Words And Childhood

There are so many quotes from this book that I don’t know where to start. It’s Sartre’s autobiography–the first 10 years of his life–when he and his widowed mother lived with his grandparents. It’s a happy childhood, and Sartre repaid the love he received with penetrating comments. He couldn’t have been so sharp as a little boy. The book was written when Sartre was around 60 years old.

The book starts by describing his great grandparents and grandparents on both his father’s side and his mother’s side. Since he mainly lived with his maternal grandparents, there are more details about them. Here are some of Sartre’s scathing comments about his grandparents. I think if I had ever dared to mention just one sentence like this about my own grandparents, I would have caused a huge family catastrophe.

His grandparents

He turned his energies to elevating trivial incidents into great occasions. … He had no idea how to recognize beauty in others: he confused it with health.

This sharp tongued, lively, cold woman had clear but wrong opinions, because her husband had right but muddled ones. Because he was credulous and a liar, she suspected everything. … Her negative pride and selfish love of denial devoured her. She did not see anyone, because she was too proud to covet the first place and too vain to accept the second.

Love Between Grandpa And Grandson

He (his grandfather) meditated on me: sitting in a deckchair in the garden, a glass of beer within arm’s reach, he used to watch me running and leaping, seeking wisdom in my confused words and finding it.

Our life is a long succession of ceremonies and we spent out time heaping ourselves with praises. I respected grown-ups provided they idolized me.

However wretched they (other people) were, they would never suffer as much as my grandfather.

My grandmother, in particular, caused me the greatest anxiety: it was painful for me to realize that she did not admire me enough.

I was called a gift from heaven for a joke, and I was not unaware of this: overfed with affection, I cried easily but my heart was cold.

Interaction With The World

The social hierarchy of the theater had given my grandfather a taste for ceremony: when a lot of men get together, they have to be separated by rituals or else they slaughter each other.

Children would be playing on the terraces of the Luxembourg Gardens. I would go up to them, but they brushed past me without seeing me as I looked at them with the eyes of a beggar. … I was not given the opportunity. I had met my true judges: my contemporaries, my equals; and their indifference condemned me.

Led and Misled By His Early Reading

Their opinions, no sooner voiced, convinced me by their crystalline, artless truth; if they wanted to justify their actions, they put forward such boring reasons that they could not help but be true. Their moral dilemmas, willingly expounded, were artificial conflicts resolved in advance and always the same ones. I found these statements reassuring and I was not mistaken. They were meant to reassure.

I had to be told about authors. My grandfather did so with discretion but without warmth.

I lived beyond my age as people live beyond their means: enthusiastically, exhaustedly, expensively, and all for show

I played, read, and took pain to show an exemplary attitude, but I felt nothing.


After reading, a friend looked at me anxiously: “You were even more affected than I thought.”

I was an imposter and I was relating nonsense that no one would want to believe; in short, I discovered the imagination.

22 thoughts on “Words And Childhood

    1. Yes, he is so brutally honest with his family members and fortunately at the time of writing, these people had already been dead for decades. Otherwise there would be a family tsunami coming. LOL.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I haven’t read much Japanese books, except two by Ryōtarō Shiba. I just love the penetrating remarks in “Words” about family dynamics. We all grow up inescapably influenced by our relatives.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Mishima was never part of pop culture, he was more of a literary figure. Most of my anime obsessed friends would never touch Mishima’s books because he liked to write about a lot of dark and heavy subjects.

          In fact, even today Mishima is considered a very controversial subject in Japan.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Wow, I am intrigued–dark and heavy. That sounds like an invitation sometimes. Yes, you are right. Some Japanese writers have such a distinctive quirkiness about them. LOL. Probably that’s why so many are attracted to them.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. If you wait until age 60 to write about your grandparents, you can avoid much of the family catastrophe. I wonder what my grandchildren will write about me when I am 60. Scathing would be better than nothing!

    Liked by 1 person

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