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Sartre, Jean-Paul

french freedom individual human

(French, 1905–80)

Sartre was a central figure in the French philosophical movement known as existentialism. A professor and writer of philosophy, he also used plays and novels to explore his philosophical ideas, arguing that existence is meaningless and that our concern should be what human beings can do in the face of the absurdity of their condition. In his first novel, Nausea (1938), the main character, Roquentin, confronts the purposelessness of his life and is stricken by nausea and a sense of alienation from his bourgeois world. He is forced to question his identity. For Sartre, this experience is the point at which human beings can see true freedom and make sincere choices about how to live an individual life. Yet Roquentin chooses the safe bourgeois world of convention and chooses (according to Sartre) ‘inauthentically’. Sartre was a committed socialist and worked for the French Resistance. In The Age of Reason (1945), a professor of philosophy is obsessed with the idea of personal freedom. Individual lives are explored in the setting of Paris in 1938, with its nightclubs, galleries, students, café society, and the looming threat of war. This is the first in Sartre's Roads to Freedom trilogy, followed by The Reprieve (1945) and Troubled Sleep (1949) which depicts the fall of France in 1940 and the anguished response of individual French people to the German occupation.

Albert Camus, Ian McEwan, Simone de Beauvoir. See FILM ADAPTATIONS  DJ

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