What Is Literary Existentialism?


Martha Robinson

Literary existentialism is a philosophical and literary movement that originated in the 20th century. It is a form of existentialism that explores the individual’s experience of existence and the meaning of life through literature. In this article, we will delve deeper into what literary existentialism is all about.


Before we dive into literary existentialism, let us first understand what existentialism is. Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice. It asserts that individuals create their own meaning in life and that there is no inherent meaning in the universe.

Literary Existentialism

Literary existentialism takes the core ideas of existentialism and applies them to literature. It seeks to explore the human condition through literature, with an emphasis on individual experience and free will.

Key Themes of Literary Existentialism

1. Freedom and Choice

One of the central themes of literary existentialism is freedom and choice. Literary works under this movement often depict characters who must make difficult choices, without any clear moral guidance or predetermined path to follow.

2. Isolation and Alienation

Another common theme of literary existentialism is isolation and alienation. Characters in these works often feel disconnected from society or struggle to find their place in it.

3. Angst

Existential angst – a sense of dread or anxiety about one’s existence – is another key theme in literary existentialism. Characters often grapple with feelings of despair, uncertainty, or fear about their place in the world.

Examples of Literary Existentialist Works

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger tells the story of Meursault, a French Algerian who kills an Arab man and is put on trial for murder. The novel explores themes of free will, isolation, and the absurdity of life.

No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

No Exit is a play about three people who are trapped together in a room in hell. The play explores themes of freedom, choice, and the consequences of our actions.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot is a play about two men who are waiting for someone named Godot. The play explores themes of existential angst, isolation, and the search for meaning in an absurd world.


Literary existentialism is a movement that seeks to explore the human condition through literature. It emphasizes individual experience, free will, and the search for meaning in an often-absurd world. By delving into key themes and examples of literary existentialist works, we can gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating movement.