The Respectful Prostitute Essay

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The rise of existentialism coincided with the end of World War II, and for good reason. Such loss and devastation faced by all the nations involved led the masses to take a deeper look at their philosophies and, more specifically, where to find the so-called “meaning of life” after the world had proven its inability to decipher right and wrong. The nations wondered how such a travesty could come about and began to think that everything they knew and relied upon was wrong. Many came this conclusion, finding that individuals must rely on themselves and themselves only when making decisions regarding how to live their lives, not external forces such as religion and society. Thus, existentialism was born in a barrage of blood and destruction, …show more content…
Also, like religion, existentialists reject the authority of society in telling others how they should live due to the fact that society holds no verified truth. Sartre wrote The Respectful Prostitute to convey this existential sentiment. It is set in the explicitly-racist deep South of the United States which can be seen when Fred warns Lizzie that “We don’t like n*ggers too much here, and we don’t like white folk who play around with them” (254). Racism is wrong, plain and simple, but Fred easily admits that the South is highly prejudiced against black people. His statement above shows that an entire society is racist, and a vast majority of those who live in the South are racist as well because they base their perspective upon the so-called facts society imposes upon them. Sartre, a Frenchman, purposefully sets his play in the South to show how society can morally be very wrong. He gives his French audience distance from the setting to show how, from the outside, it is obvious that this racist, morally corrupt society is wrong. They are then led to realize that all societies can be likened to that of the South; society is regularly incorrect. However, those who are living in that society follow its belief system, leading them to be wrong as well. This proves to Sartre’s audience that they should not look to society for what is …show more content…
Existentialists believe that individuals must ultimately rely on themselves and only themselves when deciding how to live. They must realize the false authority in external influences, and intrinsically decide their morals. Without a universal truth to be found, existentialists “...deny that there is an acceptable basis for moral decision making diverges markedly from an earlier, and often largely unquestioned faith-related, emphasis that there could be, and indeed were, moral standards to which all might beneficially conform” (Kierkegaard and Sartre). Sartre emphasizes this facet of existentialism with his play The Respectful Prostitute. Lizzie knows that falsely accusing a man of rape in favor of letting the guilty party off free is wrong; regarding what she would do when the cops ask her what happened on the train, she openly states that “...I’ll tell them what I saw” (255). Lizzie’s thought is telling her to tell the truth rather than following the racist morals of the South and condemning the black man. Similarly, Sartre’s The Flies shows how individuals should look inside themselves for answers rather than looking to religion for answers. His character Electra is explicitly aware that there is no real religious burden the Argives must carry upon themselves, demonstrated when she broadcasts to the townspeople, “I’m not afraid of my dead, and yours

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