The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Study Guide

Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Part 6, Chapters 13–18 : The Grand March | Summary

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Summary

Kundera proposes in Chapter 13 that "what makes a leftist a leftist is ... his ability to integrate any theory into the kitsch called the Grand March"—the idea of progress that so intoxicates Franz. The author narrates from Franz's third-person point of view for the next chapters. Friends of the character invite him to take part in a protest march in Cambodia in Chapter 14. Though he initially hesitates on account of his "earthly mistress," he agrees, supposing the call is from his "unearthly love" for Sabina.

By Chapter 15 Franz is with his fellow European protestors in Bangkok, Thailand, and feels ignored by the American protesters during their meeting. Kundera explains the difference between American kitsch and the kitsch of the Grand March in Chapter 16. American political kitsch vocabulary points to "the barbarity of communism," while the Europeans propose they are concerned with "saving lives."

Franz boards a bus with the other protestors to the Cambodian border in Chapter 17. A mile out, they have to stop and continue by foot. In Chapter 18 an American actress protestor, who until then has been in the rear, feels neglected and charges to the front of the delegation.

Analysis

In this section Kundera turns back to Franz and examines his relationship with kitsch. As revealed in Part 3, Franz is a fan of parades, and specifically the Grand March. He is not a lover of kitsch per se, but the imagery of the Grand March, of fighting for justice, never ceases to touch him. He is apolitical and does not even bother to vote, but he continues to picture himself being part of a "jubilant throng marching through the centuries."

At first he hesitates when his friends ask him to join the march in Cambodia. After all, he has practical considerations, including not disappointing his student-mistress. But when he thinks about Sabina, his idealized goddess, kitsch sucks him in. He compares the injustice in Sabina's homeland with the injustice in Cambodia, and he is certain that his illusion of Sabina would want him to join the Grand March. This is, of course, an instance of dramatic irony, in which the audience knows something the character does not. Readers know the actual Sabina would want no such thing. Kundera will illustrate in later chapters how this seemingly innocent surrender to kitsch can have deadly consequences.

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