A self-analysis of the short story I posted here on Monday, which was the 2nd part of my existentialism assignment.
In the movie Before Sunset (2004) Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) talks to Simone (July Delpy) about the idea that the Nazi’s were prepared to destroy multiple buildings throughout Paris, if they were to lose the city. Jesse explains that when given the chance, the soldiers responsible left the buildings intact, supposedly moved by the artwork. Whether true or not, this short story takes Jesse’s idea and tries to imagine what a person could think of that would allow them to deconstruct the social brainwashing, and propaganda used by the Nazis (Arendt 1963, 87). Our existential hero Franz, is not a great leader of men, he is barely self-aware of his own actions. While he is uncomfortable with the job that he has to do, he is only semi-conscious of his own discomfort, his own morality whispering in the back of his head, making sure only to tempt him to be moral instead of acting moral (Arendt 1963, 150). As Arendt argues in Eichmann and Jerusalem, the people of Germany suffered from a complete moral failing. Instead of being tempted to evil, they were tempted to act well, and chose not to coincide with their own morality.
Franz is like Simone De Beauvoir’s serious man, a man who puts his faith in God or in the hands of other people (Beauvoir 1948, 48). He asks God what he should do, and God’s silence is enough for Franz to question whether or not he should do what he thinks is best, and why he thinks the course of action he plans on implementing is in fact the best one. This short story is an extreme example of what Beauvoir characterizes as the serious man’s rigid servitude to another’s moral code in an attempt to absolve himself of responsibility. It is through realizing that other people exist, and that they are important to our own survival that Franz is able to wake up from his lull and make a choice he can actually feel proud of. I explicitly tried to make sure that Franz did not find this responsibility tied to God. To do so would be to trade the Fuhrer for God, and while he might have done the same thing, and he still would have made the choice for himself, he would have been basing it off of God’s morality, and thereby maintaining the serious.
Franz is at a crossroad, he can either choose to continue to follow in the path of the serious, or he can choose to consider how his actions make him complicit in the war effort. In the end, he chooses the latter because while he is free to choose what he wants, Franz also has a responsibility to everyone. Franz recognizes his responsibility when he remembers his son Heinrich, and understands that his actions will reflect on the world that his son is going to live in (Sartre 1967, 16). While Franz is still responsible for the actions he has taken, he cannot reconcile his choice to destroy the church in that framework. Sartre would say that because people are free they are also responsible for everyone else. Any existentialist is going to be able to actualize their freedom only inasmuch as they recognize their obligations to other people, and their responsibility to create a world that they would be proud of other people living in (Sartre 1967, 16). Where Franz could have continued to find faith in God or the Fuhrer, he instead chooses to empower himself by discovering his own capacity for choice making. Franz’s exit from the church is a sign that he has overcome his apathy, and transformed himself for the better.