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Modern Classics Iron in the Soul (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – International Edition, September 24, 2002
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About the Author
Philosopher, novelist, playwright and polemicist, Jean-Paul Sartre is thought to have been the central figure in post-war European culture and political thinking. His most well-known works, all of which are published by Penguin, include THE AGE OF REASON, NAUSEA and IRON IN THE SOUL.
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In Part One, Sartre examines the Defeat of France from two perspectives. First, he shows the reactions of characters he has developed earlier in this ROADS TO FREEDOM trilogy. These include Gomez, a veteran of the Spanish civil war who resents France's failure to join the war against Fascism in Spain; Mathieu, a professor and non-combatant in the French Army whose commitment to personal freedom has become irrelevant in the war; Daniel, a self-loathing and predatory gay man who finds in defeated France a convenient target for his rage; Boris, the boyish kept lover of an older woman who finds a mission in warfare; and Jacques and Odette, a loveless older couple that rationalize Jacques's cowardice as they flee Paris.
Meanwhile, the second narrative-line in Part One follows a troop of non-combatant French soldiers who have been abandoned by their officers and are awaiting capture by the Nazis. Here, these leaderless men oscillate from drunken despair to baseless hope. In conversation, many declare that the Nazis, for their own benefit, will furlough all captured soldiers and send them home within a month. In following these soldiers, Sartre shows there are no good options, although personal fulfillment may come to soldiers who, despite pointless futility, do their duty.
Part Two of IRON IN THE SOUL examines attitudes in the defeated French army. In this case, Sartre principally follows two characters in a large POW camp. These are Brunet, a communist organizer; and Schneider, a sophisticated thinker who has great empathy with defeated French soldiers. Here, Sartre shows how Brunet keeps his dignity and grows as a person as other POWs, starved for information, develop childish and unrealistic expectations of their enemies. And, he uses the humane Schneider to define "iron in the soul". As he and Brunet discuss a POW with PTSD, he says: "He's trying to build up some kind of defense-mechanism, to think out the whole situation in which he finds himself; to get it straight from the beginning. But with what? He no longer has the necessary tools. Even his power to think straight is down and out. He's suffering from the iron that has entered into his soul..." This, certainly, is a problem--the need to rethink assumptions--that many French people faced during and immediately after World War II.
Similar to AGE OF REASON and THE REPRIEVE, the other books in this ROADS TO FREEDOM trilogy, Sartre's writing is absolutely first-rate and not to be missed. Still, his great writing may reach its highpoint as German tanks enter Paris and the character Daniel, crazy and enraged, watches alone from the streets. Here, his thoughts include:
"Paris was not, strictly speaking, empty. It was peopled by little broken scraps of time that sprang here and there to life, to be almost immediately absorbed again into this radiance of eternity."
"Everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, was silence and emptiness, an abyss stretching horizontally away from him... The streets led nowhere. Without human life, they all looked alike."
"...today the Reign of Evil begins."
A great book and highly recommended.
Sartre captures the dissaray of defeat;the vacuum it creates in a society trying to reform itself around a new reality. Life must go on.
This is far removed from the Hollywood portrayals, this is so real and how it was.
Sartres dispair of the supine acceptance of defeat is evident, as is the feeling of a people unable unwilling or to fatiqued to see whats staring them in the face;the reality of totalitarian nazi rule.
'Iron in the Soul', the third in 'Roads to Freedom' is written in the more conventional 'novel' form (as opposed to the brilliant stream of consciousness of 'The Reprieve') and its power comes accross as events are detailed as so everyday;events and historical characters are all discussed or mentioned like one might discuss something in todays paper. It brings a searing reality to things.
'The Roads to Freedom' trilogy is superb;the slow drift into war and defeat. The blurb says that this was an abandoned project, that Sartre planed to write more. I dont know weather that would have been a good thing or not;the work is great as it stands.
Sartre the writer, the provoker of profound thought knows few equals. As the political ideologist he was flawed, the mistake being that all ideologies end up in paradox, achieving completely the opposite that they intended. Its a wonder Sartre fell for this trap.Perhaps he should have listened to Musil: ' Ideology is fine as long as no one takes it seriously'But forget the enigma of his ploitical leanings, there is so much to be had from his writings.