Is the fundamental existence of choice itself the crux of the human race? Jean-Paul Sartre’s “The Wall” explores the issue of accountability in the choices we make when presented with unexpected outcomes . The protagonist Pablo Ibbieta, a prisoner of the Spanish Civil war facing execution along with two other cellmates, is faced with the choice of whether or not to release the location of one of his free compatriots, Ramon Gris. Although Ibbieta ultimately decides to make the choice of lying about his friend’s whereabouts, it becomes evident that Pablo does so for personal motivations rather than for motives aimed to benefit or hinder Ramon. It is not until outcomes materialize that Pablo realizes the grave errors he makes in accidentally releasing the whereabouts of Ramon’s location. In Sartre’s “The Wall”, Pablo Ibbieta is responsible for the death of Ramon Gris through the inherent uncertainty of outcomes and the lack of conviction and consistency in the thoughts he presents.
Outcomes that result from the ability to make choices are fundamentally uncertain. One cannot know of the future, naturally, and so this important factor has to be taken into certain considerations. As Sartre alludes to in “Existentialism is a Humanism”, the ability to make a choice is precisely difficult due to the inability to gage what outcomes will look like. It does not, however, excuse the originator of that choice from its outcomes; the concept of accountability would be lost, making for irreversible problems within our societies. While some may argue that Pablo had no intention to kill Ramon, nor had any desire to, the resulting outcome still materialized as a result of his choices. Pablo himself makes clear the idea of there being uncertainty in all outcomes and of how one should take these considerations into account when making choices when saying:
At that moment I felt that I had my whole life in front of me and I thought, “It’s a damned lie.” It was worth nothing because it was finished. I wondered how I’d been able to walk, to laugh with the girls; I wouldn’t have moved so much as my little finger if I had only imagined I would die like this (“The Wall” ).
Pablo himself presents the fundamental issue with making choices based on certain future outcomes. If he had previous knowledge of the prisoner situation he was put in, Pablo argues that perhaps his life would have been very different in regards to the choices he would have made. As outcomes and environments cannot be perfectly predicted, Pablo in his ignorance has to be deemed responsible for the choices that led him to the point. The same principle holds true for Pablo’s unfortunate choices in getting Ramon killed. While Pablo may have even thought that he was saving Ramon Igris by giving the guards what was supposedly a fake address, Pablo should have had the foresight and inference to realize that as no outcome can be perfectly and accurately predicted, there has to be allowed room for significant slack in different resulting outcomes and sequences of events. Jean-Paul Sartre expertly explains the concept when writing,
“I may be counting on the arrival of a friend. The friend is coming by rail or street-car; this supposes that the train will arrive on schedule or that the street car will not jump the track” (“Existentialism is a Humanism”).
It can only be concluded therefore that Pablo has to be deemed responsible for the resulting death of Ramon as the originator of the choices made.
Pablo’s inconsistencies of thought and conviction also contributed to the choices made leading to the death of Ramon Igris. Despite all of Pablo’s efforts to lead a “clean” death, the realization that he causes Ramon’s death creates within him total despair at the thought of the dirty life that he has to live with after being freed from prison. This precise lack of conviction shines through in “The Wall” when Pablo states:
Tom watched him with mournful eyes, without the slightest desire to console him. Because it wasn’t worth the trouble; the kid made more noise than we did, but he was less touched: he was like a sick man who defends himself against illness by fever. It’s much more serious when there isn’t any fever (“The Wall”).
Pablo clearly exhibits extreme arrogance and condescendence when referring to the younger prisoner, Juan. In light of all that arrogance, Pablo still could not help but go mad at the resulting outcome of his decisions and manifest the same behaviors Juan exhibits. Such lack of conviction taints effective future decision making. This underlying fact in Pablo’s inconsistency of conviction indicts him in the accountability of Igris’s death and the ability to make any choices. Although the choices Pablo made resulted in a different outcome from the one expected, every man is responsible for the decisions they make.
Sartre’s “The Wall” is a representation of decision making in lieu of ever changing circumstances that give room for endless possibilities. This is a universal fact that applies to all human beings. As a result, accountability has to remain within the confines of the originator to maintain order; otherwise excuses would rule the systems of the world. Sartre makes this point evident once again in “Existentialism is a Humanism” when writing,
“For Example, when a military officer takes the responsibility for an attack and sends a certain number of men to death , he chooses to do so, and in the main he alone makes this choice (pg 408).
The officer had no desire to wish for the deaths of his men, but made a conscious decision to send them out into combat. As a result, the officer takes full responsibility for the decisions he chooses to enact. Pablo made choices leading him to believe Ramon Igris was safe. It would be easy to wash one’s hands from the accountability of actions when the outcome is different from what one anticipates. There is a direct correlation between choices made and their resulting outcomes. The outcomes may be different variations of ones created in the mind, but the fundamental correlation between the choice and the outcome is not lost. It has to be concluded therefore that Pablo must be held responsible for the choices he made leading to Ramon Igris’s death.