Simone de Beauvoir was a French literary personality, an existentialist by philosophy and a feminist by nature. Her essays, novels and other works greatly influenced feminist existentialism and social theory. Throughout her life, de Beauvoir never claimed herself to be a philosopher and a critical thinker. However, through her major contributions to politics, ethics, feminism and existentialism, she has earned the respect of the masses as an established philosopher, social activist and an intellectual.
Beauvoir debuted as a philosopher in her novel She Came to Stay (1944), in which she reflected on how each of us are connected to time and to each other. Through the characters, the author presented her outlook on these relations but do not give a clear conclusion to the events. Right after the novel, Beauvoir published her first philosophical essay titled Pyrrhus and Cineas in 1944. She debates on the topics of morality and ethics and says that being free is to be constantly dependent on others. She explains that an individual can only exercise their freedom of choice when it is accepted and supported by others around them. A person can only act on the values he holds dear when the society he lives in embraces it too.
After suffering in a Paris occupied by Nazis, Beauvoir emerged as a changed person, determined to take a stand against the evil in the world. Through the Ethics of Ambiguity, she becomes a contributor to peace. She openly identified with existentialism in this book, and stated that it is the only theory which is applicable to the evil times they were living through. She argues against Dostoevsky’s statement that the absence of God makes all acts permissible and states that without God’s presence, human responsibility increases manyfold. She also touches the concepts of ambiguity of our consciousness and shuns the concept of God as she holds humans entirely responsible for their acts and its consequences. The book also explores the topic of violence, holding the idea that at times violence becomes inevitable, for instance, for the liberation of the suppressed.
In 1949, Beauvoir published her world-famous analysis of female existentialism which resulted in a revolutionary movement, inspiring women around the world. She was of the view that a person is not born into their gender, but rather they grow into it, adopting the attitude of that gender out of choice. She said that women are equally capable as men of choosing their thoughts and actions, and of taking charge of the world. She addresses Plato when she says that women do not have to think and act like men to be considered on par with them.
Beauvoir is also credited with penning down the finest existentialist literature of her times. All her literary works portray human reactions to situations of turmoil and conflict in the society. In SheCame to Stay (1943), she shows the havoc selfhood can wreak through complex characters. Her next novel The Blood of Others (1945) won appreciation of many, and deals with how an individual can be held responsible for the society. In All Men are Mortal (1946) she discusses life and death, and in critically acclaimed The Mandarin (1954), she speaks about the role mass media plays in stirring up change in the society.
In addition to her philosophical essays and literary novels, Beauvoir dedicated four publications to her life experiences and complied an autobiography, starting from Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958) with concluding it on All Said and Done (1972).
Simone De Beauvoir remained a towering literary figure throughout her life and only after her death was she also recognized as a feminist philosopher and intellectual. Her ideas ignited a revolution of feminist existentialism which has influenced women around the world.