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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Milan Kundera

Part 4: Soul and body

Part 3: Words Misunderstood

Part 4: Soul and body, page 2

page 1 of 3
Summary

In this section, we rejoin Tereza and Tomas after their move back to Prague. Their life together continues with its familiar mix of personal and political turmoil. Tomas listens to a radio program sponsored by the police, who play tapes from dissidents' bugged apartments. Tereza rises every morning to have breakfast with Tomas, despite his protests; he would rather eat alone, but since their daytime schedules conflict, Tereza refuses to give up this chance to spend time with him.

Tereza's fear of the body persists. As she walks to the sauna one day, she watches the young women of Prague pushing their way through the crowd, and recalls the same young women in miniskirts taunting Russian soldiers during the early days of the invasion. In the sauna, Tereza watches one woman whose body she considers grotesque; the woman has a pretty, childish face but exaggerated curves. Before dressing, Tereza stares at her body in the mirror. She is embarrassed by her breasts and again puzzles over the supposed connection between soul and body. She wishes she could feel light about her body, and behave the way Tomas does.

No longer allowed to take photographs, Tereza works behind a hotel bar. A former ambassador works at the reception desk; she listens to him talk to a man whose son was identified by the police as a dissident. Tereza suddenly understands that the Russian police have been using the photographs she and other photojournalists took during the invasion.

In an effort at releasing herself from her fears of the body, Tereza begins flirting with men at the bar. Even this she cannot do lightly; she flirts heavily, seeming to promise too much too earnestly. A young boy gives her a hard time at the bar, and when he leaves, an older customer wrongly accuses her of having served a minor alcohol. A tall engineer intercedes on Tereza's behalf. He comes in days later, and the two flirt and he tells her he lives close by.

In a dream sequence, Tereza asks Tomas to help her. He directs her to Petrin Hill, where a man with a rifle helps three suicidal people kill themselves, then turns to her. She tells him no, and that it wasn't her choice, and leaves the hill understanding that Tomas sent her to die.

The dream makes Tereza decide to go visit the engineer. She goes to his room and the two interact awkwardly; they often lapse into uncomfortable silence. Sophocles' Oedipus is among the shelved books and Tereza thinks of it as a sign from Tomas. The stranger undresses her and the two have sex; at the point of orgasm Tereza spits in his face. She uses the toilet and feels she has been reduced to a body in the worst sense; the engineer's high-pitched voice breaks the spell, and she leaves.

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