Unbearable Lightness of Being

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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.

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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 ...

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