Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

An Analysis of Irony in the Unbearable Lightness of Being

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

An Analysis of Irony in the Unbearable Lightness of Being

Article excerpt


The Unbearable Lightness of Being is widely known as a typical example of modern ironical novels of Milan Kundera. Through the analysis of the use of irony in the aspects of life value, love value and political implications in this novel, this paper concludes that people should balance "light" and "heavy" in daily life, so as to achieve a new and unique perspective of life, love and politics.

Key words: Irony; Life value; Love value; Political implication


The concept of irony was first seen in Socrates' strategy of the "Socratic Irony", and it developed unprecedentedly in the 18th century in Europe. Then, irony is defined as the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. Gradually, with the expansion and modification of the definition of irony made by different scholars, its forms are becoming more and more various. The use of irony has become an important novel creative pattern in modern history of literature, i.e. "a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated"1. And the fundamental characteristic of irony is to proclaim a kind of philosophical thinking and the attitude toward life in the frequent use of contrast. And it also shows a dialectical point of view toward life. With the development of irony writing, Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being becomes the best representative of the use of irony.

In The Unbearable Lightness, Kundera stands on the boundary of the century, from at the end of the 19th century to the 20th century, outlining the individuals' suffering in modern society and human's attempt to return home. The use of irony is presented throughout this novel, with a complicated love story of a man with two women, which leads readers to the deeply thinking about human life, love and politics. The successful application of irony in The Unbearable Lightness of Being forms the special style of Milan Kundera and profoundly triggers a new view on life, love and politics of people. And this paper will analyze the use of irony in The Unbearable Lightness of Being according to the characteristics of the following three parts: reflecting the life value, mirroring the love value and revealing the political implications.


Irony is always applied to indicate some kind of subtle meaning in literary woks, and in this novel, irony is mainly to express the life value, love value and political implications.


Life value, literally including the concept of "life" and "value" (Li, 2008, p.2), refers to people's conscious recognition to themselves and the meaning of others and the society, under a certain social historical condition. In August, 1968, Czechoslovakia was occupied by Soviet troops. A large number of Czech intellectuals were driven away. And Kundera was also one of those victims. He was fired from his party and was prohibited from any published word, with all his works suddenly being disappeared from bookstores and public libraries. These experiences made him became aware of the essence of life along with the human liberation tide. And thus what Kundera advocates in The Unbearable Lightness of Being is that life is without purposes, existing with no meaning. He uses irony to give out the declaration against the "prudent" social norms, which can be known as the earliest form of the pursuit of "the lightness of being".

Milan Kundera put forward a sharp contrast between the "light" and "heavy" in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kundera once said, "Perhaps the heaviest burden is the most substantial life. And with the heaviest burden, our life will be closer to the earth, the reality and the honesty. On the contrary, with no burden, one is lighter than air" (Xu, 2003, p.5). Therefore, "light" and "heavy" are the most ironical and ambiguous contrast. …

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