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"The Wall" by Jean-Paul Sartre and its representation of existentialist principles and individual freedom

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"The Wall" by Jean-Paul Sartre represents existentialist principles and individual freedom through its exploration of human consciousness, the inevitability of death, and the absurdity of existence. The protagonist, Pablo Ibbieta, faces a death sentence, leading him to confront the meaninglessness of life and the importance of personal choice and responsibility in defining one's essence.

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How does "The Wall" by Jean-Paul Sartre relate to individual freedom?

In "The Wall," we follow the narration of Pablo Ibbieta, a member of the International Brigade assisting the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Pablo spends a harrowing evening with his cellmates Tom and Juan, all of whom are to be shot the next morning. Pablo slowly experiences a loss of his senses as well as disillusion with things he had previously found meaningful.

Once Pablo accepts the concept of his own death, individual freedom is as meaningless as anything else. He thinks that even if they were to set him free, he would leave "cold." He thinks that once a person has abandoned the illusion of eternity, years are no different from seconds. He views people who are not sentenced to die as fundamentally other, still in control of bodies that are still their own.

Pablo also contemplates individual freedom by being unwilling to sell out Ramon Gris. It's not that he cares for his life anymore; he admits to not caring for anything. He simply knows that the Nationalists will put a man against the wall and shoot him and it doesn't matter who it is. The concept of "the individual" is completely meaningless to him. Because he has no interest in selling out his comrade, it is ironic that the wild goose chase Pablo intends to lead his captors on turns out to actually lead them to the man they were looking for.

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How does "The Wall" by Jean-Paul Sartre relate to individual freedom?

Jean-Paul Sartre's "The Wall" tells the story of Pablo Ibbieta. He has been captured and is being questioned about the whereabouts of Ramon Gris. Pablo refuses to tell his captors where he is. Later, Pablo is questioned again, and he tells them that Ramon is in a cemetery (which he believes to be a lie). He only lies in order to be let go. The men come back from the cemetery and tell Pablo that he will be tried by a normal court (not a military one). News gets back to Pablo that Ramon was captured in the cemetery he sent his captors to. Pablo goes hysterical.

The story speaks to individual freedom in two very different ways. First, it speaks to the loss of individual freedom. Pablo and the other men are captured, and their freedoms are taken away. Second, Pablo has the choice to protect his own freedom (by telling his captors where Ramon is). Although he thinks he lies, Pablo's intent is to lie in order to protect his own life and freedom.

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How does "The Wall" embody Sartre's principles of existentialism?

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was the leading proponent of existentialism. Existentialism is rather abstruse, but a careful study of "The Wall" gives us insights into the philosophy and the man who wrote it.

"The Wall" tells the story of three men in a prison cell during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The men were captured fighting against Francisco Franco's fascist army. Sartre, a Marxist, identified with the men's cause because Marxists fought against fascists during this war.

Existentialism is concerned with the nature of existence itself. The three men, told they would be executed the next morning, had to face this issue. They had to confront dying and how that reality shaped everything they had experienced during their lives.

Another central tenet of existentialism is choice. In The Wall, one prisoner, Pablo, is asked where Ramon Gris is hiding. Pablo is put into a laundry room for 15 minutes to think it over. This illustrates the importance of choice. Should Pablo tell to save his life or not? He decided to deceive them by telling them that Ramon was in the cemetery. The soldiers went out, found Ramon, and shot him. Ramon had, by accident, been in the cemetery!

This leads to another precept of existentialism: accepting responsibility for one's choices. Pablo, unlike his two companions, was not executed. But he had to face the reality that what he did led to the death of Ramon.

Although existentialism is a complex topic, a careful study of The Wall can elucidate its main components.

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How does "The Wall" embody Sartre's principles of existentialism?

Let's begin by clarifying what "existentialism" means. It was a term coined by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (although it arguably has older roots) and is exemplified in a number of his novels (including Nausea and No Exit). Sartre also addresses it in non-fictional philosophical treatises (Being and Nothingness, for example). For an existentialist neither metaphysics nor morality offers a complete picture of a human being; the problems that dominated philosophical thought in the early twentieth century usually fell into one or the other of those categories. On the one hand, metaphysicians attempted to identify the nature of an individual, the relationship between mind and body, etc. and on the other hand, moral philosophers attempted to answer questions about how individuals should act. Neither is to be completely abandoned but neither is sufficient for answering the basic questions about existence.

Existentialism offers a third alternative. According to Walter Kauffman:

“Existentialism,” therefore, may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence.  

Let us turn, then to the existentialist novel. One of the defining features of an Existentialist novel is that it will often not present a straightforward narrative but rather focus on a relationship or set of relationships — the character and the world, two characters, a group of characters, etc. — and explore them to the fullest. For Sartre, the social is created in the regard (look) of the Other; the Other views the subject in relation to himself and, in so doing, alienates the subject. For example, the subject is constituted as a woman via the resentment of a man. Sartre's novels, then, study individuals in society as he conceived of it. Existentialist novels also tend to revolve around a similar theme or set of themes – boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, and nothingness. Sartre's Le Mur (The Wall) follows such a pattern, both in its structure and with respect to the themes it addresses.

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How does "The Wall" embody Sartre's principles of existentialism?

Existentialism is the term coined by Sartre to describe his perception of human existence. His form of existentialism is more properly called atheistic existentialism, and its followers believe that the individual is alone in a godless universe and that the basic human condition is one of suffering and loneliness.
All humans search for wholeness and well-being, existentialism doesn't hold out hope for humankind, the only way one can survive is to make their own set of values and live by them.
Juan, Pablo, and Tom all exhibit certain characteristics of men suffering an existential crisis. Juan pretends that what is going to happen to him is not. He refuses to walk to the courtyard and makes the guards carry him; he is passive in his own death. Pablo's sense of alienation keeps him from knowing his cellmates.Tom attempts to face death with honor, he tries to create his own values.

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