Wednesday, 11 March 1998

Jean-Paul Sartre: Morts sans Sépulture (1940)

Translation: Kitty Black, 1949
Edition: Penguin, 1960

This is a gruelling three act play about the horrors of war. The standard Sartrean philosophical subtext of free will and choice is there, but the play seems rather more heart-felt than some of his others. The effect of the war on people's humanity is the major theme of the play.

Towards the end of the war, a group of partisans has carried out an attack on a village which horrifically killed many innocent people; they have been caught by a unit of the collaborating French army. One man has escaped, and the partisans (both men and women) are tortured to find out his whereabouts. One partisan kills himself, another is killed by the others before he can talk.

Both the partisans and their torturers are presented as capable of human compassion and inhuman callousness. This makes the pointlessness and horror of war more apparent than the myriad of Second World War stories which make one side out to be worse than the other. (This is one reason why the First World War, where there were no excuses of the level of that provided by Adolf Hitler, is more emotionally upsetting to me.) The play is not a pleasant read, and could be extremely unpleasant to see, but I feel that I have gained something by having read it.

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