Jean-Paul Sartre: On the Other Side of Despair
In an age of modern pessimism and inauthentic, insignificant existence, Jean-Paul Sartre clearly stands out amongst the masses as a leading intellectual, a bastion of hope in the twentieth century. Confronting anguish and despair, absurdity and freedom, nihilism and transcendence, "Sartre totalized the twentieth century... in the sense that he was responsive with theories to each of the great events he lived through" as Arthur C. Danto commented (Marowski and Matuz 371). As a philosopher, dramatist, novelist, essayist, biographer, short story writer, journalist, editor, scriptwriter, and autobiographer, his impact is simply undeniable. Between his expansive body of literary work and the philosophical ideas expressed within his words, Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the leading minds of recent times and perhaps the father of existentialism as we know it.
Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris on June 21, 1905. Due to his father’s early death, he and his mother lived with his grandfather, Charles Schweitzer. As Sartre notes in his 1964 autobiography Les mots (The Words), Schweitzer was a professor of German and instilled in him a great passion for literature in his early years (Marowski and Matuz 371). Growing up as the only child in a household where the adults doted on him, historians explain that, "Sartre perceived hypocrisy in his middle-class environment as manifested in his family’s penchant for self-indulgence and role-playing" and he therefore "held anti-bourgeois sentiments throughout his life" (Marowski and Matuz 371).
While attending the Écôle Normale Supériuere in Paris, Sartre met fellow philosophy student Simone de Beauvoir and then formed what was to be a lifelong personal and intellectual relationship with her (Marowski and Matuz 371). Sartre was further educated at both the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and the French Institute in Berlin. From 1929 until he was called into military service at the outbreak of World War II, Sartre taught philosophy at various lycées. He also spent this time period deeply studying the works of German philosophers Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl and working on writing of his own (Marowski and Matuz 371).
During World War II, Sartre served in the French Army. For nine months ranging from 1940 to 1941, he was held captive after being taken prisoner by the Germans. Sartre’s experiences during this time spent with fellow inmates deeply impacted him and his subsequent writing reflected an increased awareness of both history and politics (Marowski and Matuz 371). Following his release, he taught in Neuilly, France and later in Paris as well; however, he was also quite active in the French Resistance during this time ("Jean-Paul Sartre"). It was during this time period that Sartre composed his major philosophical opus, Being and Nothingness.
In 1945, Sartre quit teaching and co-founded Les temps moderns (of which he became editor-in-chief),...