The Age Of Reason By Jean Paul Satre

The Age of Reason - A very deep book that will have you wondering whether you really got this book! But, a great one to try and work out together with your book club!

Sartre is a philosopher and has written several papers and books on some of his philosophical theories

This book is a fictional novel that tries to show through a fictional story, some of his theories and notions.

The story itself is readable, but there is lots of dialogue about his philosophies, that may go slightly over  your head, but you will still get the gist of what he is talking about it.

This is a great book to get those brain cells working and tick another high brow book off your list!  You can enjoy working it out together at your book club meeting!

The Plot / Story

The Age Of Reason, Jean Paul Satre

The story is set over a very short space of time - just three days and the book is set in Paris.

The main character is Mathieu. He lives a pretty free life (an existential type life) but has just found out that his long term partner Marcelle, is pregnant. He needs to find 400 francs to secure her a safe abortion.

He wants to get her an abortion because he loves his life of freedom and doesn't want this to end.

He spends the next 3 days seeing friends and family trying to get the money. Along the way, we get to learn about everyone's point of view about what freedom means for them.

They all give accounts about Mahtieu too so we get a rounded view of our main character.

He also gets asked to join the communist party, but he refuses, fearing that this would inhibit his freedom, as he would have to act and say things that he would not necessarily agree with - feeling the need to say yes, when really he would like to say no.

Should he marry Marcelle? A question he has to ask himself.

Marcelle splits up with Mathieu and agrees to marry Daniel

By the end of the book Mathieu realises he has reached the age of reason - the age where you accept responsibility, where everything in life should have meaning and purpose.


The Age of Reason Jean Paul Satre

Mathieu - The main character, a philosopher teacher, who loves to be free to live an existentialist life style. He doesn't want society to dictate what he should do. He wants to make his own decisions, based on what is right for himself, to allow him to be free. He grapples to do the right thing and eventually reaches the age of reason.

Daniel is his friend and a homosexual. He tries persuading Marcelle to keep the baby, even offering to marry her and bring up the baby with her. Can Daniel ever enjoy freedom when he tries to bury his own sexual preferences and desire to self mutilate himself?

Ivich is Boris' older sister, a student desperate to pass her exams and escape the small town and her parents. Mathieu is fascinated by her, is perhaps in love with her, or perhaps more in love with what she symbolises - absolute freedom that he so craves.

Marcelle - His pregnant lover. She represents the end of existential freedom and the beginning of the age of reason, taking responsibility and finding meaning and purpose through self growth and the growth of a new born baby.

Boris - From Russian ancestors and a student of Mathieu's, He lacks any real ideas of his own. Likes to steal things for excitement and is really just a child, sharing Matthieu's philosophy of a  "nothing existence", drifting through life.

Brunet - An avid follower of the communist party and perhaps the only character who has any clarity in his life by being part of the party.


- Boris' older  lover, a lounge singer and drug addict. She is older and is used as a contrast to the younger characters



This philosophical theory, popular in the 19th century, suggests that there is no higher meaning in life.  it is up to the individual to find a reason for his or her existence.


The book debates what is freedom, from the perspectives of the various characters.

Satre believes in existential freedom, which is where the world is viewed as a somewhat confusing place, where there is no higher god and therefore no rules to say what is right and what is wrong. It is only when a person realises this, that true freedom can be achieved.

Society's Expectations

Mathieu is told several times that he should face up to his responsibilities with Marcelle, due in part, to the obligations society places on us to do the right thing. Worst still, Mathieu is from a well to do Bourgois family, so there are again, expectations placed on him. Doing so, would certainly not lead to freedom.


The book suggests that everyone eventually reaches the age of reason. Where one accepts responsibility. It seems to suggest that with responsibility there cannot be true freedom.


The ending of the book, with Daniel, a homosexual, marrying Marcelle to bring up the baby, cannot bode well. Daniel can never be free in such a stifling relationship where he is unable to be his true self. It seems Daniel has succumbed to the need to comply with the expectations of society.

Book Club Questions

The Age of Reason Jean Paul Satre

Do you agree with the philosophical idea of Existentialism?

What do you think freedom is?

Do you agree with Satre's existentialist view of freedom?

Discuss the title of the book - The Age of Reason

Is it possible to reach the age of reason and have freedom?

Discuss the ending of the book? Can Daniel enjoy freedom?

What does the future hold for Matheiu?

Were any of the characters likeable? Did this impact what you thought of the book?

How did you find Satre's writing? Can you tell it has been translated?

Would you be tempted to read the two next books in the series?


The Age of Reason, Jean Paul Satre

This book is probably best described as an intimidating read!

It is a hard book to totally understand. So, I'd only read this with a book club that has been up and running for a while, when everyone feels confident of saying "I really didn't get this"

You may read our notes above and think we have totally missed the main parts of the book! I hope not!

That said, it is a really interesting read and there are lots of high brow concepts to discuss. This is one you will feel pleased you've read.

We gave this book 7/10.

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