Characters

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

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Simone Weil's Waiting for God is a collection of philosophical letters and essays rather than a work of fiction or an expository non-fiction narrative on a particular topic. Thus, the "characters" in the book are not quite conventional.

However, Weil is, in effect, telling her life's story as she lays bare her own thoughts about the deepest questions and problems that have confronted her. The narrator, Simone Weil herself, is therefore the principal character of Waiting for God, and in order to understand the book, we need to examine her own background and the forces that motivated her in her brief life.

Weil was an intellectual prodigy and a brilliant teacher who became a political activist during the 1930s and 40s. Many aspects of her life were similar to that of her contemporary, George Orwell. In politics, she was left-wing, and she fought against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, as Orwell did. Again, like Orwell (and despite her upper-middle-class background), she took ordinary jobs, laboring first on a farm and later in a factory. This was in order to gain some understanding of the experience of working-class people. Unlike Orwell, however, she became interested in religion and devoted the last years of her life to a personal Christian-oriented philosophy—despite being brought up without religious beliefs of any kind.

Here, we can discuss the other "characters" in Waiting for God.

Father Perrin was a Dominican clergyman whom Weil met in Marseilles in 1941. Of the six letters included in Waiting for God, five of them were written to him. He was a spiritual- and an intellectual soulmate to Weil, and in her letters to him Weil explains her unusual approach to the Christian religion. She does not wish to actually "convert" to Christianity or be baptized (as would normally be expected of someone who takes such a deep interest in Christian belief). Weil instead seems to adopt Christianity as a philosophy of life rather than as a religious practice.

"S" is a character who is referred to only by an initial. A letter in Waiting for God is addressed to "S," but Weil explains that she has enclosed with it one of her letters to Father Perrin. We learn little, if anything, about "S" from the brief letter.

The members of the Jeunesse Étudiante Chrétienne (JEC) are an international group of Christian students with whom Father Perrin was indirectly associated and to whom Weil refers in her letter to "S."

Numerous authors, and figures in the history of philosophy and religion; Weil refers not only to biblical figures—such as Jesus and as Paul—but to many Greeks in antiquity as well, from Pythagoras to Plato to Archimedes. She also references modern authors (that is, from the Renaissance on), including Racine, Beaumarchais, Conrad, and Paul Valéry.

Weil's philosophies are extremely complex and draw on many sources, though her conclusions about God and the world are idiosyncratic.

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