Megalomaniac “Erostratus” written by Jean-Paul Sartre is a story about a character named Paul Hilbert who throughout the story develops obsession with fame. Sartre, “one of the great philosophical minds of the twentieth century” and “a leading proponent of existentialism” (Sartre, 1000) borrowed heavily, as the title indicates, from Greek mythological story of Erostratus.
The author enforces the character’s personality deficiencies with the historical inspiration for Hilbert’s actions through the story of Erostratus, descriptions of his awkward social interactions and the disastrous consequences as he attempts to realize his bizarre fantasies. On one hand, Paul is characterized as a person with megalomaniac mental disorder and as a person with inferiority complex on the other hand, which is revealed through his intense tendency to heighten himself above everyone else, his interaction with prostitutes and the desire to immortalize his name in history.
Paul’s complex personality including his megalomaniac mental disorder and inferiority complex is best described through the way he looks at people when he is situated somewhere high above, the way he feels when he walks to his office, and his usage of the revolver. Paul spends the majority of his free time watching people from his room located on the seventh floor of the building where he lives. To his ill delight he puts “out the light and [goes] to the window” (Sartre, 1000), where he creepily observes pedestrians, and laughs at their miniature appearance.
Paul admires imposing architecture such as, “the towers of Notre-Dame, the platforms of Eifel Tower, the Sacre-Coeur” (1000), because his megalomaniac tendencies are supported by heights. However, when he goes to the streets where “it’s much harder to consider people as ants” (1000), his feelings of superiority disappear. With the disappearance of confidence and domination his diminutive mind-set reappears.
Paul feels trivial in presence of others and somewhat naked; therefore, he plays his little game before his seventh-floor window that grants him the feelings of power and monstrosity. Paul’s inferiority leads him to purchase the revolver that guards him against others. Not only does the weapon provide him with a deep sense of security but also presents him with “the idea of shooting people” (1001), which also helps to create his self-image of superiority.
His social retardation and disregard for decency become apparent as he first uses the revolver on the prostitute, Renee, when she becomes uncooperative, and leads his unending fantasies to shoot random people on the street. Not only Paul feels substandard in presence of people in general, and this is why he hates humanity, but his inferiority complex emerges the most in presence of women, which is shown through his kinky interaction with prostitutes.
He is not interested in having an intercourse with women because he thinks that it would rob him of his masculinity. Furthermore, he does not want to give sexual pleasure to his major enemies, women, since “they are the ones – by a long shot – who gain on the deal” (1001). His dealings with prostitutes are very awkward and for the prostitutes rather mortifying. He orders them to parade around stripped and claims, “Nothing annoys women more than walking when they’re naked” (1002).
The reason why he shames prostitutes is that their humiliation skyrockets his confidence and superiority and gives him a great sexual satisfaction. After he leaves the hotel room where he spends time alone with the prostitute, Renee, he feels a great deal of malicious achievement because of his ability to astonish her as he claims that “it isn’t easy to surprise a whore” (1003). This also contributes to the empowerment of his ego, and consequently transforms his inferiority to a sense of superiority.
After Paul learns about the story of Erostratus he develops an obsession with fame and adopts an idea that the only way to obtain recognition is by committing a crime. He is introduced to the character of Erostratus by one of his office colleagues in a conversation throughout which he is searching for a personality that would match his preferences. Erostratus, a young man who was obsessed with fame, burned down The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in order to make his name eternal in history.
Erostratus, who proudly admitted to this pyromaniacal act, was for his misdeed executed (Wikipedia, par. 1). Paul’s admiration for the feat accomplished by Erostratus coupled with his disdain for his contemporary society as exemplified by the demeaning way he describes everyone he encounters finally lead him to devise a meticulous plan to commit mass murder. To ensure that the incident is properly reported he writes letters to 102 writers thoroughly detailing his violent plan.
The letter contains information indicating Paul’s insanity that origins from his hatred of humanity. Hi is haunted by thoughts of fame and lively dreams of homicide that get him to the point where there is no way to escape from his plan. The mere thought of murder followed by fame gives him a great deal of pleasure and self-esteem enhancement. The story, thanks to the first person narration, provides us with a clear insight into Paul’s mind. A mind of somebody whose character consists of two opposite disorders which go together hand in hand.
Paul’s megalomaniac behavior contrasts with his inferiority which is a foundation for his hatred of humanity and the must to elevate his persona in order to feel powerful. His obsession with fame which is consequent to his discovery of Erostratus is most noticeable when he writes his letters addressed to 102 writers. His assurance of precisely describing his plan shows intentions for recognition and immortality. Through his interaction with prostitutes, we learn about his inferiority and psychosexual behavior.
His need to humiliate prostitutes in order to gain the sense of superiority shows that he is very insecure. Paul’s admiration of heights and his extensive enjoyment that he has from observing people from viewpoints foreshadows his megalomaniac disorder. The author gives a clear and interesting picture of a character, who is completely closed up in his own world of insanity and hatred linked to everything that represents humans.