Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir Quotes

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One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. [From The Second Sex]

Ladies and gents, I give you the thesis of my masterwork, The Second Sex.

Look, I know what Lady Gaga says, but women are not "born this way." People are born as blank slates and then, as they go along through life, before they know it they're victims of all these ideas society has about who they should be.

So women aren't born women (even though they may be of the female sex). Instead, society piles a brick ton of of expectations and demands on them, starting with the pink blankets and the dolls et voilà—you have made a woman a "woman," a man-made construction of all the ideas of what woman should be. She's an ideal.

Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth. [From The Second Sex]

Here's how I see it: men write the history books, so they get to decide upon the very terms of history. They also write the important books and make all the art that gets any attention. They have it all. On top of this mess, men confuse their representations as hard-and-fast truth. Their interpretations quickly become "truth" and "reality." Throw in some arrogance and oppression and you have life as we (women) know it.

What would Prince Charming have for occupation if he had not to awaken the Sleeping beauty? [From The Second Sex]

That's a good one, don't you think? One of western culture's most powerful ideas—the whole "princess-knight-in-shining-armor-happily-ever-after" myth—is such a crock. It's not like Prince Charming actually did that much, so what's the big deal? An alarm clock could have pulled off the same job and not have become a Disney-fied dreamy ideal. It doesn't take that much effort to be Prince Charming, and yet he claims all manner of credit for being a cultural hero. Blech.

Today, however, we are having a hard time living because we are so bent on outwitting death. [From The Ethics of Ambiguity]
A few years before I wrote The Second Sex, I penned this little book that explained the ethics of existentialism (try saying that three times fast). In this dense and complex work, I fire away at our cultural obsession not to die by asking one simple question: at what cost?

When all you think about is staying alive, you forget the daily experience of living life in the here and now. Only life itself—"human existence"—is "conceivable." Obsessing about the future—whether it means death or who knows what else—means we're left to dwell in the "indistinctness of nothingness and being," which is like having the flu and watching an endless loop of Gilligan's Island reruns. You must live free and live now.

She was ready to deny the existence of space and time rather than admit that love might not be eternal. [From The Mandarins]

Swoony, right? This incredibly romantic quotation may be a surprise coming from me, but I actually have a very dreamy side if I may say so. This story is a roman-á-clef (French for "novel with a key," basically a novel about real people and events) about my fiery affair with Nelson Algren. As "Anne," I describe a love so unfathomable that I can't envision it ever not being. It's far easier to picture space and time disappearing. This kind of passion make those Twilight lovers look like Ken and Barbie.

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