Exploring the Self Through the Other

The Effects of Limited Omniscience in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being

L’amour rend aveugle — love makes people blind. This French proverb describes the numbing power of love, which often incapacitates people to see the person they love as he/she really is. The most typical use of that expression might be upon discovering an extramarital affair: disillusioned, the cheated side would realise how credulous he/she has been when the partner has made up excuses to see the secret lover. Adding on to one’s feelings of betrayal and sadness, one might also feel a certain guilt for his/her blindness. It seems however that long-time love partners know sometimes better about the other than the other him/herself. There are times when people can be reminded by their partner of their own qualities and achievements, becoming their real selves again. The partner offers a complementary perspective on oneself, and might even shape that self who feels receptive to how it is being perceived. Could it be that love partners are not so blind after all, but even more lucid, even stimulating their partner’s interiority?

Understanding “the self” has been a significant quest of literature. An aspect of such exploration is to determine whose voice to use in order to express the personality of a character. Different answers to such debate have lead to different choices in narrative perspective. The French literary theorist Gérard Genette, one of the first scholars on narratology, called focalization the restriction of information performed by the decision to focus on certain characters and to enter or not their thoughts (Guillemette and Lévesque). He further determined three main narrative perspectives from which stories are told. Internal focalization is used to describe focalization that is limited to the thoughts and perception of one character. Employed in the I novel genre for example, such narrative technique has allowed writers to develop in depth the thoughts of their main character (sometimes their fictional alter-ego). On the other hand, external focalization, or the absence of access to any character’s mind, has allowed to let characters’ actions speak for themselves, arguably letting the readers interpret the intentionality of the characters. Omniscience, or zero focalization, describes the variation of focus from one character to the other, and at times even the revelations of information which none of the character possess. It has allowed writers to develop the interiority of several of their characters and to situate the reader in an almost god-like position towards the story. Those are roughly the three main categories of focalization that can be found in novels, through a variety of derivatives and usages.

The novel under study in this essay is The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It was published in French and in France in 1984, but written in Czech and meant to be published in the Czech Republic first, the home country of its author. After a relatively unhappy marriage Tomas, a notorious surgeon living in Prague, enjoys his celibacy and his erotic friendships with his numerous mistresses. One day he meets and surprisingly falls in love with Tereza, a waitress from the Czech countryside. After she moves to Prague to be with him, he helps her find a job as a photographer, decides to marry her and offers her a dog, Karenine to keep her occupied while he continues his adventures with other women. Tereza, upon learning about Tomas’ affairs quite early in the novel, bears the weight of her sorrow and difficulty tolerates it. After much adventures, the couple eventually finds happiness in the countryside. Their decision to leave Prague is affected by the communist oppression that hits Tomas and many people among the Prague elite. The Prague Spring of 1968 and its aftermaths is another theme developed throughout the book. The novel also presents the story of Sabina, one of Tomas’ mistresses, a libertine artist in a lifetime engagement against kitsch, Franz, her sympathetic and naive lover, and Simon, Tomas’ son looking for his father’s recognition and who becomes a priest. The novel is not written chronologically, and at times repeat the same events but from different perspectives, which makes it a very interesting novel to analyze in terms of focalization.

The complex focalization of The Unbearable alternates in-between the five characters from one chapter to another. In order: Tomas, Tereza, Franz and Sabina, Tereza, Tomas, Franz, and finally Tereza again. At times the focalization changes within one chapter for a few paragraphs; Simon for example is given some focalization inside the parts devoted to Tomas and to Franz. The other characters appear of course within each other’s parts; in fact, Sabina, despite receiving little focalization, is the only character who connects with all the others: she is the mistress of Tomas and Franz, the friend and rival of Tereza and receives letters from Simon. Still, the focalization mostly oscillates between Tereza and Tomas. In the beginning and in the middle of the novel, parts on Tomas or Tereza follow each other, offering two versions of the same unfolding of events. The last part however, which cover the time of the couple in the countryside, only presents their life with the focalization on Tereza, depriving the readers from the crossing of perspective they had been accustomed to throughout the novel. When the focalization changes, the thematics through which reality is understood change as well, shaping the overall understanding of the story.

This essay aims to reflect on the effect of the focalization on Tereza in order to understand the personality of her husband, Tomas. Such contribution is expected to complement and influence the reader’s understanding of Tomas in ways the analysis aims to explore. This essay does not aim however to reflect on other techniques of narrativization such as third person narration or narrative voice, in order to examine in greater depth the importance of focalization itself. Such process offers a triangulation of perspectives between what the main character, his/her partner and the heterodiegetic narrator think about the main character, arguably contributing in a more realistic and holistic understanding of that character’s interiority. After an introduction to the depiction of Tomas’ personality when the focalization is on him, the following analysis examines how the focalization on Tereza shapes the depiction of Tomas’ personality. Tereza’s thoughts complement and corroborates elements of the depiction of Tomas. At other times however, it is the discrepancy between her thoughts and the ones of Tomas on little details as well as on big issues that hints, through the effect of the contrast, at what kind of person Tomas is. The last part of the novel, exclusively focalized on Tereza, demonstrates the evolution of Tomas, but also retains questions regarding his interiority. Finally, the focalization on Tereza does not merely affect the reader’s perception on Tomas, but also on the thematics he carries with him, principally the one of judging the value of lightness and heaviness.

On the parts devoted to Tomas (pages 2 to 26 and 124 to 177), Tomas is depicted as a thoughtful man conflicted between the binaries of heaviness and lightness, and of profound love and frivolous sexual affairs. The first vision of Tomas is described in those terms by the narrator: [1]

“I see him, standing at one of his apartment windows, the eyes fixed towards the other side of the courtyard on the wall of the building on the opposite side, and he does not know what he should do.” (4)

Tomas’ mental deliberation concerns Tereza, more precisely whether he should actively seek a relationship with her or give up and continue his life of celibacy. The use of the term “should” is important to understand Tomas; indeed, he seems concerned about the idea of necessity, symbolized by the German term “es muss sein” (it must be) that he keeps on repeating to himself. Towards the end of the novel however, he seems to overcome such imperative, reflecting that “love is beyond the necessity, beyond the ‘es muss sein!’” (175). Despite his reluctance towards love, Tomas does seem attracted by it, despite himself maybe. While he embraces sexual freedom and enjoys ‘collecting’ women for their peculiarities, eventually he somehow sees love as another source of freedom; the freedom from the animality of existence, from any necessity (175). This contrasts with earlier reflections in which he described freedom as his time without Tereza, his time to pursue his sexual affairs (142).

Tomas clearly evolves throughout the novel; aspects of his personality, muffled when he was living alone, develop through his contact with Tereza [2]. His sensitivity particularly sharpens. Tereza is a romantic character; she has lived for years through novels she has been reading. Then when she meets Tomas, she quickly falls in love with him and abandons everything she had to go live with him. Tomas himself appears first as very skeptical about love; his first marriage ends in a failure and he seems content with friendships with his mistresses. Tereza however disrupts his stable lifestyle, making him question what he had taken for granted regarding his specific desires for relationship. He who refused to sleep next to any woman starts to appreciate the act of sleeping next to Tereza (10). Little by little, he comes to enjoy the meaningful weight of love. Tomas is a complex character. He is seen several times as inconsistent. When Tereza returns to Prague, he decides to follow her out of love. Upon arriving however, he immediately regrets his decision, feeling “a pressure in his stomach and the despair for having come home” (26). Despite his impulsions towards love and towards sex, he always questions himself, doubts his convictions, reinterprets his memories.

Besides his love and sexual life, Tomas is also an estimated surgeon, and a thinker. The narration does not quite focus on his work, but when needed he immediately takes responsibilities in auscultating people, administering medications, and even operating Karenine, their dog that contracts cancer (206). Regarding his political engagement, he writes a story blaming communist leaders for not taking responsibility in the wrong consequences of their action, but eventually he refuses to either renounce his text when asked by the communist police, or to sign a petition along with other political opponents when asked by his son. Proud and individualist, he seems to refuse to associate himself with groups. This individualism echoes his personal need for freedom. Many readers might thus see in Tomas a character with an intricate personality. He is at the same time thoughtful, assertive, and solitary, but also embodies complex questionings about relationships, meaningfulness and freedom.

Tereza’s thoughts comes to enrich the depiction of Tomas’ personality. First, Tereza perceives Tomas as a representative of a certain cultural and social class. When they first meet, Tomas is reading a book, which Tereza perceives as a sign of “secret fraternity” (32), of erudition and distinction from the world of vulgarity. Tomas himself comes to represent the image of a gentleman. He is seen as “courteous” (33) he lives in the capital where he invited Tereza. Upon going there, he opens up a whole new world to her by connecting her with the art world, especially the one of photography. While he himself might not be aware of it, Tomas is a member of the cultural and social elite and is perceived as such by Tereza who come from a lower social class. Such social gap is highlighted towards the end when the narrator reveals that Tereza have always felt Tomas’ love towards her to be “condescendent” (227), the kind feeling of pity towards the socially lower individuals. While Tereza idealizes Tomas from the beginning and later dramatizes their social class difference, the reader is still given to understand Tomas’ high status through Tereza’s eyes.

The superior position of Tomas does not merely lies however in his social status, but also in his gender and his assertive personality. Tereza regards herself as the weak one of their relationship, positioning by contrast Tomas as the strong one (228). On page 210, the narrator mentions that Tereza “is obliged to behave like a loving wife, because she needs Tomas.” Such cold statement of Tereza’s thoughts on her connection with her husband highlights her lower position as a woman in need for her husband’s support, which can be understood either financially, or psychologically. This passage echoes Tomas’ view of Tereza as a baby brought to him in a basket abandoned on a river (7). One can feel through the correlation of both images the feminine Oedipus complex that binds the two of them: Tomas is in charge of Tereza like a father is in charge of a daughter, and Tereza seeks such protective figure. Their relationship is heavily unbalanced. Such understanding demonstrates that Tomas is, despite his hesitations, a responsible person, able to assume the performative role somehow imposed to him by his gender and by his wife. Although somehow oblivious to it, Tomas remains a strong person.

At times it is not exactly Tereza’s thoughts themselves, but how they contrast with the ones of Tomas,that open interpretation regarding Tomas’ personality. In the first page in which the focalization in on Tereza for example, the narrator discusses her perception of the first time that she made love with Tomas. It is written there that Tereza’s stomach rumbled and she felt extremely embarrassed about it. Such rumbling is never mentioned on Tomas’ narration, which could mean that he either did not hear them or that he did not care about them. In either cases, the duality of viewpoint offers complementary understanding of Tomas’ mind. If the narrator does not mention him hearing this rumbling when the focalization is on him, it is certainly that he is not the kind of person to care about those little details. Tereza’s viewpoint thus come to offer an understanding of what Tomas is not, through the contrasts between their perceptions of the same event.

Not only in details like the rumbling of a stomach, but also in major topics such as their conception of a relationship, there are important gaps between Tomas and Tereza’s viewpoints. In Zurich, Tereza reflects on the weight she represents for Tomas, deciding to move back to Prague alone. She analyzes:

“They had created a hell to each other, mutually, even though they loved each other. It was true that they loved each other, and that was the proof that the fault did not come from themselves (…) but really from their incompatibility because he was strong and she was weak.” (52)

This passage interestingly echoes Tomas’ thoughts of “despair for having come home” (26) mentioned earlier in this essay. At the beginning of their relationship, both Tomas and Teresa thus feel responsible for the unhappiness that struck them. While Tereza is concerned about the feelings of both herself and Tomas, the latter however is only preoccupied about his own unhappiness. Such difference does not suggest egoism, but rather a contrast in the understanding of love. Tereza seems convinced that she knows what Tomas feels (in hell), thinks (incompatible with her) and is (strong). When the focalization is on Tomas however, the latter never expresses such guesses on his wife. Such contrast highlights that for Tomas there is no such thing as becoming one with a partner. Even in love, humans are still two separate beings, incapable to control or to really know the other because they are limited to their own subjectivity. Crossing the information from the two focalizations, on Tomas and on Tereza, thus help understanding in greater depth Tomas’ personality.

Interestingly, there is a second scene similar to that one towards the end of the novel. This time however, the reader is refused a focalization on Thomas and must thus experience the passage only through a focalization on Tereza.

“Tomas, in your life, I am the cause of all the bad things. (…)

‒ Tereza, said Tomas, haven’t you noticed that I am happy here? (…)”

By the tone of his voice, it was impossible to doubt about his sincerity” (230)

At this point in the story, the two of them seem happy: Tomas says so to Tereza in that extract, and the narrator has mentioned so about Tereza previously (203). However, Tereza still believes she renders her husband unhappy. It is unclear whether the words “it was impossible to doubt about his sincerity” are thought by Tereza or if they are a comment by the narrator, but in either case the reader is reassured of Tomas’ happiness, and thus of Tereza’s mistake. This passage demonstrates that Tomas has changed throughout the novel. While Tereza is anchored in the past and expresses regrets and guilt, Tomas seems to be finally happy and at peace with Tereza, focused on the present.

This passage mentioned above is situated at the very end of the novel, just before Tomas’ last words. The latter declares: “I don’t have a mission. Nobody has a mission. And this is an amazing relief to realize that we are free, that we don’t have a mission” (230). Those concluding sentences finish to demonstrate how much Tomas has evolved throughout the novel, while Tereza in contrast remains somehow haunted by the same concerns. Freedom at first was sexual for him, then he questioned whether it was not rather his love that procured him freedom; eventually, it is the absence of “mission,” of the endless search for absolute meaningfulness in life that liberates him, that makes him happy.

It is very significant that such conclusions are reached while the focalization is on Tereza. Indeed, Tomas is a character that questions himself a lot. In that case however, the reader does not have access to the different steps of his questioning to reach such conclusion, nor to his possible doubts regarding his sayings. They only perceive that it “was impossible to doubt about his sincerity” (230). Tomas’ statement thus strikes as powerful, definitive and absolute. Besides, the contrast with Tereza’s recurring worries the reader witnesses because of focalization further highlights Tomas’ resolute happiness.

The constraining focalization on Teresa in the last part of the novel contrasts with the previous parts in which the experience of the event by Tereza would always be echoed by the one of Tomas. If Tomas’ final statement is striking, not having access to his thoughts leaves some questions unanswered. Does Tomas have regrets? Does he still have mistresses? How does he feels towards Tereza? Without doubting the sincerity of his happiness, readers are likely to question the deeper thoughts and feelings of the old Tomas. To set the narrative focalization on Tereza is thus a technique to leave in suspense such interrogations. Kundera might not have answers himself, or he might want the readers to interpret the novel and complete those blanks by themselves, or again he might just want to suggest that Tomas is simply happy and at peace, and therefore does not deserve the narrative focus.

If the focalization on Tereza at the end of the novel possibly silences Tomas’ questionnings, all throughout the novel it also relativises his perspective regarding lightness and heaviness in the eyes of the reader. Indeed, it is not only that Tomas evolves throughout the novel and comes to value more positively his love for Tereza, but also that the focalization on his wife influences the reader’s understanding on the thematics questioned by Tomas. In the first part of the novel, it is the positive value of lightness that is criticized through the focalization on Tereza.

For Tomas, sexual freedom is an act of lightness: two strangers or friends sharing a moment of mutual exploration of their desires and volupty. Tomas’ “rule of three,” (8) that consists of either having sex three times only with the same person, or of spacing each intercourse by at least three weeks, seems efficient in maintaining the lightness of his affairs. But with the arrival of Tereza, Tomas starts to feel the heaviness of love, but also to enjoy such heavy charge. He becomes somehow dependent on Tereza, following her back to Prague. From Tomas’ perspective, sex is thus light and positive, while love is heavy and neither clearly positive or negative.

Tereza feels differently. The chapters in which the focalization is on her are titled “Soul and Body” (Tomas’ ones are titled “Lightness and Heaviness”). The title itself suggests the difference in the approach of love and sex. Tereza indeed sees sex as related to the body, and love with the soul. For her the body is a heavy concept as it is what anchors humans to the vulgar. The soul however is light, able to free itself from animalist necessities. The soul nonetheless remains irremediably tied to the body. Her valuation of love and sex is thus bound to differ. At first she sees love as uplifting, as an escape from the vulgarity of her mother’s world. Soon however she also feels the burden of loving Tomas: the jealousy, the mental rehash, the unhappiness. Throughout the novel, she thus comes to consider the positive and negative aspects of love. While she started with a positive image of it and Tomas with a negative image, in the end one might say that they meet in the middle in both acknowledging the complexity of a romantic relationship. In terms of sex however, Tereza never reconciles her vision with Tomas’.

The sexual freedom of Tomas weighs heavily and negatively on Tereza. In a frequent nightmare, she is walking around a pool with other naked women with Tomas at the center killing them one by one while the other ones are laughing (13). A simple interpretation of this dream is that is translates Tereza’s jealousy which, tamed in daylight, emerges in her sleep. The narration of the dreams is first in the section focalized on Tomas in a particular narrative style mixing free indirect speech of Tereza’s memories and direct speech of her telling about them to Tomas and his thoughts about it. Those dreams are further analyzed on the subsequent part focalized on Tereza, which details how her sufferings regarding Tomas’ unfaithfulness reinforce deeper sufferings she has felt since her childhood. The narrator explains:

“[Tereza] had come to live with [Tomas] to escape the maternal universe where all bodies were equal. She had come to live with him so that her body would become unique and irreplaceable. And now he had traces a sign of equality between her and the others: he was kissing them all in the same way, caressing them in the same way, did not make any, any, really any difference between the body of Tereza and the other bodies. He had sent her back to the universe she thought she was escaping from.” (39)

The focalization on Tereza allows a deeper understanding of her nightmares, and thereof of her problems. Tomas’ lightness reminds her of her mother’s vulgarity she has always suffered from. While she hoped that love would make her feel better about her body, the “unique and irreplaceable” object of desire of her partner, Tomas’ affairs destroyed such hope. Regarding seuxal freedom, Tomas and Tereza are on opposite lines: Tereza indeed resents jealousy, destruction of her hope of self-confidence, and unhappiness. The readers might thus reconsider sexual freedom as a selfish or even cruel demeanor, or at least come to question it with different perspectives in mind. Their image of Tomas might become more negative because of Tereza’s negative feelings on his sexual freedom.

Later on, the reader comes to realize that Tereza’s negative views on sexual freedom are not simply tied to jealousy. She also experiences her unique sexual experience with a stranger with much weight and horror. This cynically beautiful passage deconstructs Tomas’ perspectives on sexual freedom.

“And when she lifted her eyes and saw his face, she remembered that she had never accepted that the body, where the soul had engraved its signature, could happen to be in the arms of someone she did not know and did not want to know. She became full of an unbelievable hatred. She managed to flow her saliva to her lips to spit at the face of the stranger. They observed each others with the same greed; he noticed her anger and rushed his thrust. Tereza, feeling from far away the volupty reaching her, started shouting “no, no, no”, she resisted to the intense pleasure that was approaching and as she was resisting it, the repressed volupty irradiated for a long time in her whole body, which did not leave her exits through which to escape ; the pleasure was spreading inside of her like some morphine injected in a vein. She was wrestling in the man’s arms, blindly hitting and spitting at his face. The modern toilet bowls rise above the ground like the white waterlily. The architect accomplishes the impossible so that the body forgets its misery and that the man ignores what happens to the dejections of its entrails when the tank water chases them with a gurgle. (…) [Tereza] was sitting on the bowl, and the desire to empty her entrails, which had assailed her suddenly, was the desire to go to the very end of the humiliation, to be a body as much as possible and as totally as possible (…) Tereza was emptying her entrails and was undergoing at that instant infinite sadness and solitude.”

This passage highlights Tereza’s perception of the mind and the body as separate entities. While she tolerates her body to connect with a stranger, looking at his face connects their souls and this is unbearable for her. The details of her spitting illustrate the failed attempt for the soul to defend itself, which ironically is interpreted as the man as sexual teasing. Furthermore, her body seems equipped of its own will, reaching an orgasm deeply condemned by her soul that feels repulsed by the whole scene. The inescapable pleasure of her orgasm epitomizes her feeling of being trapped inside her body and her weakness. Such are the traumatizing conclusions of her sexual experience.

Besides, the absence of transition between her orgasm and her defecation associates the two acts as equal physicalities that cannot be controlled by the soul. Sex and excrement are for her two sides of the same humiliation performed by the body on the soul. To “be a body” for Tereza is to lose all her dignity that she situates in her soul only. This disturbing sex scene directly followed by a defecation demonstrates a completely different approach to sex from Tomas’ one. Tereza is disgusted about that sexual intercourse, about her body and about herself. Sex is heavy for her, cannot be performed with just anyone; more, sex can trigger extremely negative and traumatizing feelings. Tereza’s own experience of Tomas’ habit nuances his understanding of sex as light and positive in the eyes of the reader. It creates the sense that what works for Tomas does not necessarily work for others, that it can even hurt them.

Reading The Unbearable, readers are thus positioned in-between two opposite viewpoints regarding the connections between the binaries that are love and sex, heaviness and lightness and good and bad. Tomas carries on with him the thematic of sexual freedom and the conviction that sex is light and enjoyable. Tereza embodies the opposition voice, that sex can be heavy and violently degrading. Her feelings about her experience highlight the non-universality of Tomas’ personality. She demonstrates the complexity, beyond Tomas’ own intelligibility, of the thematics he is carrying with him. The focalization on Tereza thus offers a more hollistic overview to the reader of the intricate themes of sex, love, heaviness and lightness. It undermines Tomas’ opinion, suggests that there are a plurality of truths regarding the issues raised by the novel and invites the reader to detach themselves from Tomas’ viewpoint in order to think freely and with eyes as opened as possible about their own answers.

Milan Kundera demonstrates in The Unbearable Lightness of Being that love is far from being blind. Tereza might idealize her husband when they first meet, but what she sees in him (his high social class, his masculine strength) remains accurate. Besides, she is well aware of the affairs of her husband, and she keeps a blind eye on it only because she believes that she cannot either change her husband, nor can she live without him. What she might not realize however, is that she does change him, and that he cannot live without her either. Tomas’ love for Tereza has changed him throughout the course of the novel. Love was not blinding for him, but enlightening, allowing him to explore thoughts and feelings he would have never experienced without Tereza. By the end, he seems happy in his simple lifestyle, and probably not engaged in his erotic friendships anymore. The limited focalization on Tereza prevents however a deeper understanding of what changed inside of him, what answers he has developed to his questionings on lightness and heaviness, on sex and love. In the end, the complex mind of Tomas is muted, detailed conclusions to his questionings refused to the reader forcing the readers to either accept that he is happy in his life without a mission, or to affix to his mysterious stillness their own interpretation. Tomas’ self is thus never exhaustively explored.

If the focalization on Tereza secures a certain freedom on the reader’s side to interpret Tomas’ personality in the very end, throughout the novel it also questions Tomas’ answers on life through their discrepancy with Tereza’s. What he considers to be light and enjoyable is felt as heavy and sad for her, and the reader might feel Tomas is selfish or even cruel for inflicting this to his wife. His conception of sexual freedom is highly compromised by Tereza’s traumatizing experience of it. The focalization on Tereza thus suggests that the answers carried by Tomas are not universal but subjective, offering a more holistic overview, beyond Tomas’ self, of the issues that occupy his mind. Limited omniscience allows the reader to look at Tomas from above, for what he is as well as for what he is not, for what is interesting about his ideas but also on how they are limited to his own condition. All in all, the focalization on Tereza thus effectively renders a more realistic picture of Tomas, a picture that even transcends Tomas’ own understanding of himself. This different, yet close perspective highlights that Tomas is a man with qualities and defects, with conflicted emotions and thoughts, with limited answers to the issues that occupy his mind. In short, it helps conveying how human he is. Despite its unrealistic, god-like viewpoint, limited omniscience thus creates the effect of realism.

Further analysis of The Unbearable Lightness of Being could look at what Tomas represents beyond the narration he acts in. Milan Kundera wrote in the book that all its characters are “part of their author that did not become real” (162). Such statement echoes Flaubert’s famous saying “Madame Bovary, c’est moi” (Madame Bovary is me). In the case of Kundera’s novel, the focalization on Tereza to understand Tomas’ personality can thus be seen as a psychological examination of the author’s mind itself, divided into its conflicted ideas. One might also read in the novel a universal examination of what the figure of Tomas represents. Some would likely see in Tomas for example the image of his nation, the Czech Republic, conflicted in between the lightness of capitalism and the heaviness of communism, as it is also often hinted at by the author in the text. This would allow yet deeper understandings on everything that Tomas represents. Through Tomas, it is the idea of all that “the self” can come to represent that can be examined.

Footnotes

[1] All the quotations from Kundera’s novel come from the original text in French, and their translations to English are mine.

[2] This essay focuses on the effect of narratology and particularly focalization in order to understand the self, but further research more oriented towards a psychological analysis of Tomas could make use of the dividualism (bunjinshugi) theory of the author Keiichiro Hirano. To explain it in a sentence, it consists in thinking the individual as divided selves (dividuals or bunjin) which activate and develop in contact to particular people. Such theory suggests that personality is not a unique block but changing constantly, depending on our frequentations. It could be interesting for example to look at the difference in Tomas’ thoughts when he spends time with Tereza and with Sabina, in order to analyze how his personality changes and how such changes affect his life.

Works Cited

Guillemette, Lucie and Lévesque, Cynthia. “Narratology.” SignoSemio, 2013, http://www.signosemio.com/genette/narratology.asp.

Kundera, Milan. L’Insoutenable Légèreté de l’Être. [The Unbearable Lightness of Being]. Gallimard, 1984.

This article is an essay I wrote for a class on Realism at the University of Tokyo in July 2018. I originally wanted to write a comparative analysis between Madame Bovary and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but then my mind got trapped on Kundera’s brilliant book.

Liberal Art Master student, I write my small answers to the big issues that obsess me in politics, development, literature, art, LGBTQ, …