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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Milan Kundera

Part 3: Words Misunderstood

Part 2: Soul and Body

Part 3: Words Misunderstood, page 2

page 1 of 3

We meet Tomas's lover Sabina again, this time just as she is joined by another of her lovers, Franz, a good-looking and guilt-ridden married professor. He suggests a trip to Palermo, but Sabina refuses. She pours them wine, and removes her clothing; she leads Franz to the mirror, and places the bowler hat on her head. Franz, thinking she is joking, removes the hat. He kisses her, she agrees to go to Palermo, and he leaves the studio.

Alone and disappointed, Sabina remembers the first time the bowler hat entered her lovemaking. In Prague, Tomas put it on her head as a joke, and both looked at her image in the mirror, growing aroused. Sabina thinks the hat undermines her dignity as a woman. She thinks about wearing the hat in her lovemaking with Tomas, and muses it was "far from good clean fun…it was humiliation"— a humiliation she provoked and enjoyed.

The bowler originally belonged to Sabina's grandfather, a mayor in a small Czech town, and was then passed down to Sabina's father. After her parents' death, rather than fight her brother for inheritance rights, Sabina told him she would just take the hat. The bowler hat became an erotic object for her and Tomas, and eventually came to symbolize their affair, and their time in Prague. Now it begins to stand for Franz's misunderstanding of Sabina.

The narrator comments that Franz and Sabina, like any pair of lovers who meet later on in life, have a dictionary of mutually misunderstood words. He devotes the middle section of Part 3 to defining these misunderstood words. A sampling:

Woman : Franz bases his ideal of womanhood on his mother. Franz considers Sabina a woman in this sense; Sabina considers herself "Sabina", an non-gendered essential being. She thinks of her femininity as secondary, an accident of birth not crucial to her identity.

Fidelity and betrayal: Franz worships fidelity. He loved his mother faithfully until she died. He hates betraying his wife to be with Sabina. Sabina, on the other hand, finds betrayal interesting. Her life is a series of betrayals—of family, art school, country and lovers.

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