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Unbearable Lightness

Unbearable Lightness

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Published by Andrea Lynne

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Published by: Andrea Lynne on Apr 15, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Andrea GamalskiLit Crit11/28/08The female characters in Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being exemplify theunknowable feminine that is a construct of the body of misogynistic text in the literarycanon. Both Sabina and Teresa exemplify binary representations of this female personaas described in Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gilbert’s
The Madwoman in the Attic
.According to Gilbert and Gubar, women are forced into one of two opposing roles of either angel or monster, thus fulfilling the male generated construct of femininity. Inaddition, the female characters are generated by a male author in a "phallocentric"environment that creates an inauthentic rendering of woman based on this Freudian binary of the angel or monster. Even the contrast between lightness and weight or Sabinaand Teresa presents an over-simplified construction of female desire. To Thomas, Sabinaexemplifies lightness in her desperate drive to avoid the shackles of monogamous love.In opposition is Tereza is heavy, jealous and flawed. She represents the ideal maleconcept of woman because she is dutiful, faithful and jealous. Teresa gives all of her female energy and creative powers over to the unrequited object of love she wishes to possess, Thomas. In contrast, Sabina lives in constant fear of weight. This weightmanifests as the dark angel of jealousy and obsession. Thus, Sabina moves rapidly fromone lover to the next, avoiding a soul collision at all costs. If Sabina and Tereza areopposing forces Thomas is the magnetic lodestone. Thus Thomas represents the greatmagnetic phallus around which the written women revolve.1
Although Kundera attempts to construct a complex feminine psyche, he is a manimagining the interiority of a woman according to male conventions of female sexuality.Thomas describes Tereza as a manifestation of his consciousness. He says, “She wasneither mistress nor wife. She was a child whom he had taken from a bulrush basket thathad been daubed with pitch and sent to the riverbank of his bed”(The UnbearableLightness of Being 7). Thus Thomas describes himself as a Pharaoh, receiving the godgranted gift of Tereza, the harmless, helpless infant whom he must mold into an adultwoman. Helen Cixous discusses this sort of narcissistic male creationism in her manifesto
The Laugh of the Medusa.
She describes the literary construct of women as"phallocentric", love-less and full of self- loathing. Women have absorbed this self-loathing because of her inability to conform to the binary of angel and monster. She has projected it onto other women, thus creating an entire gender that tries desperately to become a no-one. Because this male binary construct is an anomaly we fail and then project self-hatred upon fellow women. This self-inflicted oppression further manifestsas all the neurotic diseases attributed to women, including hysteria, anorexia, agoraphobiaand amnesia (
The Madwoman In the Attic
2033). Cixous describes the anxiety a womanexperiences when she realizes her interiority and sexuality do not align with the maleconstruct. She says, “Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives(for she was made to believe that a well adjusted normal woman has a divine composure),hasn’t accused herself of being a monster? (
The Laugh of the Medusa
2040)Tereza vacillates between these binary archetypes throughout the text. She is thedutiful angel and helpless child delivered to Thomas like Moses in the bulrush basket.When he marries her and she protests his infidelities she becomes his prison warden. He2
says, “For seven years he had lived bound to her, his every step subject to her scrutiny.She might as well have chained iron balls to his ankles”(30). Here we see the inscrutablewoman of man’s imagination. She is a faithful angel, childlike in her reverence for her husband, catering to his every whim sexually and domestically, yet allowing himcomplete freedom to do whatever he likes with whomever he likes. This person is nothuman, she is a delusional fantasy devised by the "phallocentric" ego. She has been soimposed upon real women that we do not recognize our authentic drives and desires ashealthy and true. Rather, we suppress our creative life force in order to lace ourselvesinto the stiflingly oppressive role of male generated woman. We degrade and criticizeother women because within this patriarchal literary structure we are in fiercecompetition with one another to be the impossible, virgin, whore, angel, monster, scholar,etc., but never smarter than our patriarchal fathers.Cixous says, “Men have committed the greatest crime of all against women.Insidiously, violently, they have led them to hate women, to be their own enemies”(2041). Tomas executes this “anti-narcissism”(2042) expertly. After moving in withTomas, Tereza immediately realizes he is having multiple affairs. She begins to havedreams depicting grisly death marches with Tomas as the gunman who shoots at thewoman doing knee-bends. She explains, “Tereza saw herself threatened by women, allwomen. All women were potential mistresses for Tomas, and she feared them all”(18).Clearly it is no fault of Tereza’s for mistrusting other women. Tomas created anatmosphere of insecurity and mistrust because of his promiscuity. He knew Tereza lovedhim monogamously, yet he married her and continued to have one adulterous affair after the next. Because the text is written in a male voice it is impossible to know the reasons3

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