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‘Le Mur’ and ‘L’Erostrate’
‘Le Mur’ and ‘L’Erostrate’

‘Le Mur’ and ‘L’Erostrate’

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Sartre's paradox on freedom is an integral part of his philosophy and has been investigated by various critics of note. However, such discussion is not simply confined to the field of philosophy having also been of influence in that of psychology. Thus in writing this essay, not discounting the philosophical merit of the work, I am also obligated to explore the influence of psychology upon Sartre's pieces in relation to the statement that 'man is condemned to be free.

'Sartre's paradox is illustrated in both 'Le Mur' and 'L'Erostrate', and upon initial contemplation it would appear that this occurs in quite different ways. This is due to the varying pretexts of each piece. 'Le Mur' is based upon the political struggle seen during the Spanish civil war whereas 'L'Erostrate', in basic terms, owes its plot to mythological events. However, although Ibbieta fights for a cause, values which he deems worth while, and Hilbert fights solely against humanity it is my view that one theme ties each story together; rejection.

Both protagonists have been rejected by the majority and are thus forced to take action in an attempt to express their freedom. It is here that Sartre's claim has been interpreted in many different ways. Dagfinn Follesdal claims that true expression of freedom comes not in physical action but in mental state:'Regardless of the physical situation, we are always free to constitute reality in different ways.' 1I agree that the ability to form ones own beliefs is an essential part of freedom but I would not go as far to


say that Sartre meant that reality depends upon ones interpretation of that reality.

Indeed if this was the case we would be confronted with a paradox within a paradox as every action would be deemed just 'as long as one constitutes one's values in such a manner as to justify that action.' (Follesdal)My view is supported by the events of 'L'Erostrate' for Sartre does not condone the actions or beliefs of Hilbert, rather he urges the reader to examine the reasons why this character would resort to his final act. One is initially compelled to blame Hilbert's mental state for his action, deciding that he suffers from some form of illness. However, according to Sartre's psychological views (which have providedthe basis for the school of 'anti-psychiatrists'), this does not erase Hilbert's responsibility to his own freedom. Sartre believed that madness is not something that is placed upon us from within, rather our own psyche chooses this state:'Madness is a way of coping with an impossible situation or environment, a way of making an unliveable situation liveable.' 2 (Max Charlesworth)Thus it is my contention that to Sartre, Hilbert was simply a representation of a form of 'mal foi' in that he flees into his own madness in order to remove himself from a world in which his freedom has so far neglected to further his role in humanity.

His reaction is one that derives from his attempt to escape his true 'anguish'3. Sartre employed the term anguish in order to convey the effect that the true employment of our freedom has upon us:'Whe

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a man commits himself to anything, fully realising that he is not only choosing what he will be, but is thereby at the same time a legislator deciding for the whole of mankind- in such a moment a man cannot escape from the sense of complete and profound responsibility.' (Existentialism and Humanism)Paul Hilbert is a testament to Sartre's image of 'mal foi' but this is not to say that his actions have no effect, rather that he chooses to ignore their true effect, he flees from his own 'anguish.' It is this that Sartre urges to recognise, deeming it as worse than the crime itself.

It is the crime's lack of purpose that troubles the philosopher; no true value is being pursued. This is prevalent in Sartre, having also been explored during 'Les mains Sales'; Victor is tormented not by his act but by whether it arose from his attempts to further his political cause or from more base, animalistic parts of his psyche.Thus, according to Sartre the freedom with which man is burdened means that every action that he takes has a definite effect upon the humanity that he represents. This is apparent in 'Le Mur' as the war in Spain has spread throughout the world in terms of thought and it has affected the lives of many. However, it was Sartre's belief that any war was the fault of every member of the human race because it is humanity that constitutes the world in which war occurs:'.

..We have the war we deserve.' (Jean Paul Sartre) 4This inextricable and inexplicable binding of humanity is obvious in 'L'Erostrate' in the form of Hilbert's paradoxical action. He fights against a humanity that has rejected him and he is hurt by this rejection.

However, his explicit hatred of humanity is underlined by an implicit longing to be recognised. Thus indeed, as Oscar Wilde claimed, 'each man kills the thing he loves.'The short stories 'Le Mur' and 'L'Erostrate' then, work in tandem, to create the contrasting reactions of man to the condemnation of freedom. Ibbieta differs from Hilbert as his fate has been imposed upon him from without, whereas the character from 'L'Erostrate' has made the decision to complete his destructive action.

Indeed Ibbieta is portrayed as a victim of a crime not too dissimilar from that of Hilbert. Thus, Ibbieta provides us with mans predicament when faced with the knowledge that death is soon to arrive. His freedom has been restricted but it is not removed.