‘‘The Wall,’’ first published in 1937 and collected in the volume The Wall and Other Stories (1939), is the best known of Jean-Paul Sartre’s five short stories. Written prior to Sartre’s activism in political causes, ‘‘The Wall’’ was Sartre’s personal response to the Spanish Civil War; he wrote it during a period when he felt hopeless about the growing forces of fascism in Spain. The story also outlines Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism. ‘‘The Wall,’’ along with Sartre’s existentialist novel Nausea, helped solidify Sartre’s literary reputation.
In ‘‘The Wall,’’ Sartre chronicles the story of a political prisoner condemned to execution by fascist officers. The knowledge of his death prompts the protagonist to give up on life before he is even killed. At the time of its publication, The Wall and Other Stories sparked some debate because of the negative content—including graphic sexuality and foul language—of the stories. Critics since have argued that these elements lend credibility to Sartre’s philosophical ideas.
Throughout his long career as a writer and philosopher, Sartre produced numerous texts, yet he never again returned to the short fiction format. Critics have paid remarkably little attention to ‘‘The Wall.’’ Interested scholars, however, have generally responded enthusiastically. ‘‘The Wall,’’ however, remains important to the Sartre scholar as well as the general reader because of its deft exploration of Sartre’s philosophies as well as its sheer narrative force. It is a story to be appreciated on multiple levels.