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Published: 27-10-2019

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The Role of Existentialism in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex

Whilst Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is identified mostly as a feminist text, it is Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy that influenced Beauvoir’s writings. As existentialists, these philosophers argue that philosophical pondering begins with the human subject and not the thinking subject alone. Sartre argues that philosophical thinking starts with the acting, feeling, living human person. For an existentialist, the starting point of a becoming is when 1 senses disorientation or dread when seeking at the planet. For existentialists, it is the person and not society that determines and is accountable for the which means of their own life. Beauvoir takes existentialist philosophy and transforms it into a discussion on feminism, racism, motherhood and several other subjects. In this essay, I will show how Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy influenced Simone de Beauvoir’s theories on feminism. It is via Sartre’s use of the character, Inez, in “No Exit” that show how existentialist philosophy’s role is played in the discussion of Hell. It is Sartre’s thoughts that influence Beauvoir’s thoughts on subjects in this life rather than in the afterlife. In Margaret A. Simons’ book, Beauvoir and The Second Sex: Feminism, Race, and the Origins of Existentialism, the ties among Beauvoir and existentialism are laid out and provide a very good understanding and interpretation of The Second Sex and its role as a feminist and existentialist text. When reading The Second Sex, a single can discern that the text is basically an expression of Sartrean existentialism in the type of the question of females, displaying Beauvoir as a philosopher 1st, and secondly as a feminist as she transforms Sartre’s philosophy and creates her personal.

Although Beauvoir plays a significant role in Sartrean existentialism, it is important to appear at Jean-Paul Sartre very first. In his play, “No Exit,” Sartre’s philosophy is displayed properly through the use of the character, Inez. Sartre’s philosophical views are embedded in his characters as they play an integral component in portraying an existentialist view in the play. Sartre makes use of the characters’ personal attributes to demonstrate existentialist believed. Each and every of the three characters display traits of sexual perversion and interaction with the consciousness. Sartre explores many existentialist themes, most noticeably, “No Exit” focuses on the ideas of consciousness and freedom. Although the play’s setting is Hell, the characters are taken into a room with no mirrors, no windows, only three sofas, a paper knife and a mantel piece leaving the characters exposed, raw, and bare to the reader. It is Inez that brings forth the notion of consciousness to the play. Inez’s 1st thought about Garcin gives a wonderful instance of the distinction amongst realizing anything and getting conscious of something, Sartre writes, “Garcin: I beg your pardon. Who do you suppose I am? Inez: You? Why, the torturer, of course” (eight). Without having the expertise that it is in fact Garcin and later, Estelle, that is her torturers, Inez’s misconception is really hitting at the truth. Inez gives many existentialist thoughts on consciousness. Sartre believes that consciousness is painful and he argues that humans invest much of their time with unreflected consciousness. Inez expresses this when she says, “I’m always conscious of myself – in my mind. Painfully conscious” (19). For Sartre, an existentialist need to know that existence precedes essence which means that an individual need to act as an individual. Inez realizes this in Hell when she says, “So I’m accomplished with the earth, it appears. No a lot more alibis for me! I feel so empty, desiccated – really dead at last. All of me’s right here, in this room” (29). In this quotation it is noticed that Inez realizes that it is she who determines her personal fate. She is solely accountable for ending up in Hell. This is what becoming an existentialist indicates. An existentialist has the freedom to determine their personal fate and to also take responsibility for their decisions. So it is observed in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” what it implies to be an existentialist. It is this groundwork that supplied Simone de Beauvoir with the potential to expand and transform existentialist believed in The Second Sex.

In Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, she takes Sartre’s existentialist philosophy and transforms it into her personal. Like Sartre, Beauvoir puts a lot of believed into the human struggle for freedom. The Second Sex lays out the groundwork for the second wave of feminism. The second wave is concerned with sexuality, household, and reproductive rights, amongst other items. This relates to existentialism in the way that existentialists be concerned about attaining freedom, or the ability to pick for themselves in good faith. In Margaret A. Simons’ Beauvoir and The Second Sex : Feminism, Race, and the Origins of Existentialism, the first line of the second chapter reads:

The question of the influence that Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre had on one particular another’s work throughout the fifty years of writers analyzing their relationship has seldom been posed in a rigorous fashion…feminist philosophers who consider The Second Sex (1949) to be merely an application of Sartre’s viewpoint are similarly reminded of Beauvoir’s philosophic variations from Sartres when their analyses confront the sexism and limitations of Sartre’s understanding of woman’s situation…(Simons 41)

Simons is saying that individuals who read Beauvoir without having a feminist lense, see Beauvoir as merely a reiteration of Sartrean existentialism. For Simons, one have to recognize Beauvoir as a philosopher along with being a feminist. A man who is limited to the knowledge of being a man is far more likely to see Beauvoir as an imitator of Sartre. Beauvoir writes, “man is defined as a human getting and lady as a female – anytime she behaves as a human becoming she is said to imitate the male” (Beauvoir). This once again gives an existentialist reading of the text, as the men are taking on the function of telling the lady how she must and must not be this gives the woman the sense that she is not in control of who she is. This shows that if an individual is taught her complete life that to be a woman, she has to act or appear a certain way, be submissive, and perform only specific jobs, it is going to influence her sense of freedom and authenticity. Beauvoir writes on the domineering function men take when it comes to women, “the entire of feminine history has been man-created. Just as in America there is no Negro difficulty, but rather a white problem just as anti-Semitism is not a Jewish difficulty, it is our dilemma so the woman difficulty has always been a man problem” (Beauvoir). She is saying that men are the men and women with the issue when it comes to women’s troubles. For Beauvoir, males have developed the troubles that women face. This tends to make life tough for a lady that identifies as existentialist. So if this is the case, for Beauvoir, being identified as the lady who followed her husband’s thoughts would be incredibly tough.

Even though many feminist writers prior to Beauvoir took the type of literature, Beauvoir was amongst the 1st to view feminism in a philosophical manner. It is this form that Beauvoir takes that distinguishes her from her contemporaries, like Sartre. Beauvoir not only examines existentialist theory but takes it and applies it to the query of ladies. Simons writes, “an obvious question for a feminist philosopher is regardless of whether the same approach has been at work in philosophy…The Second Sex reveals that is has” (Simons 101). Simons is saying that Beauvoir is creating a new way to discuss feminism that need to be read and understood differently than a perform of literature. Beauvoir not only contributes to feminist believed but adds on to Sartrean philosophy in a way that Sartre, as a man, in no way could. Simons writes, “The Second Sex is critical not only for its contribution to feminist philosophy, but for its more basic contribution to existential moral and social philosophy and to our understanding of the social construction of knowledge” (Simons 101). Simons continually emphasizes Beauvoir’s influence on the wider spectrum and not feminism alone. Simons effectively displays that Beauvoir is in her personal right, a pioneer of the existentialist movement. Simons later shares on page 101 that for Beauvoir, The Second Sex is the mixture of existentialism and feminism. Beauvoir shares that the self wants a person acting “the other” in order to define itself as a subject. By saying this she says it is needed for the constitution of the self as a self. This is where the two come together. As the lady acts as “the other,” this supplies the reader with the best example for understanding Beauvoir’s view on otherness and existentialist believed on how the otherness affects absolutely everyone. Simons completely describes Beauvoir’s position on feminism. Beauvoir is writing as a philosopher. She is examining the complete globe of existentialism and human existence and takes these thoughts and turns them into a conversation on feminism. This was on of the very first philosophical texts written about the female. Although her views remain correct to Sartrean philosophy, she expands it into a conversation that has never ever been completed prior to, that of the lady.

Through understanding Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy, understanding Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophical writings, and getting able to view the differences, one can conclude that not only is Beauvoir’s writing her personal but it takes the influence of Sartre’s believed and transforms it into a new although nonetheless keeping the foundations of Sartre’s philosophical thought. This distinction is critical to recognize since it offers Beauvoir with not only the thoughts of a woman writing on feminism but the mind of a philosopher writing on the thoughts of all human beings. Feminism by way of the philosophical view of existentialism provides a unique understanding of the issue. This is the understanding that the person lady ought to be able to determine her own fate. Beauvoir expresses her belief that it is guys that have designed the problem for girls and it is specifically through her discussion on individual freedom that expresses this. Reading The Second Sex as an existentialist text offers the reader with an even richer understanding of Beauvoir’s thoughts.
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