Literature Study GuidesThe Second SexVolume 2 Part 2 Chapter 5 Summary

The Second Sex | Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex | Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 5 : Lived Experience (Situation) | Summary



Drawing on literature, diaries and anecdotes for Chapter 5, "The Married Woman," Beauvoir presents the beleaguered state of the married woman and the burdens of the married man, developing the view that the failure of marriage is the failure of the institution, rather than the fault of individuals. The chapter builds on the organizing premise of the book, the existential understanding that pronounces women's lives cut off from the mainstream of life itself. In other words, woman, as biological entity and conjugal object, is destined "to maintain the species and care for the home, which is to say, to immanence"—to a turning inward, to an existence bounded by husband, children, and hearth. Since, according to Beauvoir, "all human existence is transcendence and immanence at the same time," the chapter demonstrates how the existence of the married woman is constricted by the institution of marriage itself.

Marriage, on the other hand, provides for man the perfect synthesis of immanence and transcendence, and "these two moments are implied in every living movement." Transcendence is the movement beyond the self, the thrust toward the future, while immanence involves the maintenance of the self, and the integration of present experience with the past. This very access to a larger life for the man engenders an inequality affecting both partners. The disappointments and problems for women in marriage, as well as the burdens of the married man, constitute a narrative that quite thoroughly dismantles marriage. The chapter ends with proposals for the sort of equality between married partners that can only happen with the liberation of women, with an access to independence, and the potential for the woman to fully inhabit her individuality.


No biographical account of Beauvoir's life is complete without the narrative of her longstanding liaison with Jean-Paul Sartre, the open terms of their sexual arrangement, and, most prominently, her refusal to marry him although he proposed on several occasions. While full of engaging examples, this chapter includes fictional and non-fiction narratives, all of which are dealt with equally as examples of the plight of the married woman. The chapter is a welcome synthesis of the major ideas in the book, and it is perhaps the one that most forcefully sounds the alarm of women's subordination, presenting a totally unacceptable solution for love matches, marriage itself, and the romance of intimately shared lives. However, the final paragraphs present a note of hope based in equal opportunities for men and women. In this context, economic opportunity is presented as the crux.

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