Sartre Themes

Sartrian themes exist as repeated thoughts but stand as philosophies based on existentialism (what many would call a pessimistic or possibly realistic view of being). Existentialism encompasses many thoughts such as the idea that someone can only judge one’s life at the end. It also includes the idea that nothing really matters except our choices for they put meaning to our lives. Jean Paul Sartre also discusses the absurdity of life and how if we truly realize life, it is too much to bear. In addition, Sartre wrote about existence and essence as well as his ideas on “good” and “bad” faith. Sartre had a wide range of topics which he implemented through the stories of the people in his works.

In many of his writings, Jean Paul Sartre depicted what he called “bonne foi” (good faith) and “mauvaise foi” (bad faith). A person with good faith would recognize failed choices and take responsibility for his or her decisions. Such is the case with Inez in No Exit. 3e5eb0a7cdd95-49-1After reaching hell where she will rest for all eternity, Inez admits to her mistakes in her life and identifies them without reserve. She accepts her fate of imprisonment with two other people. Similarly, Hugo in Sartre’s play, Dirty Hands, baffles through life, constantly questioning his decisions, wondering who prevails as politically superior and whether he should assassinate a great thinker, Hoederer. He eventually resolves to kill him, but it is only later, directly preceding his death, that he realizes what it all means. He states right before he lets the group kill him, “I have not yet killed Hoederer… But I am going to kill him now, along with myself.” It is in this moment, at the very end, that he distinguishes his choices and meaning in life. At the same time, Sartre includes several characters with bad faith who have the attributes of pride or a worry about their appearance. They continually focus on what others think of them and do not recognize their faults. Estelle and Garcin in No Exit both do not admit to their crimes until cornered into professing their truths. Estelle acts as a rich woman who never really did anything wrong and Garcin acts as a brave journalist who died fighting for peace. In truth, Estelle murdered her own child and Garcin ran away from his military duties out of fear. In this current hell, Garcin realizes, “if there’s… one person to say… that I’m brave and decent and the rest of it—well, one person’s faith would save me.” Yet it is too late: he made his choices and would not admit to them later. No one trusts or has this “faith” in him; thus he is doomed to an eternal hell. Also, in Nausea, a character referred to as the Self-Taught Man becomes disgruntled near the end, not feeling a purpose, touches a young boy in public and has an unhappy fate. He gave up, sensing that his choices didn’t matter at all. Therefore he, too, had bad faith. Also, Anny, Antoine’s former girlfriend, meets with Antoine again and counts him as a “milestone” in her life. She depends on him as a justification for her life. She has not created her own meaning and as a result, has bad faith. The contrast between these characters of good and bad faith exemplifies Sartre’s ideas that we must focus on ourselves and our decisions.

Sartre also often portrayed the complete absurdity of our existence. He demonstrated this by explaining that if we fully comprehended the disgusting nature of living, we could not bear it. In the case of Roquetin in Nausea, Roquetin often faces the ugliness of his surroundings and is consumed by a dizziness and nausea. dizzinessAt times, Sartre describes certain body parts as filth which causes Roquetin to feel revulsion at himself and those whom others might describe as desirous. Another source of his sickness is through the choices he faced: where he should go to eat, whether he should visit Anny, etc. He helps this by having a daily routine, one that is safe and repetitive (free from choice). However, Roquetin can never escape the mysteries of life; even when he peers into a mirror, his eyes become locked and he cannot stop looking for hours because he is “lost in the vagueness” which makes him “dizzy.” After looking at himself for a long period of time, he realizes, “what I see is well below the monkey, on the fringe of the vegetable world, at the level of a jellyfish.” Looking a himself fully perplexes him to the point where he stares and “the eyes, nose and mouth disappear: nothing human is left.” Sartre questions reality and what is really alive. If we do not even know ourselves, we do not know if life is true. This absurdity, in full awareness, is disturbing.

Yet at the same time, there is a freeing quality of awareness—realizing the question of life also ironically allows him to grasp his existence. Roquetin repeats the phrase “I exist” countless times (perhaps in an effort to remind himself that he is real). Yet he eventually absorbed his existence and knows that there is no method of escape from it. For a great deal of the time, Roquetin hides behind his focus of study the Marquis de Robellon by fulfilling his life through this historical persona. Despite this, Roquetin eventually uncovers this truth fro himself and concludes to never hide behind this mask. Again, he facilitates the importance of choice.

Acceptance appears as another common theme in the works of Sartre. In No Exit, Garcin accepts that Inez is his hell, and he must wait for her change of mind about his cowardice before he can be free. Estelle begs him to throw Inez out and “shut the door,” but he will not. Eventually he knows; “Dead! Dead! Knives, poison, ropes—all useless. It has happened already… Once and for all. So here we are forever… and ever… well, let’s get on with it.” noexit_3-smallHe accepts the truth that hell is other people (another of Sartre’s themes) and goes on living out his hell. Similarly, Hugo accepts his fate by announcing himself, “unsalvageable” (a harsh word to describe a human) for the party and gives up his life. Unhappiness and evil are others; yet we must accept this and continue with our lives.

Sartre’s themes are more than just themes relating human behavior. They transcend people and space. They act as maps showing us how to live in this absurd world. All his ideas overlap and lead to a Sartrian universal truth that nothing truly matters but what we make of life through decisions and faithfulness to ourselves.


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