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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The child is the father to the man : a structural analysis of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les mots Stefanovich, Slobodan

Abstract

The thesis itself consists of the claim that Jean-Paul Sartre's autobiography, "Les mots" - although a literary work par excellence - is basically a philosophical work wherein the author has applied to himself his proposed synthesis of Marxist and Existentialist/psychoanalytic thought, as elaborated in his earlier, philosophical work "Critique de la raison dialectique". The method we proposed to employ in our analysis is a structural method, which in our opinion more than any other method, allows the critic to achieve a certain logical consistence and hence coherence, and whose result can always be validated by referring it back to, and comparing with, the work analyzed. In an attempt to present a more detailed explanation and definition of our proposed method of analysis, in Chapter I we discuss the most important concepts of structuralism (sign, signification, value of sign, connotative and metalanguage systems), as well as relate these to literature and literary criticism. Chapter II analyzes the structuration of the narrative of Sartre's work. In order to classify its signifiers, functions - as the smallest narrative, syntagmatic unities - are analyzed. These are grouped into two classes, which according to "Critique de la raison dialectique" represent the two most important aspects in studying history of an individual. The first class studies the family influence on the young Sartre, whereas the second one analyzes his reactions, in their various forms, to the social and physical environment in which he lived. After analyzing the syntagmatic unities of the narrative (Chapter II), in Chapter III the functions are grouped into larger, this time paradigmatic unities (the level of Actions), after which the highest level of Sartre's narrative, that of Narration, is analyzed. In other words, this chapter contains an analysis "both of the main characters of Sartre's autobiography, and that of the narrative techniques employed by the author. The latter in fact represent the three main aspects of Sartre's analytico-synthetic progressive-regressive method on which the whole structure of "Les mots" is based. In Chapter IV Sartre's autobiography is analyzed in its totality, by showing that the meaning is generated through the different levels of the narrative and their interrelatedness. The various levels of meaning of "Les mots" are analyzed by relating them to the main philosophical categories from "Critique de la raison dialectique": alienation, project, progressive-regressive method, comprehension, etc., discussing the different forms in which these have been employed in the autobiography itself.

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