The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by: Milan Kundera

Part 5: Lightness and Weight

Summary Part 5: Lightness and Weight

Tomas has one affair with an interesting young woman, whose appearance he compares to a stork or giraffe or young boy. She refuses to strip at his command, and defies many of his expectations. Her originality intrigues Tomas.

Tomas runs into a former lover who reminds him of a poetic moment when they made love during a storm. Tomas has no memory of the incident, and realizes that Tereza occupies all of his poetic memory. With other women, he acts the doctor or explorer.

Two dissidents contact Tomas, an editor with a big chin and Tomas's son. Both men admire Tomas's courageous refusal to comply with the police. However, they too want him to sign something—a petition against the rough treatment of political prisoners. Tomas stares at his son, noticing he stammers and blushes. Tomas feels his relationship with his son is at stake; also, the glamour of being an important dissident tempts him. At the same time, he realizes that like the chief surgeon and the man from the Ministry of the Interior, these dissidents want him to sign something he did not write. At the last moment he thinks of Tereza, who has complained of being harassed by the secret police. He refuses to sign.

The papers publish news of the petition the next day, and vilify all who signed. Tomas wonders whether he should have signed, and considers the history of the Czech people. He suspects the history is coming to an end. A random encounter with a girl he had forgotten to seduce reminds him that he is aging as well. He has grown increasingly estranged from Tereza. Tereza suggests they move to the country; Tomas knows this would mean finally giving up on his womanizing. Tomas thinks how ridiculous it is that sex and love are somehow linked in the human brain, and thinks in an ideal world he would be excited at the sight of a swallow instead of a woman, so as not to upset Tereza. He imagines life with some ideal woman, a version of himself, and realizes he would leave any happiness behind for Tereza.

Analysis

This chapter finally explains the Oedipus article for which Tomas has been blacklisted. In keeping with Tomas's character, the article is more humorous, intellectual and philosophical than overtly political. He points out a clever parable and logical mistake, but never means to join the ranks of the dissidents.

Tomas seems to gain self-knowledge as he grows older; in his encounter with the giraffe-like woman, and his classification as an epic womanizer, he demonstrates a clearer understanding of himself and his motivations that he has previously.