A Story of Resistance

Altona/Men without Shadows/The Flies - Jean-Paul Sartre

It is a shame that I have never seem any of Satre's plays advertised in Australia (or at least as long as I have been going to the theatre), though I am not entirely sure how popular he is in France. I have checked the Paris theatre guide (and also had a nosey at what's playing as I wander around town) and the only playwrights that seem to stand out are Moliere and Racine. Mind you, if he is anything like Bernard Shaw then his plays probably appear every so often, but not to the extent as somebody like Shakespeare (though London does have the Globe Theatre in which about eighty percent of the plays performed there are Shakespeare, and if you don't want to go to the Globe, then there are a multitude of other places to see a performance). The last couple of times I was in London I noted that there were no Shaw productions on at the time (despite there being a Shaw theatre), and I don't think there are any at this time either (though the Globe is playing McBeth and Midsummer Nights Dream, and silly me took my time booking the tickets so that when I actually got around to do it all of the sessions of Midsummer Nights Dream were sold out).



Anyway, if he is not regularly performed in Paris then I suspect I will be even less likely to see one of his plays performed in English, which I have to admit is a real shame because his plays are actually pretty good. However, the problem is that they are plays, which means that they can be difficult to read, and to follow along. Look, I can read plays, but it ends up coming down to how familiar I am with the actual production, and if the answer is 'not much' then I am probably going to find it a little more difficult than normal. Mind you, I have seen some plays by non-Shakespearien, pre-20th century playwrights, performed, but the sad thing is that, at least in Australia, it is either Shakespeare, or something contemporary (and even then the plays by the non-contemporary playwrights tend to be butchered somewhat).



Men without Shadows is the story of a group of French Resistance fighters who have been captured by the occupying forces and are being tortured to find out the location of another resistance fighter who, unknown to them, has already been captured. The play is set in the later years of the war after the Allies had managed to capture Italian Peninsula and are currently launching an invasion of France. True to Satre, the play is about identity, and in particular the identity of people who work in covert operations, namely because in such a field one's identity eventually becomes blurred. There is also the situation that it appears that the war is coming to an end, and this raises the question of what happens after the war and how do these people, who have lived shadowy lives return to a life where they no longer have to live with dual identities.



I guess this is where the title of the play comes in because the idea of the shadow seems to crop up throughout literature. In fact our shadow can also be seen as an aspect of our identity. The fact that we cast a shadow suggests that we have an identity, and a solid one at that – take away our shadow and you take away our identity. However, this is also the case when we are dealing with resistance fighters – the last thing they want is to be casting a shadow, for doing so can put one into danger. However this can lead to problems, particularly when one's identity has become so blurred – as in the case with the other resistance fighter. Here we have somebody who has been captured, but nobody actually knows that he has been captured because nobody knows who he is. In fact, despite the fact that he is a resistance fighter, he seems to live in a shadowy world where identity become subsumed by the cause.



Mind you, I have been rabbiting on about the title of the play, yet everytime I look at the French title I scratch my head and say 'hold it, that doesn't actually mean Men without Shadows'. So, lazy me, entered it into Google Translate (I really should have more confidence in my French because as soon as it spat out the translation – death without burial – I realised that I should have figured that out with my own little noggin. Mind you, it is probably similar to simple arithamtic – because we have calculators we lose our ability to actually do it in our head.



Anyway, Death Without Burial sounds a lot better than Men without Shadows, and captures the essence of the play much better. It is sort of like the idea of being a 'Dead Man Walking' – you are effectively dead, despite the fact that you are still alive. A prisoner in a concentration camp can very much be in a situation – they have already been marked for death, or are simply being left to die, and in effect their life is pretty much over, but they are still playing the waiting game. Mind you, the thing with being a 'dead man walking' or 'dead without burial' is that one never actually knows what the future may hold – while one is still alive anything is possible.


What was interesting was having a brief look at Satre's role during World War II. In the opening stages he was captured and placed in a camp, but then later released due to ill health. He continued to write, and even had some books published. While a member of the resistance, he seemed to be more included to be a part of the intellectual resistance as opposed to the actual resistance. However he did remain in France during the war (noting that once the country had become occupied it was probably quite difficult to be able to get out to, say, England). While it seems that Satre never experienced what people went through in some of these camps, the idea of identity probably played on his mind throughout this period.


31 August 2016 - Paris, France


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1741581700