The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Kundera’s most famous novel is a complex book. Set against the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the story evolves around different fictional topics but could just as well be the story of real people. A man torn between thought and emotion, between love and lust. A woman who lives for rebellion. Another whose body is simply an amplifier for her emotions. Tomas, the male protagonist, falls in love with Teresa and marries her, while still having many one-night stands in an attempt to give weight (meaning) to his life. Moreover, he maintains a love-affair with Sabina.
Teresa is aware of Tomas’ adulteries and cannot bear the situation, which manifests itself in numerous detailed nightmares illustrating the realities of life. For Teresa, love and sex go together, whereas Tomas believes that having sex without love is possible. The female protagonist therefore suffers from the heaviness of life, while her male counterpart feels the unbearable lightness of being. Teresa later tries to gain this lightness for herself. Most of us carry the heavy and the light, the expression of either part depending on our character and circumstances. For that reason, one can identify with Teresa as well as Tomas and Sabina too.
Kundera led me to understand that the “specialness” of relationships is not really held in the place that we tend to think it is nor manifests itself in the way that we wish. That love is not what we think it is and unfortunately can sometimes only be gained through situations that we would otherwise find abhorrent if not consumed with these feelings. Sex and love are so intimately joined that it is very difficult to distinguish between the two. Tereza stayed with Tomas knowing he spent most days and nights in another woman’s arms because she loved him, and therefore would suffer anything for him. For her, sex and love were the same thing and that is what tormented her but at the same time made her stay. Is Tereza’s acceptance weakness or a pessimistically hopeful attempt to gain love through persistence and loyalty?
The very fact that they stay together and seem to find some degree of happiness illustrates that an acceptance of a relationship that falls well short of satisfying and fulfilling hopes, is possible. Is Tomas and Tereza’s tolerance of their imperfect love, their acceptance of where they have arrived at simply a reflection of the fact that you can’t change the strong’s oppression of the weak? You may hate it, as Tereza hates Thomas’ infidelity, but you have to accept it and move on. However, this suggestion that change can only be incremental (at best) and that basically everyone must cope with life, however awful, must be rejected. Life without dreams is no life at all, but perhaps this is the very point that Kundera was trying to portray.