The Wall (short story collection)

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The Wall
The Wall (French edition).jpg
Author Jean-Paul Sartre
Country France
Language French
Genre Short story
Published 1939

The Wall (French: Le Mur) by Jean-Paul Sartre, a collection of short stories published in 1939 containing the eponymous story "The Wall," is considered one of the author's greatest existentialist works of fiction. Sartre dedicated the book to his companion Olga Kosakiewicz, a former student of Simone de Beauvoir.

"The Wall"[edit]

The eponymous story coldly depicts a situation in which prisoners are condemned to death. Written in 1939, the story is set in the Spanish Civil War, which began July 18, 1936, and ended April 1, 1939, when the Nationalists (known in Spanish as the Nacionales), led by General Francisco Franco, overcame the forces of the Spanish Republic and entered Madrid.

The title refers to the wall used by firing squads to execute prisoners. The Wall itself symbolises the inevitability and unknowing of one's death. The protagonist, Pablo Ibbieta, along with two others in his cell, is sentenced to death. He is offered a way out if he reveals the location of his comrade, Ramón Gris. Pablo refuses to cooperate until just before his scheduled execution, when, seeing no harm in it, he gives the authorities what he believes to be false information on Ramón Gris' whereabouts. Ironically, it turns out that Ramón Gris has moved from his previous hiding place to the very spot where Pablo tells the authorities he may be found. Thus Ramón Gris is shot and Pablo's life is, at least temporarily, spared from death.

"The Room"[edit]

The story begins with Mme Jeannette Darbédat, confined to her room by an unknown illness, eating a "rahat-loukoum" (Turkish delight) and reflecting on past memories. It is Thursday, and Mme Darbédat is visited in her chamber by her husband, M. Charles Darbédat. They begin to discuss their daughter Ève. It becomes readily apparent that Mme and M. Darbédat disapprove of Ève's husband, Pierre, who suffers from insanity. They bemoan the fact that they cannot protect their daughter against herself, and M. Darbédat wishes Pierre to be sent to live with Dr. Franchot in an asylum. Mme Darbédat hints at Ève and Pierre's continued romantic intimacy, which angers her husband. He refers to Pierre as a madman, and points out that he calls their daughter "Agatha". M. Darbédat furiously labels it "perversity". Mme Darbédat notes that their daughter is headstrong - she knows Pierre is incurable, but is obstinate nevertheless because she does not wish to be in the wrong. The husband reveals more information about Pierre's madness: he screams as though his throat were being cut because of his hallucinations, he sees statues that frighten him because they buzz and fly around him. M. Darbédat presumes Ève will get tired of Pierre, but worries she might go crazy herself before then; he wishes she would go out and meet a nice man with a future. Saying good-bye to his wife, M. Darbédat leaves to visit Ève while Mme Darbédat feebly gropes for another loukoum from the saucer.

M. Darbédat visits Ève on the sixth floor of an old building on the Rue de Bac; she greets him coldly and pays little attention to what he has to say. M. Darbédat agrees to see Pierre, privately reflecting that, while he recognizes that Pierre isn't entirely to blame for his condition, he still cannot see his son-in-law without judgement and disgust. M. Darbédat suggests to his daughter that she find somewhere else to live, but Ève says Pierre does not wish to leave his room. M. Darbédat enters Pierre's dimly-lit, incense-filled room and tries to engage Pierre in conversation, irritated that Eve expects this "madman" to be treated like a reasonable adult. Pierre asks for a different fork for his steak because he was "warned", and Ève obliges. M. Darbédat, annoyed, feels like Eve should not give in to the whims of a madman; it would have been better to make him understand that the first fork was like all the others. M. Darbédat asks to speak with Ève privately in the salon.

Rolling a cigarette, M. Darbédat thinks about how, though Mme Darbédat was not insane, her illness had drained her of energy and enthusiasm. He is disappointed with Ève's appearance - her once reasonable, intelligent features are clouded, and her make up is heavy and gaudy. M. Darbédat asks his daughter where all of this will lead her. He insists that Ève face the reality of her situation and admit that Pierre is sick - as an example, he tells her the story of a mother who went mad refusing to acknowledge the death of her son. He concludes that it is better to face facts, suffer for a time, and then let time heal the pain. Ève states that she is aware of Pierre's condition, but loves him as he is. M. Darbédat refuses to believe that Ève would feel anything but pity for Pierre, and that she could only love a healthy, normal person. Forcefully, he reveals that, before three years, Pierre will be sunk in complete dementia and will be "like a beast". Ève reveals that she has known this, from Franchot, for six months. He tries to convince her that her struggle is doomed to failure, that she's willingly destroying herself, and that she's done her more than her duty; he implores her to send Pierre to Franchot's clinic and come home and help ease the sufferings of her own mother. Ève refuses. When her father says she is mad, Ève replies "Not enough". Leaving the apartment in frustration, M. Darbédat decides that Ève has cut herself off from human nature and society.

"Erostratus"[edit]

A story about a misanthropic man who resolves to follow the path of Herostratus and make history by means of an evil deed—in this case, by killing six random people (one for each bullet in his revolver). The man is exhilarated by the sense of power he receives when carrying his revolver on the streets within his pocket. "But I no longer drew assurance from that [the revolver], it was from myself: I was a being like a revolver, a torpedo or a bomb." Sartre gives the reader an insightful account about how a man's nature changes with the objects of his possession, but the object itself is unable to change the internal man, as seen in the conclusion.

"Intimacy"[edit]

Young Lulu struggles with authenticity as she seeks to liberate herself from social stereotypes. She decides to leave her husband Henri and run off with her lover Pierre at the insistence of her friend Rirette. She goes through several stages of realisation as she sees that the roles of wife, friend, and even lover are meaningless. However, she does not have enough strength to use the resulting angst to become an authentic being, so she finally decides to remain with her husband.

"The Childhood of a Leader"[edit]

A tale of the mental progress of a boy named Lucien Fleurier from around age 4 to his early adulthood. Lucien, the son of a rich industrialist, searches for identity and meaning in order to find out "what's wrong" with him. He journeys from Freudian psychoanalysis and being a one-time sexual partner of a paederast poet, to finally becoming part of a Fascist youth organisation and killing a Jewish man who is reading l'Humanité, with his friends.