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Existentialism in Literature

Existentialism in literature is a movement or tendency that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice. While Existentialism was never an organized literary movement, the tenets of this philosophy have influenced many diverse writers around the world and readers can detect existential elements in their fiction. Americans writers like William Faulkner, Ernest their writing. emingway and !ohn "tein#eck reveal existential elements in

$erhaps the most prominent theme in existentialist writing is that of choice.


primary distinction, in the view of most existentialists, is the freedom to choose. &ecause we are free to choose our own paths, existentialists have argued, we must accept the risk and responsi#ility of following our commitments wherever they lead. American writers enry 'avid (horeau and )alph Waldo Emerson often wrote a#out these concepts. Existentialism is not dark. *t is not depressing. Existentialism is a#out life. Existentialists #elieve in living+and in fighting for life. (he politics of existentialist writers around the world varies widely, #ut each seeks the most individual freedom for people within a society. 'espite encompassing this wide range of philosophical, religious, and political ideologies, the underlying concepts of existentialism are constant,

Mankind has free will Life is a series of choices Few decisions are without any negative consequences Some events and occurrences are irrational or absurd, without explanation !f one makes a decision, he or she must follow through

"o existentialism, #roadly defined, is a set of philosophical systems concerned with free will, choice, and personal responsi#ility. &ecause we make choices #ased on our experiences, #eliefs, and #iases, those choices are uni-ue to us+and made without an o#.ective form of truth. (here are no /universal0 guidelines for most decisions, existentialists #elieve. Even trusting science is often a /leap of faith.0 (he existentialists conclude that human choice is su#.ective, #ecause individuals finally must make their own choices without help from such external standards as laws, ethical rules, or traditions. &ecause individuals make their own choices, they are free1 #ut #ecause they freely choose, they are completely responsi#le for their choices. (he existentialists emphasize that freedom is necessarily accompanied #y responsi#ility. Furthermore, since individuals are forced to choose for themselves, they have their freedom+and therefore their responsi#ility+thrust upon them. (hey are /condemned to #e free.0 2any existentialist writers stress the importance of passionate individual action in deciding -uestions of #oth personal morality and truth. $ersonal experience and acting on one%s own convictions are essential in arriving at the truth.

34th5century French philosopher and existentialist &laise $ascal saw human existence in terms of paradoxes. e #elieved that "#e know truth, not only by reason, but also by

the heart $ And as many existentialists, he acknowledges that "!t is the fight alone that pleases us, not the victory $ The modern adage that the journey is more important
than the final destination applies to this idea.

'anish philosopher "6ren 7ierkegaard, who was the first writer to call himself existential, reacted against traditional thoughts #y insisting that the highest good for the individual is to find his or her own uni-ue vocation. As he wrote in his .ournal, "! must find a truth that is true for me the idea for which ! can live or die $

Existentialists have argued that no o#.ective, rational #asis can #e found for moral decisions. (he 38th5century 9erman philosopher, Friedrich :ietzsche contended that the individual using free will must decide which situations are to count as moral situations. e

#elieved that "%here are no facts, only interpretations $ . . . and he is famous for this well known adage,"%hat which does not kill me, makes me stronger $

(he 38th5century )ussian novelist Fyodor 'ostoyevsky is pro#a#ly the most well5known existentialist literary figure. *n his #ook :otes from the ;nderground the alienated anti5 hero -uestions experiences in life that are unpredicta#le and sometimes self5destructive.

French writer, !ean $aul "artre wrote that man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one #ut himself1 that he is alone, a#andoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsi#ilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth. (here is no ultimate meaning or purpose inherent in human life1 in this sense life is a#surd. We are forlorn, a#andoned in the world to look after ourselves completely. (he only foundation for values is human freedom, and that there can #e no external or o#.ective .ustification for the values anyone chooses to adopt.0 When the "wedish Academy granted the :o#el $rize in Literature to "artre for his work which, they recognized as /rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the -uest for truth, <that= has exerted a far5reaching influence on our age,0 "artre made it known that he did not wish to accept the prize.

*n a pu#lic announcement, in38>?, "artre expressed his regret that his refusal of the prize had given rise to a scandal, and he wished it to #e known that his refusal was not meant to

slight the "wedish Academy #ut was rather #ased on personal and o#.ective reasons.

"artre pointed out that due to his conception of the writer%s task he had always declined official honors so this act was not unprecedented. e had similarly refused other awards offered to him. e stated that a writer%s acceptance of such an honor would #e to associate his personal commitments with the awarding institution, and that, a#ove all, a writer should not allow himself to #e turned into an institution.