Jean-Paul Sartre: On the Other Side of Despair

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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 per...

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