The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 4, Chapters 13–18 : Soul and Body | Summary



In Chapter 13, a continuation of the dream sequence, Tereza's assassin tries to blindfold her. She tells him dying is not her choice, however, and he lets her go. Overcome with relief and shame, Tereza weeps and embraces a tree. She longs for someone to help her since Tomas will not. She thinks Tomas will "never forgive her for failing to keep her word" and being too much a coward to die, as he sent her to do.

After rejecting the engineer's advances twice, Tereza finally accepts an invitation to the man's flat in Chapter 15. She thinks she's being sent to him by Tomas, who has told her "time and again that love and sexuality [have] nothing in common." She decides she will "push her body up to the border" but no further.

But as Tereza admires the engineer's books in Chapter 16, she lets her guard down. In Chapter 17, when the engineer undresses Tereza, she does not resist. She also refuses to assist him, and is "nearly immobile." When he makes love to her, she recognizes that her body is "the most extraordinary body." She becomes disgusted with the engineer and spits in his face. As she uses the toilet in Chapter 18, Tereza is overcome by "a feeling of infinite grief" for her actions.


Kundera draws a parallel between Tomas's sending Tereza to her executioner and sending her to the engineer. Both acts are metaphorical, not literal. Yet in her dream, Tereza escapes death by admitting dying was not her choice, while the same admission does not save her from the engineer.

During the experience with the engineer, Tereza decides her soul is not involved, "only her body." This is the culmination of her wish back in Chapter 6 that she could separate her body from her soul. In Chapter 17 she stubbornly stays with her soul, refusing "to take any responsibility" for her body. Her soul does not condone what her body is doing. But then a curious thing happens: her soul gets a true look at her body and realizes how extraordinary it is. This is what it takes for Tereza to understand once and for all that her body is not like other bodies. It cannot take pleasure in joining with random bodies, as other bodies do. Her soul and body become one, and in a glorious moment, she rejects lightness by spitting in the engineer's face.

Despite this victory for her soul, Tereza feels extreme shame for allowing her body to be merely a body, even just one time. Her soul retreats again, and she is left feeling the grief and loneliness of one who has betrayed herself.

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