The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 2, Chapters 7–12 : Soul and Body | Summary

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Summary

These chapters continue to explore Tereza's back story, including her meeting with Tomas. In Chapter 7, because Tereza's mother has grown old and ugly, she acts as though youth and beauty are worthless. In Chapter 8 Tereza meets Tomas for the first time in the restaurant where she works as a waitress. She recognizes him as an equal because he is reading a book, unlike the other restaurant patrons.

In Chapter 9 Kundera again reflects on chance and Beethoven. Chance has "a message for us," he says. While Tomas despaired that his meeting with Tereza was the result of chance, for Tereza the meeting was meant to be. Just at the moment she was bringing Tomas a cognac, she heard Beethoven, whose music represents for her "something higher."

Tomas and Tereza have a brief conversation in Chapter 10 that Tereza takes as an invitation. She meets him after her shift and before his train, and he gives her his card and seems to invite her to Prague. In Chapter 11 Kundera again uses the incidents in his characters' lives to explore the topic of coincidence. He muses that coincidence plays a role in creating motifs in life and in fiction, much like the motifs found in music. In the next chapter Tereza travels with her heavy suitcase and copy of Anna Karenina to Prague to move in with Tomas.

Analysis

Understanding Tereza's relationship with her mother is key to understanding Tereza's insecurities about her relationship with Tomas. Tereza's mother grew up being valued for her beauty, so when she loses it, she acts as if beauty does not matter. Tereza's mother is crude with her body to the point that Tereza sees bodies as interchangeable and only souls as unique bearers of identity. This point of view explains why Tereza's nightmares in Part 1 are so terrifying to her and why she feels so threatened by Tomas's dalliances with other women. If Tomas treats all women as if they are the same, then Tereza does not matter.

But Tereza needs to matter to Tomas because he is her ticket to a better life away from her mother's world. Chance plays a fateful role in their meeting: when Tomas asks her for a cognac, the radio is playing Beethoven. Tereza associates Beethoven with sophistication, and so she takes the intersection between Beethoven and Tomas's arrival in her life as "chance's message" to her. This message is further solidified by his open book, as no one in her life reads as voraciously as she does. She falls in love with him because she can feel "her soul rushing up to the surface ... to show itself to him," where normally her soul resides in her bowels to hide from her mother.

Kundera contends that for Tereza to fall in love with Tomas based on coincidence is not abnormal; it happens both in fiction and in real life. Coincidences occur with great frequency, but it is only the ones a person actively notices that have a profound influence on his or her life. Kundera likens these coincidences to motifs that assume "a permanent place in the composition of an individual's life."

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