Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher born on June 21, 1905 in Paris, France. During Sartre's childhood, his father was a great influence on him, as he was an avid reader of classic literature. When Sartre read an essay by philosopher Henri Bergson entitled Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, he also became interested in the mechanisms of the human mind. After graduating high school, he attended the École Normale Supérieure in Paris to study history. He then was drafted into the French army during the World War II era, but was captured by German soldiers and held captive for nearly a year. When the war came to an end, Sartre found solace in writing and eventually rose into prominence as a fiction author.
In 1963, Sartre published an autobiography, The Words, which details his childhood until ten years old. Despite it covering a limited span of time in Sartre’s life, The Words is richly expansive in its writing. He explains the impact of fiction novels on his adolescence and how they allowed him to escape from the brutal realities of everyday life. Books enabled Sartre to develop an endless imagination, an invaluable resource going into adulthood.
Upon its publication, The Words garnered rave reviews from audiences and critics for its moving retelling of Sartre’s early life. George Braziller of The Harvard Crimson describes it as “the testament of a persevering genius, a writer who labors over his words until they reflect precisely his thoughts, which were clear before he began the process of writing.” The same year the memoir was published, Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but declined the distinction due to his personal and moral beliefs.