The novel “Ignorance” by Milan Kundera is a compelling story about the plight of immigration. It exposes immigration through the eyes of an immigrant, and teaches those who are not to try and see through the eyes of another. This novel is chalked full of duality; the state of immigration as ‘others’ see it, and the ‘truth’ of immigration fromimmigrants themselves. It uses the story of the Odyssey to parallel the themes of leaving and returning, as well as the adventure in between. This paper will explain three main points: firstly, what it is to be an immigrant based on this novel’s account (and how it affects your state of being), secondly, the assumptions held by ‘others’ and their misconceptions of the state of immigration and theireffects on immigrants, and lastly how the parallels of these two points of view are effectively expressed through the use of the Odyssey throughout the novel. Being an immigrant, you hold a sense of uniqueness incomprehensible to those around you. The truth about you is nothing like what people assume about you. The nightmares of your past are misconstrued, and the struggles of your present are notunderstood.
Irena is the main character of this novel. She is an immigrant from Prague who immigrated to France. She lived in France for 20 years, and when her boyfriend’s work changed locations, she found herself moving back to Prague. Right away, this novel exposes the duality within Irena, and what it means to be an immigrant. Through the story of Irena, other immigrants are introduced, newstories are told, and a web is weaved about their experiences. Kundera effectively expresses a clear understanding of what it is to be an immigrant, and shares with us the commonality between all immigrants through the characters in her book. Because of the varied reasons in which they left their native countries; and their individual pasts, each character possesses a different emotional relationshipto where they came from. They don’t want to go back, they almost hate it, and they fear it. This curious emotion is paired with nostalgia. Nobody can just leave and forget the good things, even if they were few and far between. This battle within themselves defines their situation. Each character left their native land to create a different life for themselves. The past is not something that theywant in their present. The people in this novel strive to not dwell on memories. By remembering, they could become too nostalgic, and never move forward in their new lives. “... si les souvenirs ne sont pas évoqués, encore et encore…ils s’en vont » (Kundera pg 41). By the light of day, their new country seems ideal, and yet they still have these strong emotional ties to their pasts. They fearmore than anything being forced back into a life from which they escaped, and even more, they fear missing the things they liked about it. “Le jour était illumine par la beauté du pays abandonné, la nuit par l’horreur d’y retourner. Le jour lui montrait le paradis qu’elle avait perdu, la nuit l’enfer qu’elle avait fui » (Kundera pg 23). This novel effectively shows the duality of the soul, theinternal battle between past and present, and how it is ongoing in life. Kundera focuses on the idea of the ‘collective’ and is careful to explain that these feelings are not unique to one person, but that immigrants as a group tend to share similar nightmares and feelings about being forced back to their pasts. The nightmare of being taken away from the freedom you fought for shakes someone to theircore. Irena explains horrific nightmares about being forced back to Prague. She would wake up devastated and screaming, unable to control herself because the nightmare seemed real. Kundera explains that this same type of nightmare is common for the majority of immigrants. This curious battle with the conscious and subconscious mind relates to all human beings, and becomes all the more interesting...