The Roads to Freedom Trilogy: Sartre’s Classic Novels in Review

The Roads to Freedom trilogy - Jean-Paul Sartre
The Roads to Freedom Trilogy.

As an FYI to our dear readers, but also to, you know, show off a bit, we’ve wrapped up our review of Jean-Paul Sartre’s brilliant Roads to Freedom Trilogy over on our other blog: Moonshake Books.

The plan was to lay out comprehensive insights into the novels, expose the exposition, and examine Sartre’s application of existentialism (Being and Nothingness) in the narrative arc.

Lead character Mathieu Delarue takes huge strides across the trilogy in pursuit of personal freedom, but it is also an account of a tumultuous moment in history.

The trilogy synopsis is as follows: World War II descends onto France and Sartre’s assortment of characters are left to deal with the personal, political, and philosophical ramifications.

For Sartre, it was the perfect opportunity to bring existentialism into the mix and work something out of the madness. Three brilliant novels were the result.

The Roads to Freedom Trilogy

Sartre fought in the war and lived in Paris, so the trilogy has to be seen as a semi-autobiographical account.

He began writing the first two novels whilst France was still under Nazi control, aware they would only be published if the Nazis lost the war.

The third was published in 1949, and he later abandoned a fourth novel (the Last Chance) after two chapters to focus on other projects.

On Professional Moron, we’ve made no secret of our respect for Sartre as a writer and philosopher.

From existentialism to the outright brilliance of his prose, his exceptional insights into the human condition make for essential reading.

If you want to know more about the trilogy (be aware—spoilers are rampant in the reviews) have a gander and inhale the existential dismay.

The Age of Reason

Jean-Paul Sartre's the Age of Reason

The trilogy opener, The Age of Reason is the most accessible and deals with average shenanigans of your average distorted individuals.

Difficult relationships, unwanted pregnancies, lusting after pretty young people—Mathieu Delarue is bumbling his way to middle age and making a mess of it.

It’s our favourite in the trilogy, simply as the character development is so brilliant.

Here we meet the dithering Delarue, brilliant Boris, irritable Ivich, and dastardly Daniel—there’s less alliteration in Sartre’s writing, of course, with its central theme of dealing with ageing.

The Reprieve

Jean-Paul Sartre - The Reprieve

The abstruse work of the trilogy, The Reprieve saw Sartre turn to simultaneous prose amongst a wide assortment of characters.

He focused on the 1938 Munich Conference, during which Édouard Daladier and Neville Chamberlain attempted to appease the aggressive Adolf Hitler and stop WWII.

It would ultimately work (rather briefly, before Hitler invaded Poland nine months later), but in the build-up to the Conference, as a precaution, citizens were mobilised into the army.

There was ensuing panic which followed, naturally, but Sartre used the event to provide detailed psychological insights into the minds of French citizens, making for one disconcerting read.

Iron in the Soul

Iron in the Soul - Jean-Paul Sartre

The most profound and devastating of the lot, events pick up shortly after the Fall of France.

With a nation defeated, its citizens and soldiers are left to mull over what will become of them—will the Nazis be merciful conquerors?

For Delarue, in part one of Iron in the Soul, his character arc comes full circle as he hoists his rifle and considers going out in a blaze of glory, whilst in part two the communist Brunet debates his political lot as a POW awaiting an uncertain fate.

On the face of it, it’s a bleak novel. This was the reality of the situation, though, and inspiration can be taken from the characters who take on adversity, remain optimistic, or plan for a better future.

It’s humans dealing with extremes and the result is rather profound indeed.

Thankfully, the Axis powers did lose the war, which provided an infinitely better future for all of us here in 2017.

Novels like Iron in the Soul exist to remind us what a generation struggled with to provide us with such a future.


  1. Wonderful! I’ve already read your in depth review if “Age Of Reason”. It was a fabulous in depth read of your favorite part of the trilogy. I’ll read the other 2 over the course of the upcoming week. I’m so looking forward!

    Liked by 1 person

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