In the novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," how is the historical and political setting relevant to its themes of lightness and heaviness?

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a complex read because of its philosophical themes, many characters, nonlinear plot, and political setting. Due to Kundera (the author) himself experiencing some of the 1968 political turmoil, the political setting is actually a bit incidental and secondary to the main themes.

The political setting can be broken into two fundamentally opposing groups: those for communism and those against it. The philosophical themes can also be broken into fundamentally opposing things: heaviness and lightness.

The novel makes a great case for how difficult it is to determine whether something falls into the lightness category or the heaviness category. The novel cites Nietzsche's concept of Eternal Recurrence (the concept that all of history has occurred and will occur again infinitely) as something that can be interpreted as "light." However, the novel acknowledges this to be a matter of perspective.

Though communism is highly oppressive (heavy) in practice, it can free all individuals of the burden of choice that comes with more freedom (light).

Democratic societies emphasize the individual and give them freedom of thought and choice (light), but that freedom comes with the potential burden of choice (heavy).

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In "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," the themes of lightness and heaviness play out on multiple levels throughout the story. Much of the story takes place in Prague just after the Russian invasion. The characters Tomas, Tereza, and Sabina move to Switzerland to escape the invasion, but Sabina eventually returns to her home in Czechoslovakia. These shifting settings serve to echo the novel's themes of lightness and heaviness as its characters continually move from one place to another to pursue the lightness of their dreams and escape the heaviness of outside oppression.

The changing setting also helps to demonstrate Tomas' gradual transformation from moral lightness to heaviness. In the middle of the novel, he follows Sabina to Czechoslovakia and continues his pattern of infidelity by chasing other women. As the novel continues, he begins to shift to moral heaviness and realizes that his love for Tereza is keeping him tethered. There is irony in the fact that Tomas leaves his light or flaky lifestyle behind to pursue a heavy love with Tereza, only to settle down with her on a communal farm, a setting which would be associated with lighter moral values to the outside world.

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