The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 5, Chapters 1–6 : Lightness and Weight | Summary



Part 5, like Part 1, is called "Lightness and Weight," a signal to readers that the story will again follow the close perspective of Tomas.

In Chapter 1, after Tereza visits him for the first time in Prague, Tomas picks up a copy of Sophocles's Oedipus. In his author/narrator persona Kundera tells the story of Oedipus, who is fated to unknowingly kill his father and marry his mother. On realizing what he has done he blinds himself. Tomas recalls the story in Chapter 2, wondering if a man can claim innocence due to ignorance. The question reverberates for him as it is at the center of the communists' defense for the atrocities perpetrated in the name of their beliefs. He decides to write his reflections on Oedipus and sends the piece to a weekly newspaper that is exploring the burden of guilt for murders resulting from political trials in the early years of communist power in Czechoslovakia. The paper publishes his piece in the spring of 1968.

In Chapter 3, after returning to Prague from Zurich, Tomas is told by the chief surgeon that he must write a retraction for his Oedipus piece. Tomas reflects that his honor and work as a surgeon are at stake. He can't stand the feeling that "everyone" wants him to retract. In Chapter 4 he decides he will not write a retraction and must leave the hospital.

Tomas goes to work as a general practitioner at a country clinic outside of Prague. In Chapter 5 the Minister of the Interior visits Tomas and interrogates him about his article and its editors. Tomas explains that the article was cut before publication, and that the cuts might have led to a misunderstanding of the content. Then he realizes this explanation amounts to falsely accusing one of the editors, a man who is tall and stooped. In Chapter 6 the Minster of the Interior returns and insists Tomas sign a statement condemning the country's intelligentsia and denouncing the editors of the paper, particularly the tall, stooped man. Tomas hesitates and provides an excuse: he is capable of writing this statement in his own words. Instead, the next day, he resigns at the clinic and becomes a window washer. He knows nobody will care about the statement if he is in a position of no importance.


These first six chapters of Part 5 explain how Tomas goes from being a highly-regarded surgeon to a window washer. Kundera details how Tomas's chance meeting with Tereza led him to rediscover the Oedipus myth, which led him to write his article, which led to his dismissal from the hospital and his hounding by the communist officials.

Tereza tends to blame herself for Tomas's fate, and this section seems to support this view. The narrative shows it is possible that if Tomas had never met Tereza, he would have never pondered the Oedipus myth, would have never written the article, and would still be a surgeon. With this sequence of events Kundera illustrates the powerful role chance can play in determining fate.

This section also illustrates how Tomas's identity is found more in his sense of integrity than in his chosen profession. While his integrity does not extend to being faithful to his wife, he is horrified by the idea of being a coward. He isn't willing to be dishonest to retain his position; he would rather be honest and suffer the consequences. And so he does.

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