Sartre: Dirty Hands Summary

Sartre dirty hands

Sartre and the theater

Sartre considers himself an intellectual, ie as someone “who meddles with what does not concern him.” As such, the intellectual must radiate his involvement and make it public. The theater plays a leading role in his work: steeped in history and philosophical theory, his plays have a role in implementation of existentialist philosophy.

Dirty Hands: a existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre

The piece called Dirty Hands by Jean-Paul Sartre was written at the end of the Second World War.

Before going into the analysis of this play, remember that Sartre is the most eminent representative of existentialism, a philosophy which raises the absoluteness of human freedom (man is condemned to be free). The Literary works of Sartre, Nausea through No Exit intended to illustrate practical achievements and theories of existentialist philosophy.

Summary of the play

The action takes place during the Second World War in a fictional country called Illyria in Eastern Europe. The country is ruled by a fascist dictator. There are two underground resistance movements against the regime and Germany – the party of the proletariat (Communist) and the Pentagon (a nationalist and capitalist movement). The proletariat and the Pentagon are hostile to each other. Many lives were lost in the conflict on each side.

Hugo, the main character, is released from prison, after the assassination of Hoederer, leader of the proletariat, and went to Olga, his protector, who will examine his case and whether politics can integrate People’s Party. The play will examine the reasons that led Hugo to kill Hoederer.

On the belhalf of the proletarian party, Hugo has indeed been committed by Hoederer as personal secretary to approach him and to kill him, because the party suspected of wanting to ally with the Pentagon. Hugo will forge a strong relationship with Hoederer. Fulfill his mission and meet the man he meets value raises an ethical dilemma. It can not determine what to do and afraid of getting your hands dirty, that is to say, act against his conscience. Initially, Hugo is convinced of the merits of his mission: Hoederer is a traitor who is opportunism. Hoederer is indeed a pragmatic, while Hugo is motivated by their political ideals. Their logic are ideologically opposed : Hoederer considers that the politics must ensure the well-being of many people as possible, even for this, to compromise on ideas, while Hugo is ready to destroy everything for his ideas.

Hugo, on the other hand is the typical existentialist hero. Thrown into the world, unable to understand the meaning of his existence, he thinks that the cause of the proletariat can give meaning to his existence. Sartre critical here what he calls the spirit of seriousness, the belief that values ​​are transcendent and pre-existent to man.

The assassination of Hoederer will almost by chance, after the discovery of a relationship between Jessica, the wife of Hugo and Hoederer. No jealousy, but because Hugo discovers the inauthenticity of Hoederer through this act. As part existentialist, Hugo made a decision – that kill Hoederer. He refused to abandon his ideology. And be ready to die for and that. It has finally won its freedom by taking actions.


From an existentialist anti-hero at the beginning of the play, Hugo accept getting dirty, accepting that in his human condition. Dirty Hands teaches us that even the worst can not be done without the consent of the person who actually need to assume and assert his actions. This lesson, which seems obvious now, was explosive in the context of the German Occupation …

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