What Is Existentialism in Literature?


Jane Flores

Existentialism is a philosophical and literary movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is often associated with the works of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Friedrich Nietzsche. At its core, existentialism emphasizes individual freedom and choice in a seemingly meaningless and absurd world.

In literature, existentialism is characterized by a focus on the individual experience of existence and the search for meaning in life. Existentialist literature often explores themes of alienation, isolation, and the struggle to find purpose in a world that seems indifferent to human suffering.

One of the key elements of existentialist literature is its emphasis on subjective experience. Characters in these works are often portrayed as grappling with their own emotions and thoughts, rather than external events. This focus on internal experience creates a sense of intimacy between reader and character, as the reader is invited to delve deep into the character’s psyche.

Another important aspect of existentialist literature is its rejection of traditional narrative structures. Instead of following a linear plotline with clear cause-and-effect relationships, these works often employ fractured narratives or nonlinear storytelling techniques. This serves to mirror the fragmented nature of human consciousness and perception.

Existentialist literature also frequently employs symbolism to convey its themes. Objects or events may take on greater significance than their literal meaning, representing larger ideas or emotions. For example, in Sartre’s play No Exit, the locked room becomes a symbol for hellish existence itself.

In conclusion, existentialist literature offers readers a unique exploration of what it means to be human in an uncertain world. Through its emphasis on subjective experience, nontraditional narrative structures, and powerful symbolism, this genre challenges readers to confront their own beliefs about existence and purpose. Whether you are new to existentialism or have been studying it for years, this thought-provoking genre is sure to leave an indelible impression on your mind.