“Existentialism” by Jean-Paul Satre


By Ella

 I’m not going to lie. This is a tough book to read… It’s even tougher to understand. Mostly because of the way it’s written. Satre writes a lot of things backwards, so when you’re reading, you sometimes have to take a sentence and twist it around in your head or read it out loud real slow in order to fully understand it. These 95 pages took me about a month to read. There were times when I could only read 3 pages and had to put it down because the material is just that heavy… I spent most of my time writing down the words I didn’t understand and trying to relate the statements to my own life. Honestly, if I don’t understand a sentence, I can’t keep reading. How can I expect to understand what happens next if I don’t comprehend what took place before?

Jean-Paul Satre’s Existentialism and Human Emotions was one of the books I supposedly read in college. I’m absolutely FANTASTIC at skimming a book and understanding the basis of it. But I know I never sat down to read each word. I’m also an extreme nerd (if there were a competition, I’m sure I’d place.) and highlight and write in every book I read. Marginalia, E.E. Cummings called it. When I opened this book up and saw the clean pages, it was nothing less than bait 😉 So here I am, a college graduate, fully employed with no homework, writing my book report for all those who are also #BoutThatLife. Consider this #RevengeOfTheNerds Enjoy. 

     Satre argues that our existence on this Earth is what we make it. Our situations differ, but it is you who decides what actions to take. It is those very actions who define who you are as well as the outcome of your life. I’ve met some people who like to argue that “black people can’t” A, B or C. I always beg to differ. Yes, the world is a bit tougher for some people –some of us have more obstacles to overcome– but everything is possible. You’ve jus got to figure out how to make it happen. & simply said, if you want to be a coward and let the world get the best of you, that’s really your fault. In this theory Satre makes us all take responsibility for our actions. While he shows you that where you are is where you have taken yourself, he also lets you know that the very moment you decide to overcome, you can. It just depends on whether or not you’re willing to do it. Or are you all talk, no walk?

     The titles of philosophy books tend to be words we never use. I assume this might keep a few people from actually reading this book, so I’ll explain the title & you’re sure to get the gist of the entire book. Existentialism, as I’ve interpreted it, simply means that you understand that you exist. Once you realize that you are here, you’ve got to figure out why. We all find our meanings in different places, but more than likley, they hint on religion and, specifically, God. The funny thing about whether you believe in God or not, is that God is still the topic of conversation. If you believe in God, then the purpose would be to be like God. You know, walk in his footsteps. But, with free will (as in God is not literally holding your hand, so if you’re going to sin, you can) you choose whether to step in those footsteps or not. With a belief in God, you’re consequences are already laid out for you; do good and go to heaven or do bad and burn in hell. *shrugs* If you don’t believe in God, there are two options: You either are your own God, because there is no authority over you & you’re free to do as you choose or you walk around aimlessly and… do as you choose. When you make this “do as you choose” choice, you get to decide what the end of your life will be. Some of us only think of the action in the moment, but every action has a consequence. If you chose to eat, you’ll live. If not, you’ll die. If you want to be a lawyer, you’ve just got to make those moves. If you don’t you can choose something else. But you know damned well that working at McDonald’s isn’t how you become a lawyer –unless you figure out some gangsta way to do so, and if so, I applaud you vigorously (because anything is possible). This is the first principle of Existentialism: Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself (p15).

     The main choice a human being makes is the choice to exist. At any moment, you can off yourself. *shrugs* I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but if you did not want to be alive, you could certainly end it. People do it far too often in our world. But the very fact that you are alive and reading this means you want to be here, at least a little bit. But you have to capitalize on that initial choice and understand that by making the choice to continue to be here, you also have the choice to decide what that means. The worst thing you can do, though, it sit around and wait for things to happen. “There is no reality except in action. Man is nothing else than his plan,” (p32) argues Satre. If you’re going to be here, take advantage. You decide what that outcome will be.

     Satre claims that Existentialism is a “doctrine which makes human life possible”. The doctrine “declares that every truth and every action imply a human setting and a human subjectivity.” (p10). (Subjectivity refers to the feelings of the subject, you. It’s how you feel, react, interpret what happens.) Whenever something happens, in whatever situation it is, you have four choices: 1. Excell. You can rape whatever situation you’re in and make the best of it. This would be a #CantNobodyGetMeDown attitude. 2. Avoid. You can run as much as you’d like, but… how long can anyone run for. Even Usain Bolt gets tired.  3. Deny. But reality is reality. If you keep denying things, you’ll just be living in some fantasy world and when it all comes crashing down, then you’ll see.  4. Accept –This is letting the world get the best of you. You can go through with the motions and repeat the same mistakes others have because it’s what’s expected of you, but you’re going to end up exactly where they are. It all depends on whose footsteps you want to follow. If you are okay with mediocrity… this is fine. If you’re anti-progress, this is for you.  


Satre addresses the feelings people feel (or felt in his time) about his theory of living and I’d like to address them very plainly here:

    Anguish: the feeling of deep and total responsibility because you choose your actions. But if you’re not responsible for your actions, then who is? People need to take more responsibility for their lives. Far too many men and women depend on the work, efforts and guidance of other people to live their lives. But who is living your life? I’m sorry to say but that’s a sad existence. You can’t sit around and do nothing for yourself & complain. Even worse are the people who judge those who are working hard for what they have, but they are working hard. If you worked hard too, you’d have those things, too.

     Forelorness: a feeling of abandonment as you have to deal with your own consequences. This is a bullshit feeling. People really don’t like to deal with their consequences. My pet-peeve are those who want to sit on the couch all day or don’t want to do work, but expect a paycheck to roll in. Then when those accounts are on E and they have nothing fly to wear, they complain. But had you chosen your actions better before hand, you wouldn’t have to deal with consequences you don’t like. The same way poor choices turn out poor results, good choices give you nothing but good. It’s really up to you. You choose the consequences as much as you choose the actions. Toughen up and deal.

   Despair: hopelessness due to the pressure and not knowing what to choose. We’re all going through it. You might think that you’re alone in the world in what you’re going through, but people have had it worse. No mater if you believe Jesus to be the Son of God or not, he existed. And they made him carry that cross. And while he carried that cross, they whipped him and threw stones at him. And they weren’t done. Then they nailed him, by his hands and feet, to the very load he had to carry. Still, he continued to be a good person –so much so, that he even loved those who held the hammers. Now, compare that to what you’re going through.

I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s struggles, only to show your your strength. I, like Satre, “must reveal to the mortal agent that he is the being by who values exist. It is then that [your] freedom will become conscious of itself” (p94).  You have the freedom to decide the path your life will take. I encourage you to take hold of it.

 REVIEW (in sum):


I love this book. Yes, it is tough to read and no one should pick it up until they’re ready –same way I feel about the Bible. This book takes and teaches patience. You’ve got to slow down a little bit and think about the choices you are making. Not only do they affect you, but they affect the world. By deciding your world, you decide the world for others. One thing I forgot to mention is that, no matter how individual our lives are, we are one species. So in defining the purpose of your life, you decide the purpose of human life. If you lie, that would mean the whole world should like. Whatever you put out there is the message you give. Just like we look back at those who came before us, future generations will look back at you. But… I would argue you shouldn’t pay that close attention. People are followers. Just keep in mind that they’re watching. They either love you or hate you. The reality is, mostly they love to hate. It’s never too late to understand that, realize your existence and take control of your life. If it yours. No one else can live it for you. So… how about you try to make it a good one? I’d recommend this book to everyone. *shrugs* I think we all deserve to know that our lives are in our hands.

Get your read on 😉

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