Unbearable Lightness of Being
In the novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera, one of the four main characters, Sabina, longed for betrayal because she felt it gave her freedom from kitsch. "Kitsch" is one of Kundera's main ideas throughout the novel. It refers to something ideal, such as the "American dream" - "[it] excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence." The narrator of the novel states, “Betrayal means breaking ranks. Betrayal means breaking ranks and going off into the unknown. Sabina knew of nothing more magnificent than going off into the unknown.” (Kundera 97). Sabina goes off into the unknown by abandoning her family, her lovers, and her country. The narrator calls this a ''lightness of being,'' which means a life lacking in commitment, loyalty, and moral responsibility for anyone else. To Sabina, betrayal means not allowing anyone or anything to have power over her. Consequently, betrayal allows her to truly live her life as a skilled artist - free of kitsch. In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” through Sabina, the narrator studies the relationship between betrayal and the idea of kitsch.
Sabina's relationship with her father is complicated. Most of her life has been spent betraying her father by rejecting the ideas or the kitsch he tried to instill in her as a child. Sabina despised kitsch and associated it with her father, from his Puritan existence to his art. That is why she sought to betray him. According to the narrator, Sabina is "charmed more by betrayal than by fidelity." (Kundera 96). Sabina connects the word "fidelity" with the sheltered and limited world provided by her father, an artist of kitsch who painted "woodland sunsets and roses in vases" (Kundera 96). Sabina began to betray her father when he forbid her to see the boy she loved. Sabina also betrayed him by imitating Picasso in her art (her father had ridiculed Picasso) and later, by marrying an actor (who she felt was bound to be ridiculed by her father). When she went off to art school in Prague, Sabina was overjoyed to betray and abandon her father.
This is a preview of the whole essay
In Geneva, Sabina has a love affair with Franz, a university professor and romantic academic whose life is filled with heavy meaning. He views Sabina as a fellow romantic, and a courageous Czech dissident, and is tortured that he must betray his wife Marie-Claude in order to see her. Sabina loves Franz, but their views on betrayal are very different. Whereas he hates the idea of betrayal, she views betrayal as the first step towards "going off into the unknown," the most magnificent thing she can think of. When Sabina "heard the golden horn of betrayal beckoning her in the distance...[s]he sensed an expanse of freedom before her." As with her father, she abandoned Franz and this betrayal freed her.
Sabina also betrays her country, with at the time of the story was occupied by communists. Socialism is one expression of kitsch. Kitsch does away with creativity. It smothers every artists attempt to create an original masterpiece. Sabina's paintings are their own form of betrayal because through them Sabina rejects the values forced on her by the communist regime. On the surface of Sabina's painting, "there was always an impeccably realistic world, but underneath, behind the backdrop's cracked canvas, lurked something different, something mysterious or abstract." Sabina created an opportunity to draw something abstract, which was forbidden by socialism. On the surface of her paintings there was "an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth." Sabina separated those paintings that could be exhibited from those that would have to be kept far from sight. That could not be a permanent solution, though. In the end, Sabina betrayed her country and decides to go abroad, where she could paint whatever she wanted.
Sabina declares kitsch her enemy and betrayal is her way of fighting it. The enemies of kitsch are beauty and individuality. Through betrayal, Sabina achieves both beauty and individuality. Sabina despised kitsch because it did not allow for individuality. Sabina states that, "Beauty is a world betrayed.” (Kundera 119). She says, "The only way we can encounter it is if its persecutors have overlooked it somewhere. Beauty hides behind the scenes of the May Day parade. If we want to find it, we must demolish the scenery." (Kundera 119). Her entire life is spent in the pursuit of beauty, which is the antithesis of kitsch. When she achieves beauty, she becomes a true artist.
One of the biggest problems for an artist working under socialism deals with individuality. Socialism strongly suggests what people must consider beautiful and what artists have to produce to please people. This fact is important because it introduces the idea of kitsch. Sabina's bowler hat represents her individuality. The narrator says that, "it was a sign of her originality, which she consciously cultivated" (Kundera 91). In Sabina's mind, betrayal is about declaring your individuality against the traditional values forced by kitsch. She could not take much with her when she emigrated, and taking this bulky, impractical thing meant giving up other, more practical ones. (Kundera 91)” This shows Sabina's attraction to betrayal and her lifelong fight against kitsch. The individual who insists on his individuality is the enemy of kitsch, because kitsch forces conformity on its followers. If the hat is a symbol of her originality, then it is also a reminder that Sabina's enemy is kitsch.
In the end, Sabina moves to California, farther away from her native country. Sabina gradually became "afraid of shutting herself into a grave and sinking into American earth."(Kundera 194). She had an image of a perfect final resting place that was nothing like American cemeteries. This image was actually just a kitsch. Since she had spent her whole life battling kitsch she could not surrender to it when she died, so "one day she composed a will in which she requested that her dead body be cremated and its ashes thrown to the winds." (Kundera 194). In a way, Sabina betrayed death by refusing to have a grave and to be put under a headstone. For Sabina, the act of being free from kitsch became the act of betrayal.
Word Count: 1,038