The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 4, Chapters 19–24 : Soul and Body | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 19 Tereza fears if the engineer speaks to her "in a soft, deep voice" her soul might return "to the surface of her body" and she would weep, hug him, and fall in love with him. However, she is saved "from temptation" by his voice being incredibly unpleasant to her. She leaves without answering him.

On a walk with the dog in Chapter 20, Tereza finds a dying crow and brings it home. It can hardly move, only managing "a hopeless flap of its lame wing" from time to time. Tereza keeps vigil over the crow in Chapter 21, contemplating the ways in which she is like the bird. She fears she might lose Tomas because her fidelity is all she has to give him and her only "weapon." When she returns after getting something to eat, the crow is dead.

Tereza continues to look at her body in the mirror and finds a new fascination in it in Chapter 22. A blotch on her abdomen becomes "an obsession." Though she is initially fearful in Chapter 23 that the engineer will reappear, eventually this fear merges with the "dread that he would not." She is further troubled when a rude customer accuses her of prostitution.

In Chapter 24 she visits her ambassador friend at the hotel. He tells her the rude customer is with the secret police and gives her a lecture on the three functions of the secret police: they report what people are saying; they intimidate; they stage compromising situations. Tereza becomes paranoid that the engineer was sent by the secret police to trap and blackmail her. Perhaps he wasn't even an engineer: "How many engineers read Sophocles?" she wonders in horror. She fears his seduction was all a set-up to frame her for prostitution.

Analysis

Tereza continues to be deeply disturbed by her affair with the engineer. Her attempt to attain lightness has only succeeded in making her heavier, because now her soul is burdened with guilt and fear.

The dying crow represents Tereza's weakness in relation to Tomas. She sees in it a "reflection of her own fate." Like the crow, she is alone and desolate. The crow has her; she has the crow. She keeps Tomas by giving him the only thing she has to offer: her fidelity, which holds up their love "like a gigantic edifice supported by a single column." She is aware how easily their love could die if her infidelity is exposed.

Just as her body betrayed her with the engineer, it ultimately betrays the crow. It is when she tends to the needs of her body and steps out to get a bite to eat that the crow dies. Heaviness has its dark side, just as lightness does.

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