Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”

Sophomore (College 2nd year) ・Literature ・MLA ・1 Sources

The conclusion of the tale of three of the four main characters in Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" represented a sarcastic critique of the ideals of communist paradise. Certain aspects of these characters' lives were created by Kundera to imitate or reflect some aspects of socialism, and he used these elements to show the reader the pitfalls of a socialist paradise, which was a belief that all means of production should be equally owned and implemented by the collective of the masses, rather than just the wealthy few as characterized by capitalism. As Kundera pointed out in the book, the leaders who once thought this paradise is possible have already resigned to the reality that it could not be achieved, but only after they have already made a considerable damage on the society. They decided to continue with this failed system and neglect their responsibility for their past actions, justifying them as a result of their ignorance. This is the main premise used by Tomas in the subversive article he wrote wherein he contrasted the government leaders to Oedipus. In his essay, he explained that they both do not know their fate, but upon finding out of all the damages that they have done to others because of their ignorance, Oedipus took out his eyes and took responsibility for the consequences of his actions, whereas the leaders pretended that they did nothing wrong and continued to pursue power. In the end, Tomas dies in an accident as a country fellow, despite his prestigious education and medical background as a successful surgeon. His gravestone read, “He wanted the kingdom of God on Earth” (Kundera 145). This is Kundera’s comical way of imitating an aspect of socialist paradise in the characters’ stories. In socialist paradise, all people are equal despite their differences in education, skills, knowledge and the way they lived their lives, thus, everything makes Tomas unique like his individuality, his philosophies on lightness, his perceived moral superiority for the article that he has written, all his sexual conquests, all his numerous experiences has been reduced to nothing but a gravestone that does not even reflect how he lived his life nor what he wanted for the world. He recognized the imperfection of man and the world. He lived his life according to his perception of the ugly reality of life. He did not want the perfect kingdom of God on Earth, yet that was what was left of him after his death, which represents how people are stripped off of their own views, philosophies, and morality by the socialist system that promotes compliance and collective thinking.

One of the most evident parodies of the socialist paradise in the book is depicted in the case of Sabina’s character and her story. Kundera created Sabina as a character who pursues the lightness of being. She is non-committal to her lovers, and she has the tendency to betray them, which was evident when she left Franz after he left his wife for her. Sabina’s character represents defiance of the socialist paradise wherein absolute equality prevails. She is a strong person who is very confident and aware of her individuality and the things that set her apart from everyone else. She mocks the system and called it “kitsch” wherein the ugly truth of the socialist society are hidden from the awareness of the people, and everything has been made sentimental and dramatic just to appear presentable, aesthetically pleasing, and desirable. “My enemy is kitsch, not communism“ (Kundera 133), Sabina said this referring to all things that cover up the reality and present an illusion that everything is beautiful and well. “Kitsch has its source in the categorical agreement with being… there are various kitsches: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Communist, Fascist, democratic, feminist, European, American, national, international” (Kundera 134). Kundera comically pointed out what’s wrong with socialist paradise and totalitarianism by relating it to a story about Stalin’s son who died because of his adherence to the social standard of denying that “shit” exists. “The aesthetic ideal of the categorical agreement with being is a world in which “shit” is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist” (Kundera 140), that is how Kundera described kitsch, and it is prevalent in the socialist society wherein only the positive, agreeable, pleasant and desirable are presented to the people, and the public is brainwashed to deny all the negative things about the society which is represented by “shit”. Kundera’s comical metaphor regarding “shit” and the decays of society was aimed at poking fun at the socialist paradise and to raise the reader’s awareness about how they are constantly being manipulated to deny the wrong things that have been happening.

In Franz’s story, his fascination with the Grand March, or the movement towards the leftist system, and his death is also one of the most obvious parodies that Kundera has written about socialist paradise. Franz viewed the Grand March as “the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice and happiness” (Kundera 135), which suggests that his wish to be a part of it represents his desire for socialism. However, like many of the socialist leaders, as described by Tomas in his article, Franz also woke up to the realization that socialist paradise could not be achieved and that the march is meaningless and it must end. This was evident when he realized why people are doing it. He saw the actress and a pop singer who marched in Cambodia in order to get the sympathy of an audience for their own vanity. On the contrary, most other people are simply indifferent to do anything, and others are simply protesting to keep up with what is relevant or in fashion.

The Grand March is constantly changing: “Yesterday against the American occupation of Vietnam, today against the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia; yesterday for Israel, today for the Palestinians; yesterday for Cuba, tomorrow against Cuba… to keep up with events … platform is shrinking … to a mere dimensionless dot” (Kundera 139-140). Kundera points out in these events how inconsistent and indecisive people are and they are just continually supporting whoever they think the new “underdog” is. In Franz’s death, the parody was shown in the irrelevance, untimeliness, and meaninglessness. His death could have been meaningful if he died in March while fighting for the oppressed, instead, the irony was that he died in the hands of the people he was marching for.

In conclusion, the ending of Franz, Tomas and Sabina's stories are the creations of Kundera in the book, in order to present socialist paradise as something laughable, ironic and unattainable idea. He described all the negativities of the socialist society in a comical yet deep way in keeping with the theme of the book of lightness and weight.

Work Cited

Kundera, Milan, and Richmond Hoxie. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.

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