The Wall Questions and Answers
by Jean-Paul Sartre

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What do you think the central theme is in the story "The Wall"?

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It is hard to ignore that this amazing short story teaches us something quite profound about death and the condition of man when he has to face it. The narrative provides us with an insight into three men during their last night before their execution by firing squad the following morning, symbolised by "The Wall" that they will stand against whilst they are shot. Tom, Pablo and Juan each face their doom in different ways, yet Pablo finds it hard to make sense of what is going to happen to him:

I felt relaxed and over-excited at the same time. I didn't want to think any moreĀ aboutĀ what would happen at dawn, at death. It made no sense. I only found words or emptiness.

He concludes that "death had disenchanted everything" for him, and confronting death left his life as a blank. However, facing death also gives him strength, as he discovers when soldiers try to intimidate him the next morning and extract information from him. For Pablo, who is about to meet death, he finds their attempts to threaten him laughable:

These men dolled up with their riding crops and boots were still going to die. A little later than I, but not too much... I thought they were insane.

To Pablo, he finds it amusing that the power that the soldiers have over him counts for nothing to a man who is already going to die. The overwhelming power of death dwarfs their power, and yet they fail to understand this.

Thus, one way of reading "The Wall" is to see it as a psychological examination of the impact of imminent death on humans and the way that facing it paradoxically can be said to give us strength.

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