The Unbearable lightness of Being, written by Milan Kundera, is a novel where Kundera argues over the concept of lightness and heaviness of human lives. The core of this novel follows a pattern that reads between the lives of humans. It also analyses the probability of how and what events could be changed in one’s life and how the “lightness” can be determined. He compares the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche' with Parmenides and tries to elevate the scenario of eternal return with that of the concept of having a unary life.
He starts off with the explanations of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy that states that everything that a human life experiences, an event or a moment, takes place countless amount of times with different outcomes. Hence, this keeps the space of comparison between each end’s scenarios and also allows the quality of life to be determined- the weightiness of the life. In contrast to this theory, Parmenides’s philosophy suggests that one’s life only occurs once and there is no turning point from the course of actions that leads to a certain event or moment. Hence, this deems life to be less weighty. This philosophical debate has been carried down into the core of this novel, attempts to clear what life truly is. Each of the cases discuss the ideals of Friedrich Nietzsche' and Parmenides and the author tries to paint a clear picture of which one is right and which one we should be striving for- the lightness or weightiness of the life.
The story starts off at Prague in the late 1960s. In this setting, we get to see the protagonist of the novel who is named Tomas. The writer portrays him to be a believer of the lightness of life, meaning, that he believes that life events that occur are unary and absolute and that there are no other outcomes that can compared to it to determine the quality of life. Tomas is a well-established doctor. He has a womanizer attitude and believes that sex and love are independent of one another and that his love for a woman will not be affected if he went around sleeping with other women (which he did do a lot). He tended to all of his mistresses on a regular basis but never really got emotionally invested in any of them. He had been married before and had had a wife and a young son but he never developed any attachment with them and hence, he ended up splitting up with them, never looking back. He neither took their responsibility not does he ever wishes to go back to his existing family. All this is because he never felt the emotional attachment with them. Thus, he kept on living his life as a bachelor doctor and is happy with his mistresses, who have no strings attached with him.
Teresa, another protagonist living in the same universe as Tomas, is a struggling waitress who has been having a tough time in life in a small town. From her abusive relationship with her mother to her everyday sorrows of wanting a better life, she often thinks of running away to find the better life she seeks. She comes across Tomas and finds him extremely intelligent and charming. After an hour of conversation with him, she becomes convinced that Tomas is the kind of a guy who has his life together and is very wise. She falls in love with him very instantly and Tomas too starts to grow some kinds of feelings for her, even though he is not sure why he feels so.
One night, Teresa comes over to Tomas’s place and they end up having sex. Tomas realizes that Teresa was destined to come to his life and make him feel love and so, he becomes sure about his feelings for her. From his lightness of life perspective, he believes that everything that happens in life is absolute and Teresa’s entrance into his life is one of the absolute catalysts necessary for certain events to unfold. Tomas keeps Teresa at his place for a few days as she had caught a bad flu. However when the flu is better, and it is time for Teresa to leave, Thomas is in peril because he does not know what to do, as he does not want Teresa to get the wrong idea. Narrator explains how this is a downfall for the lightness of life as one cannot not take lessons from the previous life and does not have the chance of resolve in the next one. He eventually marries Teresa and initially, he is very careful about not letting her get to know about his mistresses and his sexual tendencies. However, he eventually tells her the truth in fear that she finds it out herself and that would be far worse. Teresa is unable to take in the truth. She knows that she is unable to leave him despite his womanizing character but she hates this part of him very much. Tomas explains to her about his tastes and clarifies that his sex life has nothing to do with his love for her. He claims that he is emotionally loyal to her and her only because for him, sex and love are not elements that go hand in hand. Even after listening to his justifications, Teresa is extremely sad and eventually gets depressed. She even starts having suicidal thoughts because the pain is too much for her to take and all she had ever wanted is to have a peaceful life.
The narrator then introduces us to Sabina, another character in the novel. She has been one of Tomas’s mistresses for a very long time. The narrator then dives into the past of Sabina and shows the caliber of her actions that have been unfolding the events of life. She follows the lightness of life, which the narrator establishes as soon as he dives into her story. Sabina is known for her beautiful painting skills but she is also very reckless. A flashback into the Russian Invasion allows us to see Sabina when she had taken a lover names Franz. He had a wife with whom he had a difficult marriage and thus, he melted to Sabina’s love and charms. Franz eventually realized that he really loved Sabina and wanted to be with her so he confronted his wife and told her the truth. However, this had not ended well either way as Sabina also decided to leave Franz because they, too, had many conflicts and misconceptions that had built up in time. Franz ended up being happy without her when he realized that he had merely loved the existence of Sabina and not Sabina herself as a person. However, he still had feelings for her so when she left but he was sure that he would still be able to love her from a distance, which would be healthy for the both of them. In time, he got into a relationship with another woman who is also his student. The narrator shows how Sabina’s life had been a line of events that consisted of betrayals. He thinks that all the events that took place in her life is due to her living the lightness of her life through betrayal.
Sabina, being Tomas’s closest friend, meets up with both of them. Even though she hates Sabina for what she is to Tomas, Teresa could not help fall for her charms as well. In time, the two ladies become friendly with one another despite their complicated relationship. Sabina ends up helping Teresa find a job by giving her a tip regarding the vacancy of a photographer. Even after everything Sabina has done for Teresa, she is still (quite understandably) jealous of her. After they move to Zurich for political reasons, Teresa finds her being too dependent on Tomas as she is jobless. She has to put up with his womanizing nature again which she realizes that she cannot do anymore. Hence, she decides to leave Tomas for good and tells him that he had hurt her beyond the point of hurt. Unable to enjoy his freedom from Teresa, Tomas returns to her despite knowing that he would be taken captive in Prague for his anti-communist articles he had written but he doesn’t care. In Prague, he starts working as a window washer while Teresa works as a bartender. Unable to give up on his sexual tendencies, Tomas again resorts to womanizing. Teresa even tries to see his way of life and attempts to perform a one-night stand with a handsome engineer. However, it is all in vain.
Teresa and Tomas, apart from all the internal clashes, start to live peacefully in their newly made home in Prague but one night, both get into a car accident and are killed. Sabina gets the news of her dead friends while she is in Paris and she mourns for them, alone.