She might be either gaining herself in her surrender or losing herself.

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