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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Milan Kundera

Part 2: Soul and Body

Part 1: Lightness and Weight

Part 2: Soul and Body, page 2

page 1 of 3
Summary

Part two of The Unbearable Lightness of Being examines the story of Tomas and Tereza—precisely the story we read in Part I—from Tereza's perspective. Arriving at Tomas's flat for the first time, Tereza feels humiliated by her rumbling stomach. She feels that the soul and body are entirely separate entities; she has always hated the body.

Tereza looks like her mother. Tereza's mother, a cruel and vulgar woman, was a beauty in her youth but married early because of pregnancy. She left her husband and young daughter to live with a scoundrel; after Tereza's father got into political trouble, Tereza was sent to live with her mother and stepfather. Her mother's beauty faded with three more children and the misery of her life, and she took out all of her frustration on her eldest daughter.

Tereza's mother took pleasure in embarrassing and torturing the shy, unhappy girl. Tereza dropped out of high school early to take care of her mother and younger half-siblings. Her mother, attempting to combat the reality of her own faded beauty, paraded about the house naked, spoke in public about her sex life, and refused to allow Tereza to lock the bathroom door, to demonstrate that all human bodies were equal and natural. Tereza's only solaces were books, dreams of a cultured life, and the idea of an individual soul different from the bodies surrounding it. She found another comfort after hearing a string quartet from Prague play Beethoven.

Tereza can hardly help from falling in love with Tomas, for she first sees him surrounded by the objects she associates with a lovely, longed-for life: she brings him cognac, and sees a book on his table, hears strains of Beethoven on the radio, and understands he is from Prague. To add to the coincidence, his hotel room number is six, the number of her parents' house in Prague before their divorce. She tells Tomas she leaves work at six, and when she leaves, she finds him sitting outside the entrance on her favorite bench. They spend less than an hour together before he returns to Prague by train, but the coincidences convince Tereza that Tomas is destined for her. The narrator points out that the same element of chance that makes Tomas uneasy about thei r relationship is precisely what makes Tereza feel confident about it.

The second time Tereza visits Tomas, she arrives with her heavy suitcase and Anna Karenina, hoping to enter Tomas's world. When she and Tomas make love, she screams and keeps her eyes fixed on the ceiling. Her scream is "aimed at crippling the senses"; she screams in an attempt to make sex about the spirit, rather than the body she so hates.

In Prague, Tereza's natural intelligence and self-education help her learn photography. She moves from darkroom assistant to staff photographer with Sabina's help. She and Sabina celebrate her success by going out dancing; Tereza dances with a man she meets, and enjoys Tomas's jealousy at seeing her with another man.

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