Sartre's short story "The Wall" exemplifies the writers' philosophy regarding the meaning of life. He uses a true to life moment of individuals facing the inevitability of his own death to reveal the true nature of human life. In "The Wall" the reader is introduced to three primary characters: Juan Mirbal, a child who is the brother of an enemy of the State who has been arrested; Tom Steinbock, also arrested for undetermined crimes against Spain, and Pablo Ibbieta, the main character through whose eyes this short story is narrated. Sartre's philosophy, the accepting ourselves for who we are without exaggeration is exemplified in the final hours leading up to the primary character's reported demise.
Heidegger, in his famous work, "Being and Time" raises the issue of 'Being', in essence, to make sense of humans capacity to make sense of things. Moreover, Heidegger desired to rekindle the concept that although hard to understand, this issue was of paramount importance. Heidegger through the use of the expression Dasein, translated means 'being there" drew attention to the notion that human beings cannot be considered or taken into account except as being an "existent in the middle of a world amongst other things (Warnock 1970). To be human is to be immersed and embedded, or fixed in the literal and physical day-to-day world (Steiner 1978).
Inauthentic vs. Authentic being Towards Death
"Being is the most universal and the emptiest of concepts. As such it resists every attempt at definition" (Heidegger 1962, p. 2)"Time…as the possible horizon for any understanding whatsoever of Being" (Heidegger 1962, p. intro.). For Heidegger, being is pre-scientific and pre-conceptual. Fundamentally, he posits an understanding and a way of knowing as reflective thought using logic and theory. Being is only important to the one raising the question. Being is relevant in terms of the question to that person in particular.
Pablo, throughout "The Wall" experiences his own truths and weaknesses when faced with death. When his captors offer him reprieve, another man's life for his own, Pablo makes the calculated decision to save the life of the other, as that man's life would mean more to the movement. He posits a fictitious story to save the others life, knowing that once his lie had been discovered, his own life would no longer be spared. Inadvertently, Pablo sends the authorities to the exact location of the man he had been trying to save, and now his life may actually be spared… at least for a while.
The consequences of human responsibility: abandonment in making it on one's own, anguish over a decision and despair are the truest characters of human life according to Sartre. For Heidegger, an authentic being towards death is one that represents a meaningful existence. To be in the world in an authentic way is the separation between the collective and the individual; the realization of no longer being able to be there, and looking at the lack of existence in the most honest way.
For example, in the story, "The Wall," the narrator makes a point of discussing the collective fate of those who have betrayed or been perceived to have betrayed Spain. The narrator describes the hundreds of people who have been brought together to face their individualized deaths through a collective process. The collective is summarily reduced when the three primary characters, Tom, Juan and Pablo, are locked in the cell together. Initially, through the eyes and narration by Pablo, the men are seen as a group trying to determine what their collective fates will be. Once sentenced is passed, and it becomes evident they all are destined to be executed, Pablo begins to distance himself physically and emotionally from the other two characters. Further, when there is an opportunity to reach out to someone of importance with sending final regards, Pablo makes the decision to make no contact, even with the woman he reportedly loves. He made the decision to face death in an authentic way. He wanted to be clean entering death.
Tom does not make the disconnect with the others as cleanly as Pablo does. Although all the men seem to revert to themselves and being to process the loss of their own lives individually, there is still some connectivity to others. For example, Tom feels the need to converse. Even when at times he appears to be speaking to himself out loud, he positions his body physically close to Pablo and intermittently makes contact with him bodily or by way of eye contact. At one point, Tom disconnects with the other people, but stays connected to the physical by touching and retouching a bench in the cell. This is a way of staying grounded and connected to the present world as speculating about the lack of existence after death is too much for him to consider. When Juan is struggling and crying, Tom wants to be able to reach out to him in comfort; however, his separation takes place and he does not.
Juan never seems to connect to his cell mates in the same way the other two characters did. He seems to separate himself from the very beginning and it is hard to discern exactly what his thought processes are. However, he does provide some insight when he reaches out and takes the doctors hands. Initially, he appears to want to accept the consoling the doctor is providing, after summarily dismissing the doctors efforts just a little while earlier. But Juans' distaste for death is made clear when he attempts to bite the doctors' hand.
Both Tom and Juan, although individually executed, still have some level of connectivity as they are called out to the execution field in close time to each other. They heard the shots minutes before and knew when their names were called, what their fate would be. Pablo gets a reprieve of joining the collective once it is determined that his false tip was the truth, and whether he has accepted his own being and ownness in the prospect of death, it is delayed.
Heidegger describes the difference between authentic and inauthentic lives before death as the contrast between agencies of fear against anxiety, speech contrasted with talk, sincere wonder as opposed to mere novelty -- collective perception vs. singular perception (Warnock 1970). For Heidegger, being toward death is in and of itself a way of being; the gaining of an authentic perspective offered by the dread of death. Time is not linear, as it is often referred to as the past, present and future. Humans, according to Heidegger, see time temporality. For Heidegger, time is seen from the vantage point of being outside of itself; with that in mind, death is not a confirmable event and not relational. No one has the ability to take death away, or to even die in the place of another person. An authentic being towards the notion of death, then understand the inevitableness of death -- not sure when or how it is going to come but understanding that when it does, it is unavoidable.
Given the aforementioned, "The Wall" stands in stark contrast to the notions of death that Heidegger posits as authentic. From the very beginning, it is clear that the fate of the three men is death. That is the fact that seems inevitable and that their lives will be taken at the hands of others. Although Heidegger argues that no one has the ability to take death away, death can be imposed and is imposed at the hands of the authorities. The dread caused at the hands of the collective others (the authorities) brings the deaths of the three in closer proximity to death as described by Heidegger.