The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 4, Chapters 25–29 : Soul and Body | Summary

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Summary

Tereza is consumed by her troubles in Chapter 25. She is unable to take comfort in imagining her future, and instead she attempts to recreate her past by taking a trip to a spa town outside Prague. She and Tomas are alarmed to find that all the street and building names have changed to Russian. She recalls the early days of the Russian invasion, when for a time street signs were pulled down and "the country [became] nameless." She feels the invasion has stolen her past. Her paranoia further stoked, in Chapter 26 Tereza thinks about how the communists are trying to trap her and she can never attain the privacy she seeks.

In Chapter 27 the couple runs into one of Tomas's former patients. He tells them he is now a collective chairman but warns them they would be "bored to tears" where he is. While Tomas and Tereza drive home in Chapter 28, Tereza thinks about moving to the country as "their only path to salvation." She turns to discuss it with Tomas but loses "all courage to speak," and they continue in silence. Despondent, Tereza goes to view the Vltava River in Chapter 29 and watches as park benches float by her in the water. Nobody else seems to notice.

Analysis

Now that Tereza has crossed the boundary into infidelity, she sees no straight line into her future. As Kundera points out, people usually look to the future as a time when "their current troubles will cease to exist." But in keeping with the claustrophobic atmosphere created at the beginning of Part 4, Tereza continues to feel trapped and thus sees no such future. She looks to her past for consolation, but the spa town she and Tomas once enjoyed is unrecognizable to them. The town has lost its Czech identity and taken on a Soviet one. Its past has been "confiscated" and Tereza's consolation along with it. Her paranoia is stoked further. She feels "her mother's roof stretched out over the whole world," and there is no escape.

The erasure of a national identity is a Soviet technique dating to the era of Josef Stalin, who was the dictator of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his 1953 death. Enemies of the Communist Party were even removed from photographs, a technique Kundera memorably explored in an earlier novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1981). In these chapters Kundera shows the personal toll of such an erasure. In stealing Czech place names from the spa town and other places, the government has stolen Tereza's own identity.

But then possible salvation comes in the form of Tomas's former patient, the collective chairman, who introduces Tereza to the idea of escaping to the countryside. In the countryside she hopes she will no longer be squeezed in by crowds, spied on by communists, and threatened by Tomas's lovers. Seeing the park benches floating in the river in a scene that is both strange and unexplained by the author, Tereza understands she is seeing "a farewell" to Prague.

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