Abstract

In “The Room,” part of his short story collection, The Wall (1938), Jean-Paul Sartre investigates madness as an alternative way of bourgeois life and thus takes a stand in the contemporary debate on the existential status of mental illness. “The Room” is a case-study of a “limit situation,” as well as a satire of contemporary society, in which Sartre elaborates his budding views on existentialism. The cornerstone of his philosophy concerns the contingency of life and the impossibility to escape from it. The walled space, the main theme in the five short stories of The Wall, connotes this impossibility. By means of a dialectical argumentation, “The Room” falsifies the hypothesis that madness is an alternative for bourgeois complacency. Through his main character, Sartre ultimately rejects madness as an authentic way of life, because it deprives the patient of intentional and free consciousness. The patient falls victim to “matter” (i.e. material reality) and to his own hallucinations, and therefore his case is comparable to that of the bourgeois “bastard.” The discussion of the status of madness is underpinned by that of the story's narrative structure. Variable internal focalization alternating with neutral external focalization confers “subjectivity” on the events and their interpretation. The first matter of importance is the direct confrontation with concrete reality. The documentary form of narration is combined with introspection and with the allegorical impact of the story. This reflects the direct relationship between thinking and praxis in Sartre's fiction.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.