What's the symbolism of "the wall," and why is it the title of the story?

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In the short story "The Wall" by Jean-Paul Sartre , the titular wall symbolizes death. The story is about a man awaiting his execution at the hands of the fascists in Spain. The story is about awaiting death, as he thinks about his upcoming execution, and this is...

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In the short story "The Wall" by Jean-Paul Sartre, the titular wall symbolizes death. The story is about a man awaiting his execution at the hands of the fascists in Spain. The story is about awaiting death, as he thinks about his upcoming execution, and this is why it is the title. The prisoner, Ibbieta, awaits his death by firing squad and envisions himself standing in front of the wall in the adjacent courtyard. The prisoner describes the wall in the following passage:

They were going to slap a man up against a wall and shoot at him till he died...

One of his fellow prisoners, Tom, tells Ibbieta,

Someone'll holler "aim!" and I'll see eight rifles looking at me. I'll think how I'd like to get inside the wall, I'll push against it with my back. . . . with every ounce of strength I have, but the wall will stay, like in a nightmare.

The wall has a double meaning in this context. It refers to the actual wall in the courtyard that they expect will be the scene of the firing squad. It also refers to death, no matter how it comes. Tom would like to “push against it…with every ounce of strength [he has], but the wall will stay.” In other words, no matter how Tom or Ibbieta or anyone else fights, death is eventually there at the end, like a solid wall that one cannot get around or overcome.

Ibbieta dreams that “They were dragging me to the wall and I was struggling; I was asking for mercy.” This is another symbol that has a double meaning. On one level, it refers to the wall against which he will stand when he is in front of the firing squad. On another level, it also stands for death. Although he keeps telling himself that he is not frightened, they will have to drag him to his death. Moreover, his body involuntarily reveals his fear. He is perspiring badly, despite the severe cold of the cell.

Before the actual execution, the word "wall" is used twice in connection with the Belgian doctor:

After a minute he let the hand fall inert and went and leaned his back against the wall…

And:

The Belgian pulled away quickly and stumbled back against the wall. For a second he looked at us with horror, he must have suddenly understood that we were not men like him.

While this reference is to the wall of the prison cell, not specifically to the wall in the courtyard, it is also a metaphor for death. The doctor is not sentenced to be executed, yet he stands against the wall, just as the prisoners do. In other words, his time to die will come too.

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In the short story "The Wall," a man is captured by authoritarian forces who inform him that he will be executed the following morning after he refuses to become an informant. As the night progresses and the reality of his impending execution sets in, the man begins to disassociate, forming a figurative wall between his mind/spirit and his physical body.

Most people live their lives not knowing when death will take them, but for the man in this story, he has an accurate awareness of his impending death the following morning. This knowledge proves too traumatic for the man, and he copes through the night by disassociating, forming a wall between himself and the reality of his approaching physical death.

Additionally, the wall represents the unknown. The man must endure the fact that all he knows will soon be gone. He will experience death, and then, after that, he has no knowledge of what may or may not come. Death can be seen as the ultimate figurative wall, separating physical from supernatural, known from unknown, reality from speculation/superstition. Though the man eventually evades death by inadvertently informing on his comrade, if he had faced execution, he would have been put against an actual wall by the fascist authorities. He would have been shot and would have crossed over the figurative wall between life and death.

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There are several ways to think of the idea of "the wall" being symbolic in the story. From the first moments of his arrest, Pablo "stonewalls" his captors by refusing to give them the information they want about the whereabouts of Ramon Gris.

Furthermore, after Juan, Tom, and Pablo hear that they will be shot the next morning, executed with their backs against "the wall," Pablo begins to construct a figurative wall between himself and his cellmates. He considers, dispassionately, what it will look like when Tom receives his fatal wounds.

As the night progresses, Pablo begins to lose the connection between his body and his mind. It is as if a wall separates them, and he is quite surprised when he realizes that he is sweating profusely. He has been lost in thought. Tom, on the other hand, calls himself a "materialist" and imagines himself pushing against the way as he is being executed. Tom begins to speculate on the figurative wall that separates life and death. And like Pablo, Tom eventually begins to lose the connection between his body and mind and urinates on himself.

It may be that Sartre titled the story "The Wall" because of all the figurative barriers the character explore, in addition to the wall where the prisoners will be executed.

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"The Wall" is a short story about a man awaiting execution at the hands of fascist leaders. Because he knows the time and place of his death, he slowly loses the will to live. His captors tell him that he can spare his own life by giving up his friend. He refuses at first, but eventually gives them what he thinks is false information, assuming he has nothing to lose. Ironically however, his friend is found exactly where he said he would be, having left his other location due to an argument. Thus, the main character's life is spared.

The title of this story refers to the wall used by firing squads to execute prisoners. This wall haunts the character throughout the story, reminding him of his impending mortality. The wall itself symbolizes the inevitability and unknowing of one's death. Essentially, everything behind the wall is unknown. Even though the main character thinks he knows what will happen, his story ends in an unexpected twist, at the expense of another's life.

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