The Wall as Existentialism
Through a close reading of Sartre’s The Wall, I will show how Sartre illustrates existentialism not only in the way the characters experience the world around them, but also the way the story is presented. The pattern that emerges is similar to Sartre statement that “man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards.” Considering this statement, Pablo, Juan and Tom’s experiences can be traced by recognising this pattern in the story. First they are nothing, they take in their environment, then they grow into it, become people with names and histories and then they will themselves to be whatever they can accept themselves to be. “Man first of all exists…”
Firstly, the way that Pablo begins the story, which can also represent the author’s point of view or ideas, has parallels with one of the central assumptions of existentialism, that is, existence preceding essence (Sartre, 1946). The story begins with the words: “They pushed us into a big white room and I began to blink because the light hurt my eyes” (Sartre, 1969). Readers do not know yet who is speaking, who are the “us”, what type of situation led to this and who is pushing them, but we know that there are people, they exist. At this point, they are nothing, they are themselves, and they have not willed themselves to be anything — at least Pablo has not willed them to be anything. There is no background offered yet. In all these situations, everything is revealed afterwards, from taking in the surroundings (external) first, then filling in the missing information later. “…encounters himself, surges up in the world…”
The reader is then introduced to Juan, then Tom and finally Pablo and that they are prisoners and also that they are in the hospital cell. From then onwards, each man’s background is offered in short pieces. In other words, we now know about them, their essence. Their circumstances were brought about by...