The Symbolic use of Motifs in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera.
Looking at “motifs” in general may at first seem vague, yet Kundera places a large amount of weight on the way motifs shape us as human beings and construct the way in which we identify ourselves or rather choose not to identify ourselves. From the beginning of the novel, Kundera readily admits to the fictionality of his characters that he has constructed, stating that they arose from several “basic situations” or “phrases”. However, the singular phrase and by extension, the single motif that Kundera uses to create the character, encapsulates their entire being. Each character’s decisions, nuances and indeed their fates can be traced back to the simple motif that Kundera has defined them by, whether the fictional characters admit to it or not.
To explore this premise that Kundera constructs his entire character on a singular motif, we will look at Tereza. Tereza is “born of the rumbling of a stomach” which implies both neediness and vulnerability and more importantly a basic bodily function. Tereza’s character as we have seen is built from her hatred of the human body, in all its grotesque and fundamental actions and processes. Tereza hates the body and its functions, not because unlike any other human being she doesn’t perform them, rather she hates them because they remind her that she is not special. She is just another body, a mesh of intestines, organs, skin and an anus. Isn’t it therefore rather ironic that she is defined not by her lofty ideals, such literature, but instead by the rumbling of her stomach? Kundera answers this question by showing throughout the novel that Tereza is not defined by her enlightenment, she is indeed a heavy character. Instead she is define by the thing she hates the most, but also the thing which consumes her entire life- her body. It divides her opinions on the soul and body, the physical and metaphysical, it defines her entire attitude...
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