The Wall Critical Overview
by Jean-Paul Sartre

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

When ‘‘The Wall’’ was first published in La Nouvelle Revue Francaise in 1937, it introduced Sartre to the French literary world. According to one scholar, Sartre’s publisher arranged the publication because he wanted to see if the public would favorably receive a novel Sartre had written, Nausea . The public, in fact, embraced both of these works, which quickly established Sartre’s literary reputation.

Two years later ‘‘The Wall’’ was selected as the title story for Sartre’s only collection of short fiction. Of his fiction, it has been his most popular work over the decades, yet critical reception has been slight as the short stories have been overshadowed by Sartre’s writings in other genres.

From the time of its publication, critics and scholars perceived the stories in the collection as merely vehicles for Sartre’s philosophical ideas. The renowned French writer, Albert Camus, did not cite the story specifically in his review of the collection published in the Alger Republicain . His views on Sartre’s view of man, however, aptly reflect Pablo’s situation: Man is ‘‘alone, enclosed in this liberty. It is a liberty that exists only in time, for death inflicts on it a swift and dizzying denial. His condition is absurd. He will go no further, and the miracles of those mornings when life begins anew have lost all meaning for him.’’

Some early critics found the subject matter of the collection problematic. The other four stories featured an impotent man; a bourgeoisie who finds refuge in a fascist organization; a man who attempts to commit a heinous crime to escape his mediocrity; and a young woman desperately trying to share her insane husband’s world. Critics objected to Sartre’s portrayal of deviant characters and graphic sexuality, his negative outlook, and use of obscene language.

Camus denied these charges: Sartre’s aim, he writes, ‘‘is to show that the most perverse of creatures acts, reacts, and describes himself in exactly the same way as the most ordinary.’’ Camus’ overall analysis of Sartre’s collection was overwhelmingly positive: ‘‘A great writer always brings his own world and its message. M. Sartre’s brings us to nothingness, but also to lucidity. And the image he perpetuates through his characters, of a man seated amid the ruins of his life, is a good illustration of the greatness and truth of his work.’’

The collection was not published in America until 1948. Several American reviewers offered similar criticisms to their French counterparts, noting the disgust that Sartre seemed to display for humanity. A review in the New Yorker asserted that the ‘‘only...

(The entire section is 638 words.)