The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 5, Chapters 7–12 : Lightness and Weight | Summary



Kundera assumes his author/narrator personal in Chapter 7 to say that Tomas was born to be a surgeon, "to spend his life with human bodies and all that they entail." So, Kundera says, his character's decision to reject his profession "seems rather odd" to the author. He wonders on the page if the decision might conceal "something else, something deeper."

The author remains in this role at the beginning of Chapter 8 to explain how Beethoven came to write his "Muss es sein? Es muss sein!" motif, first encountered by readers in Part 1, Chapter 15. The composer set to music the words of a humorous exchange with a friend, thus turning a joke into something much heavier. It is, Kundera says, an example of "light going to heavy." Such an occurrence doesn't surprise us, he says, the way the reverse might have done—if Beethoven had turned a serious musical motif into a joke. Yet he gives his opinion that Tomas, in rejecting his profession, has decided to do just that—to go from heavy to light, following "the spirit of Parmenides."

Thus Tomas realizes in Chapter 8 that by becoming a window washer, he is no longer beholden to his "compulsion" to perform his profession. He feels instead a "blissful indifference" and a return to "his bachelor existence." Additionally, his former patients often greet him with a bottle of wine. Having this much time and opportunity allows Tomas to increase his number of affairs with women, beginning in Chapter 9. He engages in affairs to pursue "the unimaginable" in women and "unveil" their uniqueness. "Sexuality," he muses, "seems still to be the strongbox hiding the mystery" inside women. He wants to find the "I" in each woman he has sex with, much as he once desired to reveal the mysteries of the human body with a scalpel.

In Chapter 10 Tomas meets a woman who looks like a stork-giraffe. He is an "epic" womanizer, that is, a collector of women, rather than a "lyrical" womanizer who seeks an impossible ideal. Therefore he finds her strange and different enough to desire her. Tomas cannot picture what making love with the stork-giraffe woman would be like, so in Chapter 11 he has to seduce her. After sex with her, he feels "the joy of having acquired yet another piece of the world." Despite Tomas's philandering, Kundera points out in Chapter 12 that Tomas only has room for Tereza in his poetic memory. Other women do not touch his soul.


Kundera's meditation on Tomas in Chapter 7 is a classic example of the metafictional technique. He wonders about the character's motivation as if the character had a life of his own. At the same time, his intrusion upon the narrative—for his authorial voice is never quite absent in these chapters—reminds readers that the character is his own creation. Like Italian author Luigi Pirandello, whose characters in Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) understand they are characters in a play, Kundera doesn't provide any ready-made conclusions for readers about the "reality" of Tomas. Rather, Kundera's metafiction pushes the reader to think about the concepts of truth and illusion—concepts at the heart of the novel.

The author's "suspicion" is that Tomas desired to cast off the heavy mantle of his inner drive towards his profession so he could be completely free and light. Window washing affords him this lightness. Not only does Tomas not care about window washing at all, it gives him ample opportunity to pursue his collection of women. Readers might at this point feel some distaste for the character who, in Part 5, Chapter 6, gave up a noble profession for the sake of his integrity. Yet Kundera casts Tomas's pursuit of women as almost another noble calling. He classifies Tomas as an epic womanizer rather than a lyrical one, whose mission is to know as many variations of women as possible. He wishes to "slit open" and possess the world—a desire that drove him to be both surgeon and incurable libertine.

Kundera also defends Tomas's love for Tereza, revealing in Chapter 12 that only Tereza occupies Tomas's poetic memory. Kundera places poetic memory in the realm of the soul, thereby suggesting that Tomas is faithful to Tereza in the way that really matters. Other women may have access to his body (lightness), but only Tereza has access to his soul (weight). This is what Tomas has always attempted to communicate to Tereza, although she simply cannot accept it.

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