Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual existence, freedom, and choice. In literature, it often involves characters who are struggling to find meaning in their lives or are questioning the nature of existence. In this article we will give you some of the most famous books that explore existentialism in fiction. Enjoy!
The Stranger by Albert Camus
This classic novel follows the story of Meursault, a man who feels detached from the world and struggles to find meaning in his life. Meursault’s existential crisis is heightened when he commits a senseless murder and is put on trial. The novel’s detached and dispassionate tone, combined with its portrayal of a senseless murder and the absurdity of Meursault’s trial, make it a poignant commentary on the absurdity and futility of human existence. The Stranger is one of the most famous books that explores existentialism in fiction.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
This semi-autobiographical novel follows the story of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who struggles with mental illness and the pressures of societal expectations. Through Esther’s experiences, Plath explores some themes seen in existentialism in fiction, such as themes of identity, gender, and the struggle for self-discovery. The novel portrays the struggles of a woman in the mid-20th century, with the protagonist’s feelings of suffocation caused by the expectation that women should be domestic, submissive, and dependent on men. The novel is often read as a critique of the limited options available to women at the time and the toll that societal expectations can take on mental health.
Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
The story is set in the fictional town of Bouville, France, and follows the experiences of the protagonist, Antoine Roquentin, as he grapples with the absurdity of his existence. The novel is a powerful and thought-provoking exploration of existentialist themes. The novel’s diary format and Roquentin’s first-person perspective make it a deeply personal and introspective work. The novel’s themes of meaninglessness and absurdity, as well as its portrayal of a protagonist struggling to find his place in the world, continue to resonate with readers today and is a great example of existentialism in fiction.
The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector
This novel follows the story of an affluent woman who undergoes an existential crisis after crushing a cockroach in her apartment. The novel explores themes of identity, mortality, and the human condition, and is often regarded as one of Lispector’s most experimental works. The novel is a philosophical meditation on the nature of existence and the search for meaning in an unpredictable and often absurd world. Lispector’s writing style is characterized by a poetic and introspective voice that delves deeply into the character’s inner world and emotions.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
This play is known for its portrayal of characters who are stuck in a state of waiting and uncertainty, reflecting the human condition of searching for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. The play has been interpreted in a variety of ways, and its open-endedness invites readers to draw their own conclusions.
No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
In this play, three characters are trapped in a room together and are forced to confront their own flaws and failures, leading to a deeper understanding of the human condition. The play is often cited as an example of Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism and his belief in the importance of individual freedom and choice, becoming a great example of existentialism in fiction.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
This classic novel follows the story of Edna Pontellier, a married woman who experiences an existential crisis as she realizes the limitations of her life and longs for freedom and self-discovery. The novel explores themes of gender, identity, and the struggle for individuality. Edna’s search for self-discovery is a result of her dissatisfaction with the traditional roles of wife and mother that are imposed upon her by society. The novel is a critique of the limited opportunities and choices available to women in the late 19th century, and the impact of societal expectations on individual freedom and fulfillment.
The Trial by Franz Kafka
This novel follows the story of Joseph K., who is arrested and put on trial for a crime he may or may not have committed. The story explores themes of guilt, freedom, and the human condition. The novel is often interpreted as a critique of authoritarianism and the legal system.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is a disillusioned teenager who struggles to find meaning in his life and feels alienated from the world around him. The novel is often read as a commentary on adolescent angst and the struggles of growing up.
The Plague by Albert Camus
This novel explores themes of death, meaning, and the human condition as a town is plagued by a deadly disease. The novel is often interpreted as a commentary on the human response to crisis and the importance of community.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This classic novel follows the story of Raskolnikov, a young man who murders an old woman and struggles with guilt and existential questions about the nature of right and wrong. The novel is often interpreted as a meditation on morality and the consequences of actions.
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The unnamed protagonist of this novella is a bitter and isolated man who reflects on his own existence and the flaws of modern society. The novella is often read as a critique of rationalism and the dehumanizing effects of modernity.
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
This true crime book is based on the author’s experiences working alongside serial killer Ted Bundy. It explores themes of evil, morality, and the human condition. The book is often read as a commentary on the complexity of human nature and the potential for darkness in all of us.
Existentialism in literature is a movement that focuses on individual existence, freedom, and choice. It often deals with characters who struggle to find meaning in their lives, and the nature of existence. The works of authors such as Camus, Sartre, Beckett, and Dostoevsky, among others, provide a unique perspective on the human condition and the complexities of existence. These examples of existentialism in fiction continue to captivate readers, inspiring them to reflect on their own lives and the nature of existence.