The Unbearable Lightness of Being


  • Tomáš: A Czech surgeon and intellectual. Tomáš is a womanizer who lives for his work. He considers sex and love to be distinct entities: he has sex with many women but loves only his wife, Tereza. He sees no contradiction between these two positions. He explains womanizing as an imperative to explore female idiosyncrasies only expressed during sex. At first he views his wife as a burden whom he is obliged to take care of. After the Russian invasion, they escape to Geneva, where he starts womanizing again. Tereza, homesick, returns to Prague with the dog. He quickly realizes he wants to be with her and follows her home. He has to deal with the consequences of a letter to the editor in which he metaphorically likened the Czech Communists to Oedipus. Eventually fed up with life in Prague under the Communist regime, he moves to the countryside with Tereza. He abandons his twin obsessions of work and womanizing and discovers true happiness with Tereza. His epitaph, written by his Catholic son, is "He Wanted the Kingdom of God on Earth".
  • Tereza: Young wife of Tomáš. A gentle, intellectual photographer, she delves into dangerous and dissident photojournalism during the Soviet occupation of Prague. Tereza does not condemn Tomáš for his infidelities, instead characterizing herself as a weaker person. Tereza is mostly defined by her view of the body as disgusting and shameful, due to her mother's embrace of the body's grotesque functions. Throughout the book she fears simply being another body in Tomáš' array of women. Once Tomáš and Tereza move to the countryside, she devotes herself to raising cattle and reading. During this time she learns about her anima through an adoration of pet animals, reaching the conclusion that they were the last link to the paradise abandoned by Adam and Eve and becomes alienated from other people.
  • Sabina: Tomáš' mistress and closest friend. Sabina lives her life as an extreme example of lightness, taking profound satisfaction in the act of betrayal. She declares war on kitsch and struggles against the constraints imposed by her puritan ancestry and the Communist Party. This struggle is shown through her paintings. She occasionally expresses excitement at humiliation, shown through the use of her grandfather's bowler hat, a symbol that is born during one sexual encounter with Tomáš, before it eventually changes meaning and becomes a relic of the past. Later in the novel she begins to correspond with Šimon while living under the roof of some older Americans who admire her artistic skill.
  • Franz: Sabina's lover and a Geneva professor and idealist. Franz falls in love with Sabina, whom he considers a liberal and romantically tragic Czech dissident. He is a kind and compassionate man. As one of the novel's dreamers, he bases his actions on loyalty to the memories of his mother and of Sabina. His life revolves completely around books and academia, eventually to the extent that he seeks lightness and ecstasy by participating in marches and protests, the last of which is a march in Thailand to the border with Cambodia. In Bangkok after the march, he is mortally wounded during a mugging.
  • Karenin: The dog of Tomáš and Tereza. Although she is a bitch, the name is a masculine one and is a reference to Alexei Karenin, the husband in Anna Karenina. Karenin displays extreme dislike of change. Once moved to the countryside, Karenin becomes more content as she is able to enjoy more attention from her owners. She also quickly befriends a pig named Mefisto. During this time Tomáš discovers that Karenin has cancer and even after removing a tumor it is clear that Karenin is going to die. On her deathbed she unites Tereza and Tomáš through her "smile" at their attempts to improve her health.

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