The Unbearable Lightness of Being

by Milan Kundera
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What was the cause of Tereza's infidelity in The Unbearable Lightness of Being?

In The Unbearable Lighness of Being, Tereza's infidelity came in response to a standing challenge from her womanizing partner, Tomas. He wanted her to do as he did and pursue sexual relationships with other people.

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In Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tereza and Tomas are lovers who have returned to their native Czechoslovakia after initially fleeing the Soviet invasion of 1968. They are not married, and Tomas continues to openly indulge in womanizing, Tereza has chosen to remain faithful to Tomas. He emphasizes to Tereza that sex with these women he doesn't love are simply "light," meaningless diversions that make him happy. He has encouraged Tereza to follow his example with other men.

However, Tereza has a feeling of revulsion toward the human body. It was instilled by her mother who also damaged her self-esteem during her childhood. Tereza's relationship with the human body and her self-esteem has left her with a complex, highly ambivalent response to sex.

In Part 4 of the novel, "Body and Soul," Tereza has started a new job as a bartender at a hotel in an older section of Prague. She becomes intrigued by the sexual comments and flirtatious attention she attracts. She contemplates Tomas's suggestion:

Tomas kept trying to convince her that love and lovemaking were two different things. She refused to understand. Now she was surrounded by men she did not care for in the slightest. What would making love with them be like? She yearned to try it...

Tereza has a grueling dream in which she refuses execution at the last moment, clearly reflecting her feeling that being unfaithful to Tomas, even with his encouragement, is a kind of death.

Shortly thereafter, though, she finally responds to the steady interest of an engineer who lives near the hotel. She goes to his flat and they have sex, which she experiences only as a detached observer. Afterward, the sound of the engineer's high-pitched voice suddenly extinguishes her attraction to him. She never sees him again.

Instead of finding the "lightness" and pleasure which Tomas had described, Tereza becomes highly anxious, even mildly paranoid; she wonders whether her fling might have been filmed by Czech State Security. She comes to realize that Tomas is the person she cares most for in the world.

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