Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

by Simone de Beauvoir
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Last Updated on August 24, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518

Simone de Beauvoir

This memoir follows the early years of Simone de Beauvoir, who was born into affluence in Paris and was nurtured by her parents as a young child. She is restless and fiery, feeling that her intellect is not being sufficiently challenged by the limited expectations that society has for her. Tormented by poor self-image as a teenager, de Beauvoir rejects outright the conservative values of her father and religious values of her mother, seeking truth for herself in the many books she reads. She tries her hand at teaching but has a negative experience and slumps into a state of pessimism. She meets a number of students at the Ecole Normale, among them Jean-Paul Sartre, who inspire her to resume searching for her own identity. As the narrator of her own autobiography, she switches between a diary-like description of her life and flowery portions that are more characteristic of a novel.

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Elizabeth "Zaza" Mabille

Zaza is a close school friend of Simone who shares her cheerful and charismatic disposition. The two girls have a turbulent relationship, but in the end their friendship endures. Zaza falls in love with a student at the Ecole Normale but is forbidden to see him by her mother. She ultimately agrees to marry the man her parents select for her but dies before the ceremony can take place. Zaza is what de Beauvoir least wanted to be: a truly “dutiful daughter.” She lived the life that de Beauvoir came to dread.

Jacques

Two years older than her, de Beauvoir’s cousin Jacques is both the object of her affection and the object of her disdain during her teenage years. She eventually disqualifies him as a potential husband, seeing in him insufficient ambition and a tendency to accept the status quo that she finds repulsive. Jacques ultimately marries a woman he doesn’t love, lives an unimpressive life, and dies at a young age. Like Zaza, he lives a life that de Beauvoir is unimpressed with.

Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre is a young and passionate student when Beauvoir meets him. He encourages her to be who she is and speaks to her as an equal. de Beauvoir also thinks she has found in Sartre her ideal man, an intellectual superior who will inspire her to reach new intellectual heights.

Françoise de Beauvoir

de Beauvoir’s mother, Françoise, is a committed Catholic who insists on her children’s being educated in some of Paris’s best schools despite her family’s lack of money during the war. de Beauvoir comes to resent the influence her mother seeks to exercise over her.

Georges Bertrand de Beauvoir

de Beauvoir’s father, Georges Bertrand, is an atheist with a very conservative worldview. He loves his daughter and likes telling his friends that she can think like a man.

Robert Garric

Garric is a teacher at the Institute de Sainte-Marie who helps de Beauvoir realize a philanthropic purpose to her writing.

Hélèn de Beauvoir

Hélèn is de Beauvoir’s younger sister, for whom she wants to be a good role model.

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