Tuesday, 24 February 2015


Thoughts on

The Wall


Jean-Paul Sart

Sartre is one of the great figures in postwar philosophy as well as being a novelist and political activist.   This story was published in 1939 just after the Spanish Civil War which it deals with, and just before the Second World War in which Sartre was first a soldier, then a prisoner of war, and after escaping a member of the French Underground.   The Wall is his second publication, coming after the novel Nausea.   Both of these are about what is known as Existentialism, a philosophical movement which ask what it is for a person to ‘be’,  to live.   And it often focuses on the final meaninglessness of human life on the one hand, and on the other the need for us to try and be total honest with ourselves, to be in ‘good faith’, and not try to make up comforting myths and roles to hide from the starkness of existence as such.   Later, after the war, Sartre became interested in Marxism and social issues.   But in The Wall you can see how he works variations on the theme of death, the end of 'existence'  when it stares his characters in the face.  

The story deals with three prisoners of war who are about to be shot, and it looks at the ways they try to deal with this.

The main character and narrator, Pablo, is an anti-fascist revolutionary, who seems to represent Sartre’s own viewpoint.   He is able to remain stable, to deal with his fear, although it is not so much fear as acceptance that now everything is finished, and since it is his life doesn’t matter very because all human life is pointless.  He shows physical manifestations of fear in his sweating and so on,  but  has no regrets.   His decision to try to save Gris, one of his leaders, is made not out of bravery or dedication, but just for the hell of it.   We see at the end the link between his viewpoint and ‘absurdism’.

Pablo simply closes up and ceases to exist or to value anything, as it were ‘in advance’,

Juan, the youngster is concerned with the process of being shot, how long his death will take.   He’s concerned more with fear of suffering than the concept of death itself.

Tom,  is concerned primarily with his problem of registering that he’s actually going to stop existing.  

The Belgian doctor gives another viewpoint, that of the observer and student of how people behave in this situation.   He even tries little 'experiments'

Another view point we might forget is that of ourselves, the readers, who are observers, of course, but not dispassionate.   We identify with the characters and judge them from our own perspectives.  They make us reflect on our own mortality.  We imagine briefly ourselves in their final situation.  We don't necessarily take Pablo's authorial viewpoint.


How far do you sympathise with Pablo's viewpoint.  

Is he convincing?   Or is he also playing a role?

Is he 'macho'?  Realistic?  'Materialistic?

Does Sartre create a sense of 'before-death'?

Why DOES Pablo decide to give information about Gris?

What ARE Pablo's feelings at the end?

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