Simone de Beauvoir Beauvoir, Simone de (Vol. 4)

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Beauvoir, Simone de (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Beauvoir, Simone de 1908–

Simone de Beauvoir is a French existentialist philosopher, novelist, essayist, and autobiographer. Although her fiction is usually considered artistically masterful, it is most often studied as the exegesis of her philosophical thought. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

The main reason why Simone de Beauvoir's feminism deserves very careful attention is because Le Deuxième Sexe may frequently be misunderstood by opponents and supporters…. [One] misunderstanding is to consider her feminism as an isolated aspect, rather than to see her views in Le Deuxième Sexe as a central feature of her fiction and thought; in this way, the immediate problems, both social and political, which are posed in Le Deuxième Sexe, can be conveniently overlooked….

A brief examination of Le Deuxième Sexe is, however, bound to be a dangerous undertaking, for there are immediately two risks: that of obscuring the essential unity of her work, visible in the close resemblances between novels, essays and autobiography; and that of over-simplification…. It will be seen that, for Simone de Beauvoir, woman has currently two unsatisfactory functions: she is both object and image. Once man has branded her with the stigma of otherness ("altérité"), she has been throughout history a mere object in a male society; thereafter, when the object is obliged to incarnate man's dream, she becomes an image. This representational function accounts for the inauthentic attitude which Simone de Beauvoir calls woman's "être-pour-les-hommes," which will, at least in part, explain … the frequent references to mirrors and looking-glasses in her novels and autobiography as well as in Le Deuxième Sexe.

[In] Le Deuxième Sexe, and in her further remarks on womankind in U.S.A. and China, Simone de Beauvoir decides to take upon herself the function of looking-glass and thus reveal to the less privileged members of her sex the imperfections of Woman the Object and of Woman the Image…. To avoid any accusation of hypersensitivity, let us agree that Simone de Beauvoir is probably right about the male; but let us also suggest that the converse weighting of the argument in favour of women raises a reasonable doubt about the just or unjust methods of argumentation elsewhere in the book. It may be that Simone de Beauvoir's mirror gives only a distorted image to suit her own theories, outlook and aims. [An] examination of her feminism will reveal flaws which arise from the intrusion into the feminism of her three other preoccupations … the existential, the autobiographical and the political….

In every novel which Simone de Beauvoir has written, man is shown as the controller of society in every sphere…. The clearest and, in many ways, fairest demonstration which she gives of this state and of the difficulties facing Woman the Object and Woman the Image is to be found in Les Belles Images….

Simone de Beauvoir's frequent references to mirrors in novels, essays and autobiography are far from being mere imitations of a literary device which can be traced from the legend of Narcissus to the works of Cocteau and Sartre. In her work mirrors are mentioned for a variety of reasons, which range from the creation of an interesting visual effect to the symbolical illustration of her philosophy; and an examination of these will not only [describe] the unfair image which she believes man to have created, but will, at the same time, illustrate how her personal preoccupations are apparent even in the relatively minor stylistic devices which she uses….

It is … possible to relate this frequent use of mirrors not only to her philosophical but also to her feminist views, for the heroines who observe themselves are trying to find some meaning in their own lives, trying to achieve a proper identity: and the usual conclusion is that they have been duped, reduced to an empty image….

For Simone de Beauvoir, woman is denied a true individuality, she is torn between...

(The entire section is 4,199 words.)