The Making of a Leader

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Author: Madeleine Smith
Editor: Anna J. Sheets
Date: 1999
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 32)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,624 words

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[(essay date 1948) In the following essay, Smith discusses the relationships between the main characters in Sarte's "The Making of a Leader," concluding that the story serves as propaganda against Zola's theories of Naturalism in literature.]

For a discerning public that propaganda is best which obtrudes itself least. There must be art in the making of it, and attractions external to the propaganda aim, if it is to be effective. It is best of all when the idea of its serving as a guide to social conduct has not even been in its author's mind. In the case we are about to examine, what is uppermost is the desire to individualize an observed trend in man's behavior, an instance of the course of human frailty. A writer who is always studying his fellow men, earnestly and sympathetically, here gives an extended example in response to his own commanding need to put across his ideas in concrete form, for Jean-Paul Sartre is above all a creative publicist. The result, however, will stand as a lesson in human relations and may therefore be called a good piece of propaganda.

The longest of the five sketches presented by Sartre in Le Mur, the last one, entitled "L'Enfance d'un chef," is in the nature of a social document. Inasmuch as it traces the early life of a fictional hero, Lucien Fleurier, in the manner of a case-history, it might be vulnerable to the same logic that breaks down the Zola fallacy. Zola proclaimed that he would take human material as he observed it--a passion, for example, at work in a man's heart--and follow it through like a laboratory project, using the findings of physiology to explain what should come of it, then report his results. The only thing he overlooked was that the original situation, and the stages that he might note in the passion's gradual development, were vitiated by the humble fact that they were not real but imaginary. The results (from which he aspired to work out a pathology for social evils whereby to control them and eventually to wipe them out, like smallpox or diphtheria) were therefore likewise invalid, however scientific might be his basic hypothesis and his method of isolating his variable factor from his constants. The "constants" might be real conditions, but the determining factor from beginning to end was not nature but his own mind. Therefore his progress notes could not be facts and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420025616