The Roads to Freedom by Jean-Paul Sartre

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Because The Roads to Freedom is historical as well as philosophical fiction, a number of characters are actual people: For example, Chamberlain, Hitler, and Daladier all play minor but crucial roles in The Reprieve. Others are closely modeled on Sartre’s friends. Ivich, for example, is based on Olga Kosakiewicz, and Paul Nizan served as the model for Schneider, whom Brunet meets in the German prison camp. Like Nizan, Schneider is a Communist who left the Party when it reversed its anti-Fascist stand in August, 1939. Mathieu closely resembles his creator. Like Sartre, he was born in 1905; moreover, both teach philosophy and ponder the meaning of true freedom. Still another set of characters derives from Sartre’s study of nineteenth century French poets. Philippe suggests Charles Baudelaire, and Daniel bears some similarity to Arthur Rimbaud.

Sartre also uses his characters to exemplify types of people maintaining certain political or philosophical views. Like many of his contemporaries, Mathieu sympathizes with the Spanish Republicans but does nothing to support them. His brother reflects the widespread sentiment, “Better Hitler than (Leon) Blum,” the Jewish premier of France; this attitude did much to undermine the French will to resist in 1940. Birnenschatz, a rich Jewish jeweler, typifies the assimilationist tendencies of his coreligionists in Germany as well as in France, calling himself a “Frenchman, not a Jew, not a French Jew” and opposing military intervention against the Nazis. Brunet represents the French Far Left, meaning well but far too willing to follow the various dictates of Moscow and more concerned with the current demands of the Soviet Union than with the needs of the French people. The fate of peasants such as Gros-Louis and members of the petite bourgeois such as Maurice demonstrates the plight of the masses caught up in...

(The entire section is 452 words.)