Jean-Paul Sartre
Translated by Lloyd Alexander from the 1948 French original
New York: A Berkeley Medallion Book, 1963
189 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
June 2010

This collection of five short stories is supposed to be centered around the ways in which love (or at least lust) can corrupt one from an authentic life to an inauthentic one. However, the best story in the collection, THE WALL, seems to have much less to do with the corruption of love than a sort of cosmic joke being played on a guy whose just trying to save his life without harming another.

I comment a bit below on each story, but while I’ve read a good deal of Sartre’s work over the past 40 years, this was not, on my view, the best of his writing, though both The Wall and The Room are well-written, I just wasn’t intellectually challenged as much as I expect with Sartre.

INTIMACY pp. 3-40

Lulu is married to Henri and they seem to be both in love and not in love, alternatively attracting and repelling each other. Lulu does have a “part-time” lover, Pierre, and a girl friend, Rirette, in whom she confides.

Finally she decides to leave Henri for Pierre and they will run away to Nice and have this ideal life. But she knows that is a myth, and ends up staying in the unsatisfying relationship with Henri, sort of preferring the intimacy she has, with all its problems, to the possibility of a better intimacy which she can’t quite believe in.

EROSTRATUS pp. 41-58

In ancient Greece Erostratus burned down an important temple to get recognition. He succeeded since no one knows who BUILT the temple, yet history knows who destroyed it.

A modern days Parisian Erostratus plans to kill five randomly chosen strangers and then to run back home to hide. He knows he will be found out and the last bullet in his 6 chambered gun will be to kill himself.

The narrator/would-be-killer is bitter. He makes his plans for these murders without any emotion. He could just as well be planning what to have for supper or what to listen to on the radio.

However, I did find a curious oddity, if not tension within Sartre’s notion of authenticity – the choosing of one’s own life. When Sartre wants to demonstrate this freedom to choose one’s own values and life, it seems to never occur to him that in that exact mode: choosing one’s own values, in a world of where values are not objective but created by the individual, there is no guarantee what they will be. Just as the narrator of this story happens to choose a set of values that are radically contrary to typical social norms, one could well follow Sartre’s general rule of creating one’s own values, and happen to choose values which are well loved by society in general.

I think of the character Dr. Rioux in Albert Camus’ THE PLAGUE. He seems to me to be a very free man of the Sartrean sort. Yet, his response to the plague which is killing everyone in Oman, and will likely kill him if he tends to his sick patients, is to go right on treating them. Not because he is, in Sartre’s sense, inauthentic and choosing societal values or values not his own, but PRECISELY because being a doctor and treating people even in the face of likely death, IS his authentic value. I don’t think Sartre can quite deal with this fact of the possibility of authentic values, for some, being similar to everyday common values.

THE WALL p.59-80

I do love the way Sartre writes, and his humor. In this case I was delighted with one quiet joke. When a prisoner reveals that the Spanish military at times kill people by running over them with trucks in order to save ammunition, the Sartre-like figure replies: “But, it costs them petrol!” I like that sort of savage out-side-the-box humor which Sartre often uses.

All the prisoners are going to die and they experience the expectation -- “tomorrow life is no longer possible.”

“In the state I was in, if someone had come and told me I could go home quietly, that they would leave me my life whole, it would have left me cold: several hours or several years of waiting is all the same when you have lost the illusion of being eternal.”

This seem nonsense to me. Things happen in the world we can’t imagine and have no control over. Like, for example, Gris being found in the cemetery as the prisoner had made up! We simply live every day with our mortality.


This is a long and rather sad story of Lucian Fleurier from his birth until his adulthood. This rather unlikeable young man was a bit of a terror as a child, flirting seriously with suicide and often destructive. But, at least in that period he was mainly himself. However, as he entered adolescence and young adulthood he became increasingly influenced by others, manipulated by them, giving up his own freedom to the will of those others. He was easily impressed and wanted acceptance.

It seems a classic case of Sartre’s notion of inauthenticity or bad faith. However, it is important to note that it isn’t the CONTENT of his decisions that constitute his bad faith, but the SOURCE of his decisions which seem to rest in pleasing others and trying to adapt his life to their expectations and hopes for him. He could have come to the same life conclusions in good faith had he made the choice on his own strength, rather than because of the pressure of others and his desire to please.

THE ROOM pp.160-189

This is a fascinating allegory of the “real” world versus the world of the existentialism. At least that’s how I read it. A young woman has married a man who goes complete mad. Her parents, representing the “normal” world, expect that she will put him away and get on with her life. But, much to their dismay, she enters into the world of her husband, who is absolutely crazy, and defends keeping him home, caring for him at the expense of her life, and acts as though the others, beyond that wall (there’s more that one wall going on here) don’t exist.

Little by little she is drawn into his world, but not completely. Yet there are strong hints that perhaps, just perhaps, she will. However, if the outside world, the world beyond the wall, decided to take him by force to an asylum, she is prepared to kill him first to protect him from losing his freedom.

He lives in one room, never wanting to leave, separated from the rest of the world by “the wall.” The husband describes it:

Normal people think I belong with them. But I couldn’t stay an hour among them. I need to live out there in the other side of the wall. But they don’t want me out there.

Eerie, shivery, but well written story.

Bob Corbett


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