It is for me to decide

January 14, 2010

Flicking through the final pages of Simone de Beauvoir’s novel The Blood of Others succeeded in drawing back into the consciousness the messy network of thoughts associated with Sartrean philosophy, primarily  that of an individual’s responsibility for their personal decisions.

Fascist Poster stating that members of the French Resistance were criminals

Hélène is dying after choosing to engage in a risky, undercover mission against the Fascist forces occupying France in order to save an old friend.

In doing this not only does she finally validate her love with Jean Blomart, but she distinctly exercises her freedom to decide for herself regardless of him, the man she loved, and whom she had long centred much of her life around in the past.

de Beauvoir explores the ethics of choosing through the dialogue of her characters throughout the text.

                                                          

Temporarily assuming truth in the primary existentialist premise that ‘man is nothing else but what he makes of himself,’ it is possible to understand each person as entirely free to make decisions for themselves.

Sartrean philosophy insists that the subjectivity of the self must be the starting point, with a person existing prior to their essential self, which is created through the individual’s decisions. In the words of Sartre – ‘first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself.’

Without becoming too heavily engaged in existentialist philosophy, Sartre makes the point that though one chooses for oneself,  simultaneously, in this choice, one ‘[chooses] all men.’

In this sense, Sartre insists that an individual is not only responsible for their own individuality, but is responsible for all of humanity in decisions made.

                                                          

This way of thinking is present in the character of Blomart, who, from the beginning of the novel, is illustrated as being weighed down with the burdensome responsibilty of his own choice. He is only too aware of the impact of his decisions, when in the early pages of the novel he acknowledges his fault in the death of his friend Jacques Ledru.

Murderer! Murderer! I walked in the night, I staggered, I ran, I fled. He had been there, so quiet, in the midst of his poems and his books. I took him by the hand, I gave him a revolver and I pushed him into the track of the bullets. Murderer.

Hélène lives life ignoarnt of the responsibility of her choices. One of the first episodes in which she is involved consists of her theft of a neighbours bicycle. Her then boyfriend Paul berates her, telling her to ‘put [herself] for a moment in that poor creature’s shoes when she can’t find her bike.’ To this she simply responds that the thought delights her.

Certainly by the end of the story Hélène has changed. She is aware of the power of her choices, and her self-sacrifice is a demonstration of a decision in which she chooses not only for herself but for others.

‘My only love,’ [Jean] said. ‘You are here, and through my fault.’

‘Wherein lies the fault?’ she said. ‘It was I who wanted to go.’

‘But I could have forbidden you.’

She smiled. ‘You had no right to decide for me.’

The same words. He looked at her. It is indeed her.

She used to say, ‘It is for me to decide.’

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