Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice. It emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Europe, particularly in France, and has since influenced literature around the world.

One of the main themes of existentialism is the idea that human beings must create their own meaning and purpose in life. This concept is often explored in literature through characters who are struggling to find their place in the world and make sense of their existence.

Existentialism in Literature

Many authors have used existential themes and ideas in their works. Here are some examples:

The Stranger by Albert Camus

One of the most famous works of existential literature is The Stranger by Albert Camus. The novel tells the story of Meursault, a French Algerian man who kills an Arab man for no apparent reason. Throughout the book, Meursault struggles to find meaning in his life and grapples with his own mortality.

Camus uses Meursault’s experiences to highlight the absurdity of human existence. He suggests that life has no inherent meaning or purpose and that individuals must create their own values and beliefs.

No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

Another well-known work of existential literature is No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre. The play follows three characters who are trapped together in a room for eternity after they die. As they interact with each other, they realize that they are each other’s torturers.

Sartre uses this scenario to explore themes such as freedom, responsibility, and identity. He suggests that individuals are responsible for their own actions and must accept the consequences of those actions.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J. Salinger is a coming-of-age novel that deals with themes such as alienation, identity, and existential angst. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is a teenage boy who has been expelled from his school and is struggling to find his place in the world.

Throughout the novel, Holden grapples with questions about the meaning of life and the nature of human existence. He struggles to connect with others and feels isolated and disconnected from the world around him.


Existentialism has had a significant impact on literature, particularly in the 20th century. Its emphasis on individual freedom and choice has inspired many authors to explore themes such as identity, meaning, and mortality.

Through characters who are struggling to find their place in the world, these works of literature challenge readers to think deeply about their own lives and what it means to be human.