The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 5, Chapters 19–23 : Lightness and Weight | Summary



In Chapter 19 it has been five years since the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Tomas attends the funeral of a famous biologist who was thrown out of the Academy of Sciences, which is being filmed by the police. There he sees the tall editor, but the editor warns him to keep his distance. Tomas realizes he misses "these people who feared nothing."

After an encounter with an old colleague in Chapter 20, Tomas understands how estranged he is from his old life. He has not spoken to the chief surgeon of his hospital since he left, and even his old patients have forgotten him. "The situation of the déclassé individual," he thinks, is "no longer exceptional." This puts him into a depression that devolves into stomach pains. In Chapter 21 Tereza uses his weak state to convince him to move to the countryside. Tereza admits that the smell of other women's groins in his hair bothers her. He is horrified that despite "the scrubbings he'd put himself through," he had forgotten to clean his hair.

In Chapter 22 Tomas has erotic dreams about women, but he knows sex with others has no bearing "on his love for Tereza." He reflects that attaching love to sex was a "bizarre idea" of the Creator's. Tomas has dreams about his perfect woman in Chapter 23. He longs for her "feminine calm" that has "eluded him all his life," but life has instead sent him Tereza. He imagines leaving Tereza for this female ideal, but he realizes he cannot.


This section covers the transition between Tomas's life as a window washer in Prague and his move to the countryside. As in his return from Zurich, his main impetus for this life change is his compassion for Tereza. Her dream in Chapter 18 has affected him greatly, so much so that he feels he is "on the verge of a heart attack." Certainly, Tereza is a burden to him—he has lost his profession, and her suggestion to move will mean essentially having to give up his womanizing, too.

Then, in Chapter 20, he sees how much his life has changed. He no longer has contact with his former colleagues at the hospital, even colleagues such as the chief surgeon, whom he considered a good friend. His erotic dreams are his last gasp of his "light" identity before he surrenders to Tereza's wishes. He will trap himself in the countryside until his death.

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