Jean-Paul Sartre and Existentialism

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Jean-Paul Sartre and Existentialism

An existential hero is a person who "makes himself heroic." (Sartre in Knoebel 629) Heroes are not born heroes no more than cowards are not born cowards. Existentialism holds that a person, based on their actions, create who they are and by extension what humankind is as well. An existential hero is one who takes an active role in their life and by way of actions creates an essence out of their existence. Action is one of the keys to becoming an existential hero. An existential hero does not sit idly by waiting for circumstances to have an effect on their existence. Rather an existential hero will take matters into their own hands and by way of action have an affect on what occurs. Existentialism further holds that the actions of everyone, from the coward to the hero and everyone in between contribute to the essence of humankind.

Not only having the freedom to take action, but actually utilizing that freedom, is what makes the difference between a coward and a hero. Pablo Ibbieta a character in Sartre's The Wall is an existential hero.

Freedom is the ability to exercise choice; to have free will. Actually utilizing the ability to exercise choice and claiming ones free will is what makes an existential hero. Existentialism holds that "there is no determinism, man is free, [and] man is freedom." (Sartre in Knoebel 623) Although Pablo Ibbieta is a condemned prisoner deprived of his physical freedom he retains his ability to exercise choice and demonstrates free will. Sartre believes that man is responsible, actually "is condemned every moment to invent man." (Sartre in Knoebel 623) This invention is as a result of utilizing the freedom of choosing to act, not merely waiting for circumstances to act upon one.

The three prisoners in The Wall demonstrate the attributes of an existential hero in varying degrees. Juan Mirbal clearly is not an existential hero. Juan is barely able to sob and cry about his impending death. Tom Steinbock attempts to maintain some sense of control. His bodily functions betray this façade of control when he involuntarily urinates in his pants. Pablo Ibbieta exemplifies the role of a existential hero by the actions he takes as a result of his utilizing his free will. During a recollection of days gone by Pablo remembers "How madly I ran after happiness...Why? I wanted to free Spain...I joined the anarchist movement, I spoke in public meetings: I took everything as seriously as if I were immortal." (Sartre 9) This recollection demonstrates that Pablo is a person who takes action and utilizes free will.

In the present time Pablo thought: "I said to myself, 'I want to die cleanly.'" (Sartre 10) The thought to die cleanly and the actions which followed to die cleanly are examples of Pablo's utilization of his freedom. Pablo would not fall to his knees or need to be carried to the wall. Pablo would not compromise his friend Ramon Gris. Pablo would not sob or cry.

Pablo realizes that he is numbed to life as a result of spending the night contemplating his imminent death. Why would he not provide the falangistas the information that Gris was with his cousins four kilometers from the city? It was not his friendship as that died along with his desire to live. "I could save my skin and give up Gris and I refused to do it. I found that somehow comic; it was obstinacy. I thought. 'I must be stubborn!' And a droll sort of gaiety spread over me." (Sartre 13) Whatever the motivation the existential hero will take an action to utilize their freedom. The action in this case is to not save his skin. Although the motivation is not altruistic it does utilize freedom and as such fulfills the criteria of an existential hero.

Moreover Pablo attempts to die on his own terms. He will attempt to cause the falangistas to shoot him dead before he goes before the firing squad. He attempts a direct insult: "You ought to shave off your moustache, idiot." (Sartre 13) This insult only yields a half-hearted kick. Next he decides to send the falangistas on a wild goose chase looking for Ramon Gris. Pablo expects that when they return from their fruitless search for Gris they will be so exasperated that they would kill him on the spot. Ironically the false information Pablo provides turns out in fact to be the truth. Pablo never intended to provide information leading to Gris being captured however in fact he does.