On the American Working Class

On the American Working Class

In early 1945, with the war not yet over, Jean-Paul Sartre visited the United States for the first time. He traveled with a group of correspondents who were invited for the sake of influencing French public opinion favorably toward the United States.The story of the trip is told by Annie Cohen-Solal, Sartre: A Life (Pantheon, 1985). Sartre was sent by his friend Albert Camus to report back to Combat, the leading newspaper of the independent left that had emerged from the Resistance. Once invited, he arranged also to report back to the conservative newspaper Le Figaro. Simone de Beauvoir said that learning of Camus’s invitation in late 1944 was one of the most exciting moments of Sartre’s life.Simone de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance (Putnam, 1964), p. 17.

Known before the war for Nausea (1938) and The Wall (1939), Sartre’s reputation had grown with the performance of The Flies and No Exit during the Occupation, and with the publication of Being and Nothingness during the same period. He had also made several contributions to Les Lettres Françaises, like Combat published clandestinely. During the Paris uprising in August 1944, with Combat now appearing openly, Camus gave Sartre the opportunity to make his presence felt in the daily press, commissioning him to write a series of articles about the liberation. Although Sartre was the first writer to have a byline in Combat, Beauvoir reported to her biographer that it was she and not Sartre who wrote these well-known articles, because “he was too busy.”Deidre Bair, Simone de Beauvoir (Summit Books, 1990), p 293. If he missed his first chance to communicate with a mass audience, during the euphoric months to follow Sartre made his presence felt with two major articles, “The Republic of Silence,” published in the liberation issue of Les Lettres Françaises, and “A More Precise Clarification of Existentialism” in the communist weekly Action. And now, as 1945 loomed, having just announced the project of creating a new journal and articulated his theme of the writer’s commitment, he would have the opportunity once more to influence the broad public by writing for the daily press.

The seven articles that follow are among the last of the thirty-two Sartre wrote about his American trip. Twenty were published in Combat (February 2 to June 30), a dozen in Le Figaro (January 24 to July 30).For a detailed discussion see Michael Scriven, Sartre and the Media (St. Martin’s, 1993). Seven of the articles from Le Figaro (gathered as “Individualism and Conformism in the United States” and “American Cities”) were published in Situations III and later translated into English in Literary and Philosophical Essays. But none of the Combat articles has ever been republished in French or tr...


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