A Review of 'The Age of Reason' by Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre's 'The Age of Reason' is a complex, philosophical novel that explores the existentialist themes of freedom, choice, and responsibility. First published in French in 1945, the novel is set in Paris in the years leading up to World War II, and follows the story of its central character, Mathieu Delarue, as he grapples with the meaning of his existence.
The novel opens with Mathieu, a philosophy teacher, celebrating his 34th birthday. He is single, and his girlfriend, Marcelle, is pregnant. He is also in debt and struggling to finish his book, which he believes will be his masterpiece. As the novel progresses, we see Mathieu interact with various characters from his past and present, as well as engage in philosophical debates about the nature of existence and the meaning of life.
One of the most striking features of 'The Age of Reason' is Sartre's use of interior monologue. Through Mathieu's thoughts, we see his anxieties, doubts, and fears, as well as his moments of clarity and insight. We also see the way in which he rationalizes his behavior and justifies his choices. This technique allows the reader to understand Mathieu's character on a deep level, and to empathize with him even when he is making questionable decisions.
Another notable feature of the novel is its exploration of freedom and choice. Sartre believed that humans are fundamentally free, but that this freedom also comes with a burden of responsibility. In 'The Age of Reason', we see Mathieu struggle with this burden, as he tries to balance his desire for personal fulfillment with his obligations to others. Sartre's ideas about freedom and responsibility were hugely influential in the development of existentialist philosophy, and 'The Age of Reason' remains a seminal work in this tradition.
However, some readers may find the novel's philosophical debates and interior monologues dense and difficult to follow. The narrative can be slow-moving at times, and Sartre's prose can be dense and challenging. Additionally, some readers may find the novel's portrayal of women problematic. Marcelle, Mathieu's pregnant girlfriend, is depicted as manipulative and needy, and other female characters are often reduced to objects of male desire.
Despite these potential drawbacks, 'The Age of Reason' remains an important work of existentialist philosophy and a compelling novel in its own right. Sartre's exploration of freedom, choice, and responsibility continues to resonate with readers today, and the novel's depiction of the human condition remains both timeless and thought-provoking. If you are interested in philosophy or existentialism, 'The Age of Reason' is a must-read.