Existentialism in Literature | Meaning and Characteristics


Existentialism is a movement of 20th-century literature that focuses on the individual and his or her relationship with the universe or God.

This existentialist tag has been applied to writers, philosophers, visual artist and film-makers; the movement flourished in Europe.

Existentialism Examples

The main idea of Existentialism is to do whatever you want to do. Means there is a difference between ‘My World’ [Emotional] and ‘Your World’ [Logical]. Generally, our approach towards society remains like this that ‘My World is better than Your World’.

There are two ways of looking at society:

One is a Secular way of looking and another is a religious way of looking. If I start with the self then when somebody asks us who are you? Then our answers must be like this that I am John or David or any other name. But who said this that my name is so and so?

Then our next answer must be like this that my parents or relatives. Apart from this, we don’t know much about ourselves. Our names are related to our physical appearance only.

But this is the not appropriate answers for who am I? When we think about all these questions then we find that everything is meaningless.

Why? The answer is because our ultimate destiny is death. GWF Hegel, Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Edmund Husserl, Kafka, Sartre, Beckett, Beauvoir, Camus these are the well-known names in the field of existentialism. Basically the existentialism questions about our existence in this universe.

Why are we here? Who am I?

The basic consult is a search for the self. That is why the existentialist critics often say that our birth is out of our power so at least our death must be in our hand.

It means the way I want to die I must be free to do so. And that is why other critics say that Existentialism is negative criticism. That is why many critics would say that Existentialism is Nihilism.

There is a minor difference between existentialism and nihilism. It is true that Existentialism talks about the death idea but here death in the sense of the philosophical death.

Every day we wake up in the morning, do our routine work and the end of the day goes to our bed. Apart from this we never tried to think about existence that why I am here? What is my purpose in this human world? Who am I?

Among the most famous and influential existentialism propositions is Sartre’s dictum. “Existence precedes and rules essence”, which is generally taken to mean that ‘there is no pre-defined essence to humanity except that which we make for ourselves.’

For Sartre humans are fundamentally different from the things like a car, fan etc. before making a car we can say that what will be the work of the car but about human, we can’t say, and still we try to bind ourselves in different identities. i.e. religious identity, family identity, community identity etc. and then we see the clash between all these identities.