The Roads to Freedom

by Jean-Paul Sartre

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The Novels

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The Roads to Freedom begins in June, 1938, with the first volume The Age of Reason. As the novel opens, Mathieu Delarue is visiting his longtime mistress, Marcelle Duffet. Because their affair has been going on for seven years, Mathieu has tired of Marcelle, but he continues to see her regularly, four times each week. Tonight, however, the routine changes, for Marcelle tells her lover that she is carrying his child. Without asking about her feelings and wishes, Mathieu immediately declares, “Well, I suppose one gets rid of it, eh?”

Because Mathieu wants Marcelle’s abortion to be as safe as possible, he consults Sarah Gomez, who had ended a pregnancy some years earlier. Sarah gives him the address of a reliable but expensive doctor who will be leaving Paris for the United States in a few days. Mathieu must therefore quickly find four thousand francs. He goes first to his friend Daniel Sereno, who claims that he does not have that much money (though in fact, he has ten thousand francs in his wallet). Mathieu next turns to his brother but is again rebuffed. Jacques, too, has the money, but he disapproves of his brother’s bohemian life. If Mathieu will marry Marcelle, his brother will give him ten thousand francs, but Jacques refuses to pay for an abortion.

Boris Serguine, Mathieu’s student and admirer, is more sympathetic. Though he lacks such a sum himself, he knows that his mistress, Lola Montero, keeps seven thousand francs in her room. To his surprise, though, when he asks her for five thousand francs, she refuses him. The ensuing argument so distresses her that she takes an overdose of cocaine. Boris wakes up the next morning to find her cold and pale; thinking that she is dead, he flees the apartment.

Shortly afterward, he meets Mathieu and begs him to return to Lola’s room and remove some letters, lest Boris be implicated in Lola’s death. Mathieu agrees, and, at the same time that he takes the incriminating packet, he considers stealing the money which he needs. While he hesitates, Lola revives. He still has the key to her trunk, though, and later that day, with more resolution, he does take five thousand francs.

When he presents the money to Marcelle, however, she throws the notes in his face. She wants to keep the child, and Daniel, who for some time has been visiting her, has maliciously encouraged her belief that Mathieu will marry her. Rather than agree to an abortion and continuing her affair with Mathieu, she will marry Daniel, little suspecting that he is a homosexual who is taking her to humiliate both Mathieu and himself.

Mathieu returns to his apartment and finds Ivich waiting for him. He has lusted after her, but she has always remained aloof. Now that she has failed her examination at the lycee and must leave Paris for her native Laon, she is willing to give herself to Mathieu. Yet he cannot commit himself to her any more than he could to Marcelle. He tells her, “I mustn’t touch you.” As she prepares to depart, Lola enters, looking for Boris, whom she accuses of robbing her. Mathieu explains what has happened, and Daniel appears with the bank notes that Marcelle had refused. At the novel’s end Mathieu is en-tangled with neither Marcelle nor Ivich, but, as he realizes, he remains “no freer than before.”

When The Reprieve opens, three months have elapsed. In late September, 1938, Europe holds its breath while Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier, and Adolf Hitler decide whether war will break out over the question...

(This entire section contains 1149 words.)

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of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. As Jean-Paul Sartre observes of this novel, “All the characters inThe Age of Reason...reappear..., only this time as lost people thwarted by a crowd of other people.” In the partial mobilization that precedes the agreement at Munich, Mathieu is called up to serve. Boris, expecting war, enlists, and his sister returns to Paris from Laon to sleep with her boyfriend. Daniel and Marcelle have married and have left Paris to live at Peyrehorade. Intersecting the stories of these major characters are accounts of numerous other figures swept up in what Sartre calls “the sense of the time of the derisory reprieve that Munich offered.” Philippe Gresigne rebels against his stepfather, a general, and resolves first to flee to Switzerland to avoid the fighting, then to become a martyr by staying in France to speak out against the war. Gros-Louis, an illiterate shepherd, wanders the streets of Marseilles, where he is beaten and robbed. Charles, an invalid, is reluctantly evacuated from his hospital. A number of villagers, believing that the mobilization is general rather than partial, leave their farms for the nearest army post. Gomez enjoys a brief respite of good food and a woman’s bed before returning to the hopeless war against Francisco Franco.

Though war does not come in 1938, it engulfs France in 1940. Troubled Sleep examines the effect of the Nazi invasion on Gomez’s family, Mathieu, Daniel, Philippe, and Brunet. Defeated by the Fascists in Spain, Gomez himself has fled to the United States. On June 15, 1940, he begins to work as an art critic; on that same day, the Germans enter Paris and Gomez’s wife and child attempt to reach the relative safety of Gien. Their car breaks down, though, and the reader last sees them as refugees trudging along the dusty, crowded road.

Mathieu’s unit has been in constant retreat, never stopping to confront the invaders. When they finally pause at a small village, every officer, from general down to lieutenant, flees, leaving the men leaderless. Most of the men take refuge in drink, but Mathieu joins a small detachment of soldiers resolved to resist the Germans. In the fifteen-minute battle, all the French except Mathieu are killed, and he is taken prisoner.

Philippe, despite his pacifist posing, joins the French army. After its defeat, he returns to Paris to visit his mother, only to find that she has fled. He then attempts to drown himself in the Seine but is rescued by Daniel, who has left Marcelle to enjoy the Nazi desecration of the French capital. Daniel takes Philippe to his Parisian apartment to begin a lengthy seduction.

Like Philippe, Brunet had opposed the war, though not because he considers himself a pacifist. On August 29, 1939, on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland, Brunet had written a lengthy editorial urging nonintervention, because Moscow had just signed a nonaggression pact with Germany. He thus follows the Communist Party line. Yet when Germany invades his homeland, Brunet enlists as a sergeant and is captured near Baccarat. In the prison camp, he begins to organize a Communist cell, and he continues his efforts to win recruits even as a train carries him and his fellow captives to slavery in Germany.