“The Wall”, analysis of the novella by Sartre

Novella “The Wall” was written in 1939 by Jean-Paul Sartre. Like most works of its genre, the novella inheres small size, few characters, one storyline, analysis of only one problem, suspenseful plot and an unexpected conclusion.

Composition-wise, “The Wall” retains the structure of a classic novella: it has an introduction (interrogation, incarceration of heroes), culmination (main character listening the verdict and waiting for death) and conclusion (main character being saved from death). The style of the work is distinguished by precise building of phrases and brief expression of ideas. “The Wall” has no long and complicated dialogues and descriptions; everything in it is simple and clear.

The action period of the novella is the end of 1930s. Action takes place in Spain. The historical basis – the civil war between republicans and anarchists. It is worth noting that historical reality is used by the author only to establish the problem. The civil war creates the required background and the reason for the main character to face the realization of death. This way, realistic, at first glance, work perfectly fits the literary existential view of the world.

In “The Wall” Sartre not so much describes the real history of Spain, but rather precisely and psychologically accurately depicts evolution of the human mind, that tries to conceive inconceivable – death, and, as a result, life. No characters, including main character – Pablo Ibbieta, achieve the latter. As a narrator, he retains some sort of composure, but we can see that he as well possesses all the general human fears. While the young boy Juan Mirbal is afraid of physical suffering and is driven to tears and Tom Steinbock tries to get round death, Pablo wants to die with dignity and understand before the end, what is the purpose. Three characters of the novella express three human comprehensions of death: immature, inexperienced, trying to forget oneself in the suffering (Juan), plain, generic, grounded (Tom), active, thinking, reaching for the truth (Pablo).

The clash with death allows the main character to understand life better. Sartre depicts the fear of the nearing end with physical changes of the characters first and psychological changes second. As soon as characters realize that they`ll die, their faces become ashen grey. This is the way we see Juan and Tom through the eyes of Pablo. Then the main character unexpectedly realizes that his face is no better than those of his cellmates. They look the same, like reflections in a mirror.

As soon as Belgian doctor, who was assigned to them in order to assess their physical condition, reminds them of the time left, Pablo begins to realize it as an existing object. In addition, the surrounding reality begins to blur in the eyes of the main character. Things become different – more distant and living their own lives. The doctor as well is depicted as a living person, suffering from cold in a dank cellar. It is for a reason that Juan tries to bite his pink hand – it does not fit the atmosphere completely, for it belongs to life rather than death.

The time is realized. The world is separated from. Next step for Pablo is to realize the futility of life. He is no longer bothered by love towards Conche, for a 5 minute long date with whom he would`ve gladly given life. His comrade Ramon Gris no longer worries him. He does not betray him only because he completely clearly realizes that everyone is mortal, so there is no difference when to die. Realization of the nearing end removes all sense from live. In it, there is only place for humor and courage left. In the end, Pablo decides to joke at the expense of his tormentors, who offered him his life in return for the life of Ramon Gris. He sends them to the graveyard and calmly awaits his execution. The conclusion of “The Wall” is extraordinary: soldiers actually find Ramon Gris in the place Pablo pointed and kill him. Pablo Ibbieta is saved, but does he need this life, completely realized and devoid of sense? This is a question Sartre leaves open.

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