Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Originally published in France in two successive volumes, The Second Sex was conceived as one comprehensive study but its two parts—book 1 and book 2— differ somewhat in format. The historical approach and presentation of established data in book 1 permit the author to conclude each essay with a brief summary and an evaluation of stated facts. The more subjective and speculative nature of book 2, which contains Simone de Beauvoir’s observations of women of her own generation, must remain without such summaries. Instead, book 2 offers a final chapter fully devoted to recapitulating salient points about the status of women at the time of its writing. Apart from this final chapter, simply titled “Conclusion,” de Beauvoir’s study consists of twenty-five essays, arranged to be read in sequence but, at the same time, independent of one another, with only occasional references to previously mentioned material. An index follows the actual text of this substantial collection.

Book 1 of the study is divided into three parts with eleven essays and bears the subtitle “Facts and Myths.” It examines women’s bodies, souls, and economic status in terms of biology, psychoanalysis, and historical materialism. It also presents the reader with an overview of women in history, from primitive societies through classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, and modern times. A final discussion is devoted to women and myths in general, as...

(The entire section is 512 words.)