The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 5, Chapters 13–18 : Lightness and Weight | Summary



In Chapter 13, Tomas encounters Tereza with the crow and is touched by it. His son Simon visits him for the first time, along with the tall editor Tomas falsely denounced. The two ask him to sign a petition requesting amnesty for political prisoners, which the government would surely denounce. Tomas understands his signing "made not the slightest difference." Tomas explains to Simon in Chapter 14 that the way people understood the article he wrote about Oedipus was "a misunderstanding." He refuses to sign the petition because he realizes his duty is not to his son but to Tereza.

Tomas reads about the petition in the paper in Chapter 15. He cannot remember why he did not sign, and Kundera sees Tomas again "the way he appeared ... at the beginning of the novel." As he did in Part 1, Chapter 3, Tomas is standing at a window, looking at the walls beyond a courtyard and wondering what to do. Kundera explains that his characters are "[his] own unrealized possibilities." This is why, he says, his characters both make him fond and horrify him. He claims he wrote Tomas and the other characters to cross borders that Kundera himself has "circumvented." Beyond each crossed border "begins the secret the novel asks about." In fact, he says, a novel is not an author's confession, but an "investigation of human life in the trap the world has become." Then he returns to the story of Tomas. Tomas meditates that human life occurs "only once" and at any point one can "make only one decision." In this way, he thinks, history is similar to life. The tall editor thinks everything he does will occur again, but Tomas knows this idea is false.

Building upon the thoughts in the previous chapter, in Chapter 16 Tomas is struck by the thought of planets out in space where people would be born again and again in eternal return. By Chapter 17 Tomas has been washing windows for over two years, and he begins to feel mentally and physically tired. He even fails to recognize a woman he's been trying to seduce. Tomas and Tereza drive to a spa town in Chapter 18—the same visit described in Part 4, Chapter 5—and find it covered in Soviet names. They drive home in silence "like an agony," and that night Tereza has a nightmare about being buried in a grave. After Tomas awakens her, she tells him that in the dream her eyes were filled with dirt. Tomas visited her but she could not see him anymore, and to his dream-suggestion she take a holiday, she says she knew it meant he'd go off with another woman. Tomas is deeply troubled after Tereza falls asleep again.


In Chapter 15 Kundera reveals his purpose for writing the novel. He claims writers can only write about themselves, and that he has been in some of the same situations as his characters. Yet his characters represent his "own unrealized possibilities" and do things that he did not or cannot. In this way Kundera creates a basis to compare his actions with theirs. He can judge the outcomes in a form of Nietzsche's eternal return, and this gives weight to his own life.

Furthermore, he says, a novel is not a writer's confession. It is, rather, the writer's response to a corrupt world, the "trap the world has become." This appearance of the author/narrator is, in effect, a statement of the writer's responsibility as a citizen of the world. He does not hold the mirror to his own life, he is saying, but to what he sees. As Tomas declares in considering whether or not to sign the petition, the "border between good and evil" is "terribly fuzzy."

When Tomas realizes his duty is only to Tereza, he is affirming that love means more than meaningless political gestures. Even Tereza's love for the crow means more than politics. He tells Simon it is more important to "dig a half-buried crow out of the ground" than to send petitions to a president.

Tereza understands, but cannot communicate, the importance of Tomas's love in her life. Her dreams are her way of communicating with Tomas in metaphors what she cannot formulate in words. In Chapter 18 she is telling him that she cannot survive their current state of living, where they see each other only once a week. If eyes are windows to the soul, and Tereza no longer has eyes, then Tomas can no longer see her soul. Without his access to her soul, their love will die.

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