Simone de Beauvoir Analysis

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Simone de Beauvoir (duh boh-VWAHR) is best known for her social and political philosophy, especially her contributions to feminism. Foremost among her nonfiction works is her four-volume autobiography, Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (1958; Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1959), La Force de l’âge (1960; The Prime of Life, 1962), La Force des choses (1963; Force of Circumstance, 1964), and Tout compte fait (1972; All Said and Done, 1974). Equally important is her monumental sociological study on women, Le Deuxième Sexe (1949; The Second Sex, 1953). Two other sociological works follow The Second Sex, the first on China, La Longue Marche (1957; The Long March, 1958), and the second on the aged, La Vieillesse (1970; The Coming of Age, 1972). Les Bouches inutiles (1945), her only play, has not been translated into English. She also published two collections of short stories, La Femme rompue (1967; The Woman Destroyed, 1968) and Quand prime le spirituel (1979; When Things of the Spirit Come First: Five Early Tales, 1982). Her most important philosophical essays include Pyrrhus et Cinéas (1944), Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté (1947; The Ethics of Ambiguity, 1948), L’Existentialisme et la sagesse des nations (1948), and Privilèges (1955; partial translation “Must We Burn Sade?,” 1953). A number of her other essays appeared in newspapers and journals. She also wrote a chronicle of her travels in the United States, L’Amérique au jour le jour (1948; America Day by Day, 1953); a powerful account of her mother’s illness and death, Une Mort très douce (1964; A Very Easy Death, 1966); and a tribute to Jean-Paul Sartre, La Cérémonie des adieux (1981; Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre, 1984).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Simon de Beauvoir was a presence in French intellectual life during the second half of the twentieth century. She is one of the foremost examples of existentialist engagement and its most respected moral voice; the breadth of her writing alone secures de Beauvoir a prominent position in twentieth century letters. Her novels, especially She Came to Stay, The Blood of Others, and The Mandarins (for which she won the Prix Goncourt in 1954), pose some of the central philosophical and ethical questions of our time, exploring the problems of social morality, political commitment, and human responsibility. Along with her autobiography, her novels chronicle the time before and after World War II and the experiences that made her one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.

De Beauvoir wrote numerous articles for Les Temps modernes, a periodical founded and directed by Sartre, and she was a member of its editorial board. In 1973, she became the editor of the journal’s feminist column. The Second Sex, her carefully documented study of the situation of women, became one of the major theoretical texts of the women’s movement. Always an activist for women’s rights and social justice, she demonstrated against France’s restrictive abortion laws and signed the “Manifeste des 343,” a document listing women who admitted having had abortions. She was president of Choisir (1971) and of the Ligue des Droits des Femmes (1974), an organization devoted to fighting sex discrimination. De Beauvoir was also one of the founders of the feminist journal Questions féministes. Her indictment of social injustice is evidenced by The Coming of Age, her defense of a free press (the Maoist underground newspaper La Cause du peuple), and her political actions.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What aspects of Simone de Beauvoir’s work stand apart from her relationship to Jean-Paul Sartre?

Did de Beauvoir learn more from men or from other women? Explain your conclusion.

Is de Beauvoir correct in her belief that the self is “socially constructed”? If she is correct, does not that view reduce the realm of qualities that might be called “feminine”?

De Beauvoir was essentially more of a philosopher or social critic than a literary person. Support or challenge this statement.

Did de Beauvoir write too much? Could she have been more...

(The entire section is 1,311 words.)