Wall Db his is so Alfred Hitchcock or the Twilight Zone. You may have YouTubed some of these that were decidedly before your time. Go to YouTube some time and see a few. Tightly wound. Psychologically acute. Always a “punch” at the end.
Sartre’s “The Wall” examines independent action and free will.
Society levies restrictions. The essential is that there is no free lunch. There is no free anything. There is always a price to pay. It might be loss of freedom, diminishment of a sense of self, or cost. We may think that we are independent, but someone connects our homes with power, someone else paves the road on which we drive, and yet another person operates on an ill person’s appendix. No man is an island (John Donne). We might think that we can be free of society, but everywhere man is in chains (Jean-Jacques Rousseau).
For this assignment, please examine the role of the Belgian doctor. One paragraph. C. 100 words. Lead with a targeted thesis. Offer support from the literature. Quotes do not count toward the word range.
Provide the word count. exclusive fo quotes. The Wall (short story) 1939 | JeanThe Wall (short story) 1939 | JeanThe Wall (short story) 1939 | JeanThe Wall (short story) 1939 | Jean—-Paul SARTREPaul SARTREPaul SARTREPaul SARTRE
They pushed us into a big white room and I began to blink
because the light hurt my eyes. Then I saw a table and four
men behind the table, civilians, looking over the papers. They
had bunched another group of prisoners in the back and we had
to cross the whole room to join them. There were several I
knew and some others who must have been foreigners. The two
in front of me were blond with round skulls: they looked alike. I
supposed they were French. The smaller one kept hitching up
his pants: nerves.
It lasted about three hours: I was dizzy and my head was
empty; but the room was well heated and I found that pleasant
enough: for the past 24 hours we hadn’t stopped shivering. The guards brought the
prisoners up to the table, one after the other. The four men asked each one his name
and occupation. Most of the time they didn’t go any further–or they would simply ask
a question here and there: “Did you have anything to do with the sabotage of
munitions?” Or “Where were you the morning of the 9th and what were you doing?”
They didn’t listen to the answers or at least didn’t seem to. They were quiet for a
moment and then looking straight in front of them began to write. They asked Tom if it
were true he was in the International Brigade: Tom couldn’t tell them otherwise
because of the papers they found in his coat. They didn’t ask Juan anything but they
wrote for a long time after he told them his name.
“My brother Jose is the anarchist,” Juan said “You know he isn’t here any more. I don’t
belong to any party. I never had anything to do with politics.”
They didn’t answer. Juan went on, “I haven’t done anything. I don’t want to pay for
His lips trembled. A guard shut him up and took him away. It was my turn.
“Your name is Pablo Ibbieta?”
The man looked at the papers and asked me “Where’s Ramon Gris?”
“I don’t know.”
“You hid him in your house from the 6th to the 19th.”
Page 1 of 14The Wall (1939) | Jean-Paul Sartre
They wrote for a minute and then the guards took me out. In the corridor Tom and
Juan were waiting between two guards. We started walking. Tom asked one of the
“So what?” the guard said.
“Was that the cross-examination or the sentence?”
“Sentence” the guard said.
“What are they going to do with us?”
The guard answered dryly, “Sentence will be read in your cell.”
As a matter of fact, our cell was one of the hospital cellars. It was terrifically cold there
because of the drafts. We shivered all night and it wasn’t much better during the day.
I had spent the previous five days in a cell in a monastery, a sort of hole in the wall
that must have dated from the middle ages: since there were a lot of prisoners and
not much room, they locked us up anywhere. I didn’t miss my cell; I hadn’t suffered
too much from the cold but I was alone; after a long time it gets irritating. In the cellar
I had company. Juan hardly ever spoke: he was afraid and he was too young to have
anything to say. But Tom was a good talker and he knew Spanish well.
There was a bench in the cellar and four mats. When they took us back we sat and
waited in silence. After a long moment, Tom said, “We’re screwed.”
“l think so too,” I said, “but I don’t think they’ll do any thing to the kid.”.
“They don’t have a thing against him,” said Tom. “He’s the brother of a militiaman and
I looked at Juan: he didn’t seem to hear. Tom went on, “You know what they do in
Saragossa? They lay the men down on the road and run over them with trucks. A
Moroccan deserter told us that. They said it was to save ammunition.”
“It doesn’t save gas.” I said.
I was annoyed at Tom: he shouldn’t have said that.
“Then there’s officers walking along the road,” he went on, “supervising it all. They
stick their hands in their pockets and smoke cigarettes. You think they finish off the
guys? Hell no. They let them scream. Sometimes for an hour. The Moroccan said he
damned near puked the first time.”
“I don’t believe they’ll do that here,” I said. “Unless they’re really short on
Day was coming in through four air holes and a round opening they had made in the
ceiling on the left, and you could see the sky through it. Through this hole, usually
closed by a trap, they unloaded coal into the cellar. Just below the hole there was a
big pile of coal dust: it had been used to heat the hospital, but since the beginning of
the war the patients were evacuated and the coal stayed there, unused; sometimes it
Page 2 of 14The Wall (1939) | Jean-Paul Sartre
even got rained on because they had forgotten to close the trap.
Tom began to shiver. “Good Jesus Christ, I’m cold,” he said. “Here it goes again.”
He got up and began to do exercises. At each movement his shirt opened on his chest,
white and hairy. He lay on his back, raised his legs in the air and bicycled. I saw his
great rump trembling. Tom was husky but he had too much fat. I thought how riffle
bullets or the sharp points of bayonets would soon be sunk into this mass of tender
flesh as in a lump of butter. It wouldn’t have made me feel like that if he’d been thin.
I wasn’t exactly cold, but I couldn’t feel my arms and shoulders any more. Sometimes
I had the impression I was missing something and began to look around for my coat
and then suddenly remembered they hadn’t given me a coat. It was rather
uncomfortable. They took our clothes and gave them to their soldiers leaving us only
our shirts–and those canvas pants that hospital patients wear in the middle of
summer. After a while Tom got up and sat next to me, breathing heavily.
“Good Christ, no. But I’m out of wind.”
Around eight o’clock in the evening a major came in with two falangistas. He had a
sheet of paper in his hand. He asked the guard, “What are the names of those three?”
“Steinbock, Ibbieta and Mirbal,” the guard said.
The major put on his eyeglasses and scanned the list: “Steinbock…Steinbock…Oh
yes…You are sentenced to death. You will be shot tomorrow morning.” He went on
looking. “The other two as well.”
“That’s not possible,” Juan said. “Not me.” The major looked at him amazed. “What’s
“Juan Mirbal” he said.
“Well your name is there,” said the major. “You’re sentenced.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Juan said.
The major shrugged his shoulders and turned to Tom and me.
“Nobody is Basque.”
He looked annoyed. “They told me there were three Basques. I’m not going to waste
my time running after them. Then naturally you don’t want a priest?”
We didn’t even answer.
He said, “A Belgian doctor is coming shortly. He is authorized to spend the night with
you.” He made a military salute and left.
Page 3 of 14The Wall (1939) | Jean-Paul Sartre
“What did I tell you,” Tom said. “We get it.”
“Yes, I said, “it’s a rotten deal for the kid.”
I said that to be decent but I didn’t like the kid. His face was too thin and fear and
suffering had disfigured it, twisting all his features. Three days before he was a smart
sort of kid, not too bad; but now he looked like an old fairy and I thought how he’d
never be young again, even if they were to let him go. It wouldn’t have been too hard
to have a little pity for him but pity disgusts me, or rather it horrifies me. He hadn’t
said anything more but he had turned grey; his face and hands were both grey. He sat
down again and looked at the ground with round eyes. Tom was good hearted, he
wanted to take his arm, but the kid tore himself away violently and made a face.
“Let him alone,” I said in a low voice, “you can see he’s going to blubber.”
Tom obeyed regretfully: he would have liked to comfort the kid, it would have passed
his time and he wouldn’t have been tempted to think about himself. But it annoyed
me: I’d never thought about death because I never had any reason to, but now the
reason was here and there was nothing to do but think about it.
Tom began to talk. “So you think you’ve knocked guys off, do you?” he asked me. I
didn’t answer. He began explaining to me that he had knocked off six since the
beginning of August; he didn’t realize the situation and I could tell he didn’t want to
realize it. I hadn’t quite realized it myself, I wondered if it hurt much, I thought of
bullets, I imagined their burning hail through my body. All that was beside the real
question; but I was calm: we had all night to understand. After a while Tom stopped
talking and I watched him out of the corner of my eye; I saw he too had turned grey
and he looked rotten; I told myself “Now it starts.” It was almost dark, a dim glow
filtered through the air holes and the pile of coal and made a big stain beneath the
spot of sky; I could already see a star through the hole in the ceiling: the night would
be pure and icy.
The door opened and two guards came in, followed by a blonde man in a tan uniform.
He saluted us. “I am the doctor,” he said. “I have authorization to help you in these
He had an agreeable and distinguished voice. I said, “What do you want here?”
“I am at your disposal. I shall do all I can to make your last moments less difficult.”
“What did you come here for? There are others, the hospital’s full of them.”
“I was sent here,” he answered with a vague look. “Ah! Would you like to smoke?” he
added hurriedly, “I have cigarettes and even cigars.”
He offered us English cigarettes and puros, but we refused. I looked him in the eyes
and he seemed irritated. I said to him, “You aren’t here on an errand of mercy.
Besides, I know you. I saw you with the fascists in the barracks yard the day I was
I was going to continue, but something surprising suddenly happened to me; the
presence of this doctor no longer interested me. Generally when I’m on somebody I
don’t let go. But the desire to talk left me completely; I shrugged and turned my eyes
Page 4 of 14The Wall (1939) | Jean-Paul Sartre
away. A little later I raised my head; he was watching me curiously. The guards were
sitting on a mat. Pedro, the tall thin one, was twiddling his thumbs, the other shook
his head from time to time to keep from falling asleep.
“Do you want a light?” Pedro suddenly asked the doctor. The other nodded “Yes”: I
think he was about as smart as a log, but he surely wasn’t bad. Looking in his cold
blue eyes it seemed to me that his only sin was lack of imagination. Pedro went out
and came back with an oil lamp which he set on the corner of the bench. It gave a bad
light but it was better than nothing: they had left us in the dark the night before. For a
long time I watched the circle of light the lamp made on the ceiling. I was fascinated.
Then suddenly I woke up, the circle of light disappeared and I felt myself crushed
under an enormous weight. It was not the thought of death, or fear; it was nameless.
My cheeks burned and my head ached.
I shook myself and looked at my two friends. Tom had hidden his face in his hands. I
could only see the fat white nape of his neck. Little Juan was the worst, his mouth was
open and his nostrils trembled. The doctor went to him and put his hand on his
shoulder to comfort him: but his eyes stayed cold. Then I saw the Belgian’s hand drop
stealthily along Juan’s arm, down to the wrist. Juan paid no attention. The Belgian took
his wrist between three fingers, distractedly, the same time drawing back a little and
turning his back to me. But I leaned backward and saw him take a watch from his
pocket and look at it for a moment, never letting go of the wrist. After a minute he let
the hand fall inert and went and leaned his back against the wall, then, as if he
suddenly remembered something very important which had to be jotted down on the
spot, he took a notebook from his pocket and wrote a few lines. “Bastard,” I thought
angrily, “let him come and take my pulse. I’ll shove my fist in his rotten face.”
He didn’t come but I felt him watching me. I raised my head and returned his look.
Impersonally, he said to me “Doesn’t it seem cold to you here?” He looked cold, he
I’m not cold,” I told him.
He never took his hard eyes off me. Suddenly I understood and my hands went to my
face: I was drenched in sweat. In this cellar, in the midst of winter, in the midst of
drafts, I was sweating. I ran my hands through my hair, gummed together with
perspiration: at the same time I saw my shirt was damp and sticking to my skin: I had
been dripping for an hour and hadn’t felt it. But that swine of a Belgian hadn’t missed
a thing; he had seen the drops rolling down my cheeks and thought: this is the
manifestation of an almost pathological state of terror; and he had felt normal and
proud of being alive because he was cold. I wanted to stand up and smash his face but
no sooner had I made the slightest gesture than my rage and shame were wiped out;
I fell back on the bench with indifference.
I satisfied myself by rubbing my neck with my handkerchief because now I felt the
sweat dropping from my hair onto my neck and it was unpleasant. I soon gave up
rubbing, it was useless; my handkerchief was already soaked and I was still sweating.
My buttocks were sweating too and my damp trousers were glued to the bench.
Suddenly Juan spoke. “You’re a doctor?”
“Yes,” the Belgian said.
Page 5 of 14The Wall (1939) | Jean-Paul Sartre
“Does it hurt… very long?”
“Huh? When… ? Oh, no” the Belgian said paternally “Not at all. It’s over quickly.” He
acted as though he were calming a cash customer.
“But I… they told me… sometimes they have to fire twice.”
“Sometimes,” the Belgian said, nodding. “It may happen that the first volley reaches
no vital organs.”
“Then they have to reload their rifles and aim all over again?” He thought for a
moment and then added hoarsely, “That takes time!”
He had a terrible fear of suffering, it was all he thought about: it was his age. I never
thought much about it and it wasn’t fear of suffering that made me sweat.
I got up and walked to the pile of coal dust. Tom jumped up and threw me a hateful
look: I had annoyed him because my shoes squeaked. I wondered if my face looked as
frightened as his: I saw he was sweating too. The sky was superb, no light filtered into
the dark corner and I had only to raise my head to see the Big Dipper. But it wasn’t
like it had been: the night before I could see a great piece of sky from my monastery
cell and each hour of the day brought me a different memory. Morning, when the sky
was a hard, light blue, I thought of beaches on the Atlantic: at noon I saw the sun and
I remembered a bar in Seville where I drank manzanilla and ate olives and anchovies:
afternoons I was in the shade and I thought of the deep shadow which spreads over
half a bull-ring leaving the other half shimmering in sunlight: it was really hard to see
the whole world reflected in the sky like that. But now I could watch the sky as much
as I pleased, it no longer evoked anything tn me. I liked that better. I came back and
sat near Tom. A long moment passed.
Tom began speaking in a low voice. He had to talk, without that he wouldn’t have been
able no recognize himself in his own mind. I thought he was talking to me but he
wasn’t looking at me. He was undoubtedly afraid to see me as I was, grey and
sweating: we were alike and worse than mirrors of each other. He watched the
Belgian, the living.
“Do you understand?” he said. “I don’t understand.”
I began to speak in a low voice too. I watched the Belgian. “Why? What’s the matter?”
“Something is going to happen to us than I can’t understand.”
There was a strange smell about Tom. It seemed to me I was more sensitive than
usual to odors. I grinned. “You’ll understand in a while.”
“It isn’t clear,” he said obstinately. “I want to be brave but first I have to know. . .
.Listen, they’re going to take us into the courtyard. Good. They’re going to stand up in
front of us. How many?”
“l don’t know. Five or eight. Not more.”
“All right. There’ll be eight. Someone’ll holler ‘aim!’ and I’ll see eight rifles looking at
me. I’ll think how I’d like to get inside the wall, I’ll push against it with my back. . . .
Page 6 of 14The Wall (1939) | Jean-Paul Sartre
with every ounce of strength I have, but the wall will stay, like in a nightmare. I can
imagine all that. If you only knew how well I can imagine it.”
“All right, all right!” I said. “I can imagine it too.”
“lt must hurt like hell. You know they aim at the eyes and the mouth to disfigure you,”
he added mechanically. “I can feel the wounds already. I’ve had pains in my head and
in my neck for the past hour. Not real pains. Worse. This is what I’m going to feel
tomorrow morning. And then what?”
I well understood what he meant but I didn’t want to act as if I did. I had pains too,
pains in my body like a crowd of tiny scars. I couldn’t get used to it. But I was like
him. I attached no importance to it. “After,” I said. “you’ll be pushing up daisies.”
He began to talk to himself: he never stopped watching the Belgian. The Belgian didn’t
seem to be listening. I knew what he had come to do; he wasn’t interested in what we
thought; he came to watch our bodies, bodies dying in agony while yet alive.
“It’s like a nightmare,” Tom was saying. “You want to think something, you always
have the impression that it’s all right, that you’re going to understand and then it slips,
it escapes you and fades away. I tell myself there will be nothing afterwards. But I
don’t understand what it means. Sometimes I almost can…. and then it fades away
and I start thinking about the pains again, bullets, explosions. I’m a materialist, I
swear it to you; I’m not going crazy. But something’s the matter. I see my corpse;
that’s not hard but I’m the one who sees it, with my eyes. I’ve got to think… think
that I won’t see anything anymore and the world will go on for the others. We aren’t
made to think that, Pablo. Believe me: I’ve already stayed up a whole night waiting for
something. But this isn’t the same: this will creep up behind us, Pablo, and we won’t
be able to prepare for it.”
“Shut up,” I said, “Do you want me to call a priest?”
He didn’t answer. I had already noticed he had the tendency to act like a prophet and
call me Pablo, speaking in a toneless voice. I didn’t like that: but it seems all the Irish
are that way. I had the vague impression he smelled of urine. Fundamentally, I hadn’t
much sympathy for Tom and I didn’t see why, under the pretext of dying together, I
should have any more. It would have been different with some others. With Ramon
Gris, for example. But I felt alone between Tom and Juan. I liked that better, anyhow:
with Ramon I might have been more deeply moved. But I was terribly hard just then
and I wanted to stay hard.
He kept on chewing his words, with something like distraction. He certainly talked to
keep himself from thinking. He smelled of urine like an old prostate case. Naturally, I
agreed with him. I could have said everything he said: it isn’t natural to die. And since
I was going to die, nothing seemed natural to me, not this pile of coal dust, or the
bench, or Pedro’s ugly face. Only it didn’t please me to think the same things as Tom.
And I knew that, all through the night, every five minutes, we would keep on thinking
things at the same time. I looked at him sideways and for the first time he seemed
strange to me: he wore death on his face. My pride was wounded: for the past 24
hours I had lived next to Tom, I had listened to him. I had spoken to him and I knew
we had nothing in common. And now we looked as much alike as twin brothers, simply
because we were going to die together. Tom took my hand without looking at me.
Page 7 of 14The Wall (1939) | Jean-Paul Sartre
“Pablo. I wonder… I wonder if it’s really true that everything ends.”
I took my hand away and said, “Look between your feet, you pig.”
There was a big puddle between his feet and drops fell from his pants-leg.
“What is it,” he asked, frightened.
“You’re pissing in your pants,” I told him.
“lt isn’t true,” he said furiously. “I’m not pissing. I
don’t feel anything.”
The Belgian approached us. He asked with false solicitude. “Do you feel ill?”
Tom did not answer. The Belgian looked at the puddle and said nothing.
“I don’t know what it is,” Tom said ferociously. “But I’m not afraid. I swear I’m not
The Belgian did not answer. Tom got up and went to piss in a corner. He came back
buttoning his fly, and sat down without a word. The Belgian was taking notes.
All three of us watched him because he was alive. He had the motions of a living
human being, the cares of a living human being; he shivered in the cellar the way the
living are supposed to shiver; he had an obedient, well-fed body. The rest of us hardly
felt ours–not in the same way anyhow. I wanted to feel my pants between my legs
but I didn’t dare; I watched the Belgian, balancing on his legs, master of his muscles,
someone who could think about tomorrow. There we were, three bloodless shadows;
we watched him and we sucked his life like vampires.
Finally he went over to little Juan. Did he want to feel his neck for some professional
motive or was he obeying an impulse of charity? If he was acting by charity it was the
only time during the whole night.
He caressed Juan’s head and neck. The kid let himself be handled, his eyes never
leaving him, then suddenly he seized the hand and looked at it strangely. He held the
Belgian’s hand between his own two hands and there was nothing pleasant about
them, two grey pincers gripping this fat and reddish hand. I suspected what was going
to happen and Tom must have suspected it too: but the Belgian didn’t see a thing, he
smiled paternally. After a moment the kid brought the fat red hand to his mouth and
tried to bite it. The Belgian pulled away quickly and stumbled back against the wall.
For a second he looked at us with horror, he must have suddenly understood that we
were not men like him. I began to laugh and one of the guards jumped up. The other
was asleep, his wide open eyes were blank.
I felt relaxed and over-excited at the same time. I didn’t want to think any more about
what would happen at dawn, at death. It made no sense. I only found words or
emptiness. But as soon as I tried to think of anything else I saw rifle barrels pointing
at me. Perhaps I lived through my execution twenty times; once I even thought it was
for good: I must have slept a minute. They were dragging me to the wall and I was
struggling; I was asking for mercy. I woke up with a start and looked at the Belgian: I
Page 8 of 14The Wall (1939) | Jean-Paul Sartre
was afraid I might have cried out in my sleep. But he was stroking his moustache, he
hadn’t noticed anything. If I had wanted to, I think I could have slept a while; I had
been awake for 48 hours. I was at the end of my rope. But I didn’t want to lose two
hours of life; they would come to wake me up at dawn. I would follow them, stupefied
with sleep and I would have croaked without so much as an “Oof!”; I didn’t want that.
I didn’t want to die like an animal, I wanted to understand. Then I was afraid of having
nightmares. I got up, walked back and forth, and, to change my ideas, I began to
think about my past life. A crowd of memories came back to me pell-mell. There were
good and bad ones–or at least I called them that before. There were faces and
incidents. I saw the face of a little novillero who was gored tn Valencia during the
Feria, the face of one of my uncles, the face of Ramon Gris. I remembered my whole
life: how I was out of work for three months in 1926, how I almost starved to death. I
remembered a night I spent on a bench in Granada: I hadn’t eaten for three days. I
was angry, I didn’t want to die. That made me smile. How madly I ran after happiness,
after women, after liberty. Why? I wanted to free Spain, I admired Pi y Margall, I
joined the anarchist movement, I spoke in public meetings: I took everything as
seriously as if I were immortal.
At that moment I felt that I had my whole life in front of me and I thought, “It’s a
damned lie.” It was worth nothing because it was finished. I wondered how I’d been
able to walk, to laugh with the girls: I wouldn’t have moved so much as my little finger
if I had only imagined I would die like this. My life was in front of me, shut, closed, like
a bag and yet everything inside of it was unfinished. For an instant I tried to judge it. I
wanted to tell myself, this is a beautiful life. But I couldn’t pass judgment on it; it was
only a sketch; I had spent my time counterfeiting eternity, I had understood nothing. I
missed nothing: there were so many things I could have missed, the taste of
manzanilla or the baths I took in summer in a little creek near Cadiz; but death had
The Belgian suddenly had a bright idea. “My friends,” he told us, “I will undertake–if
the military administration will allow it–to send a message for you, a souvenir to those
who love you. . . .”
Tom mumbled, “I don’t have anybody.”
I said nothing. Tom waited an instant then looked at me with curiosity. “You don’t
have anything to say to Concha?”
I hated this tender complicity: it was my own fault, I had talked about Concha the
night before. I should have controlled myself. I was with her for a year. Last night I
would have given an arm to see her again for five minutes. That was why I talked
about her, it was stronger than I was. Now I had no more desire to see her, I had
nothing more to say to her. I would not even have wanted to hold her in my arms: my
body filled me with horror because it was grey and sweating–and I wasn’t sure that
her body didn’t fill me with horror. Concha would cry when she found out I was dead,
she would have no taste for life for months afterward. But I was still the one who was
going to die. I thought of her soft, beautiful eyes. When she looked at me something
passed from her to me. But I knew it was over: if she looked at me now the look
would stay in her eyes, it wouldn’t reach me. I was alone.
Tom was alone too but not in the same way. Sitting cross-legged, he had begun to
stare at the bench with a sort of smile, he looked amazed. He put out his hand and
Page 9 of 14The Wall (1939) | Jean-Paul Sartre
touched the wood cautiously as if he were afraid of breaking something, then drew
back his hand quickly and shuddered. If I had been Tom I wouldn’t have amused
myself by touching the bench; this was some more Irish nonsense, but I too found
that objects had a funny look: they were more obliterated, less dense than usual. It
was enough for me to look at the bench, the lamp, the pile of coal dust, to feel that I