English Literature


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Our lives are often defined by our daily routines, goals, and career aspirations, giving us a sense of stability and purpose. However, as we strive to support ourselves, it can be disconcerting to realize that we are simply perpetuating a cycle of working hard to earn money, only to continue working hard to maintain our financial stability. Without the belief in a higher power or an afterlife, our secular gods have become the pursuit of financial security, homeownership, and a comfortable retirement. But is this all there is to life? Are we trapped in an endless cycle, desperately avoiding the absurdity of our existence? This philosophical quandary, known as Absurdism, has been explored by writers and philosophers as a response to the tragedies and uncertainties of the 20th century.

Before delving into the roots of Absurdism in literature, it is essential to understand its key concepts.

The Absurd

According to French philosopher Albert Camus, the concept of the Absurd refers to the tension between humanity's search for meaning and the universe's refusal to provide it. In a world without evidence of a higher power, life can seem devoid of inherent purpose, leaving us in a chaotic and indifferent universe where suffering and injustice occur without reason or justification. This can be a difficult concept to grasp, but we will explore its philosophical implications further.


In literature, Absurdism is a movement that emerged in the 1950s and continued into the 1970s, focusing on the absurdity and senselessness of existence. It challenges the idea of finding meaning in a world that may not offer any. Absurdism is often characterized by its unconventional use of language, characters, dialogue, and plot structure, creating a sense of absurdity and chaos.

Although Absurdism is not a unified movement, the works of playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, and Harold Pinter can be considered part of this literary movement. Through their writings, they highlight the absurdity of the human condition.

Absurdism encompasses various forms of literature, including fiction, short stories, and poetry, such as the works of Samuel Beckett. When specifically referring to Absurdist plays, the term "Theatre of the Absurd," coined by Martin Esslin in his 1960 essay, is often used.

But how did Absurdism come to be defined in this way?

Origins and Influences of Absurdism in Literature

Absurdism was influenced by a variety of artistic movements, writers, and playwrights. One of its key influences was Alfred Jarry's avant-garde play, Ubu Roi, which was performed only once in Paris in 1896. The play parodies Shakespearean works with its bizarre costumes, strange language, and lack of character development. These elements were later adopted by the Dadaist movement and eventually the Absurdist writers.

It is important to note that Absurdism is not a form of satire. While satire mocks and criticizes flaws, Absurdism instead focuses on the nonsensical and irrational aspects of life.

The Dadaist movement, which emerged in the early 20th century, aimed to challenge traditional cultural norms and forms of art through a political lens, often using absurdity and randomness to convey its message. The absurdity found in Jarry's play inspired Dadaist playwrights to further experiment with unconventional techniques.

Out of the Dadaist movement emerged Surrealism, which also had a significant impact on Absurdist literature. Surrealist theatre is characterized by its dream-like, free-flowing nature, allowing the audience to access their inner truths through their imagination.

The works of Franz Kafka, best known for his posthumously published novel, The Trial, also had a significant influence on Absurdism. His writing style, which explores themes of alienation and absurdity, resonated with Absurdist thinkers and contributed to the development of the movement.

In conclusion, Absurdism emerged as a philosophical response to the tragedies and uncertainties of the 20th century, questioning the meaning and purpose of existence in a seemingly chaotic and indifferent world. Its roots can be traced back to various artistic movements and notable writers who challenged traditional norms and forms of expression, paving the way for Absurdism in literature.

Exploring the Absurd: Uncovering the Philosophy of Absurdism in Literature

The concept of absurdity has long been associated with the works of iconic writer Franz Kafka, known for his bizarre and unsettling tales. His famous novella, 'The Metamorphosis', tells the story of a salesman who wakes up one day to find himself transformed into a giant vermin, exemplifying the unique strangeness often found in Kafka's works. This peculiar quality has given rise to the term 'Kafkaesque', and has also had a significant influence on the Absurdist movement.

The Absurdism philosophy was developed by French philosopher Albert Camus in response to the dilemma of the Absurd. It emerged as a counter to nihilism, a rejection of existentialism, and a search for individual purpose. To fully understand Absurdism, we must first examine its foundations within philosophy.

Nihilism is the belief that moral principles have no significance in a world that lacks any inherent meaning. Without the existence of a higher power, there is no objective right or wrong, and anything is permissible. This philosophy presents a moral crisis as abandoning moral principles would result in a chaotic and hostile world. Philosophers have attempted to address this issue in various ways.

Existentialism evolved as a response to nihilism, with the belief that individuals can find their own purpose in life, even in a world devoid of objective meaning. Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard's ideas of freedom, choice, and the absurd greatly influenced both existentialists and Absurdists. He argued that true freedom lies in individuals confronting the incomprehensibility of existence and making their own choices, rather than blindly following societal norms or religious beliefs. While Kierkegaard's intent was to reaffirm belief in God, his concept of individuals determining their own meaning greatly impacted the Absurdists.

Another influential figure in Absurdism is Albert Camus, who criticized Kierkegaard's abandonment of reason as 'philosophical suicide'. Camus believed that even existentialist philosophers were guilty of this, as instead of giving up the pursuit of meaning, they insisted on creating their own. In his work 'The Myth of Sisyphus' (1942), Camus defines the absurd as the tension that arises from seeking meaning in a universe that remains void of any evidence of it. He argues that the incessant search for meaning is futile, as we can never truly know if God exists, and numerous aspects of the world seem to suggest otherwise.

For Camus, the mythical figure of Sisyphus symbolizes the human struggle against the absurd. Sisyphus is condemned by the gods to endlessly push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down every time he reaches the top. Similarly, we are all grappling with the meaninglessness of the universe, with no hope of finding any purpose within it. Camus suggests that the solution to this suffering is to embrace the absurdity of life and reject the pursuit of meaning. By doing so, we can rebel against the meaninglessness and find liberation in living our lives as we please.

In 'The Myth of Sisyphus', Camus proposes the idea that Sisyphus may have found contentment in his task by accepting that there is no inherent meaning to it. He is doomed to it, so why not find joy in it instead of being miserable trying to find purpose in the struggle? As Camus famously wrote, "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

When discussing Absurdism in literature, it is imperative to note that it does not necessarily align with Camus' solution to the problem of the absurd or attempt to offer any concrete solution at all. Instead, it presents the problem of the absurd in various forms and leaves it open to interpretation. Essentially, Absurdism in literature is a reflection of the complexities and uncertainties of life and the human condition.

The Theatre of the Absurd

The Absurdism movement was famously coined by Martin Esslin. It deviated from traditional plays by delving into the nonsensical nature of the human condition and the anguish it evokes, both in form and plot. Some of the earliest Absurdist plays were written by Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, and Samuel Beckett, who all resided in Paris, France at the same time. However, the Theatre of the Absurd is not a unified or intentional movement.

In this article, we will focus on two influential Absurdist playwrights: Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Beckett spent most of his life in Paris, France. His absurd plays greatly influenced other Absurdist writers and the genre as a whole. Some of his notable works include Waiting for Godot (1953), Endgame (1957), and Happy Days (1961).

One of Beckett's most renowned plays is Waiting for Godot, which had a profound impact on the Theatre of the Absurd.

Discovering Absurdism in Literature: The Influence of Alfred Jarry and Franz Kafka

The tragicomedy, Waiting for Godot, by Jean-Paul Sartre, follows the journey of two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, as they wait for the arrival of Godot, but he never shows up. Both acts of the play are circular and repetitive, with the duo waiting for Godot, joined by two others, Pozzo and Lucky, who eventually leave, and the cycle repeats. The play portrays the search for meaning in life, with Godot representing different interpretations such as God, hope, or death.

The characters find solace and purpose in waiting for Godot, believing that he holds some form of meaning in their bleak lives. In one scene, Vladimir says, "What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer." The duo holds onto their appointment with Godot, finding comfort in fulfilling their duty. Despite not being saints, they find pride in keeping their commitment, something billions of people cannot boast about. Through the characters of Vladimir and Estragon, Sartre conveys the human condition's lack of purpose and the extent to which individuals will go to discover it.

Born in Romania, Eugene Ionesco relocated to France in 1942, where he became a prominent figure in the Absurdist movement. His plays, including The Bald Soprano, The Chairs, and Rhinoceros, explore themes of the absurd and the meaningless nature of existence. In Rhinoceros, a small French town is struck with a plague that transforms people into animals.

The Chairs, a one-act play, is described by Ionesco as a tragic farce. The Old Woman and Old Man invite acquaintances to their remote island home to deliver a vital message. However, the guests are invisible, and the couple engages in small talk as if they were present. As more guests arrive, more chairs are added, symbolizing the overcrowding and chaos in the room. Towards the end, the couple jumps out of the window to their deaths, leaving the Orator to deliver the message. However, he finds that he cannot speak or write it down, emphasizing the play's enigmatic and absurd nature.

Similar to Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, the couple in The Chairs finds comfort in the illusion of purpose and meaning created by the invisible guests. Their actions reflect the human desire for connection and purpose, even in the face of inevitable death. The play touches on themes such as the inability to effectively communicate, the blurring of illusion and reality, and the meaninglessness of existence.

The influence of Alfred Jarry and Franz Kafka, as well as the Dadaist and Surrealist movements, can be seen in Ionesco's plays. Absurdism in literature challenges the idea of objective meaning in the world and suggests that the human condition is absurd due to the lack of evidence for a higher power. It encourages individuals to reject the pursuit of meaning and instead find joy in their meaningless existence. With unconventional plots, distorted sense of time, and futile events, Absurdist literature presents a unique perspective on the human condition and the search for purpose.

Exploring the Philosophy of Absurdism in Literature

The concept of the Absurd was first introduced by 19th-century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and later developed into a full philosophy by French philosopher Albert Camus in his work, The Myth of Sisyphus. Absurdism in literature emerged in the 1950s-1970s, particularly in theatre, where writers and playwrights delved into the absurd nature of human existence in their works.

Absurdist plays are characterized by their unconventional plots and lack of a traditional structure. In Waiting for Godot, the circular plot and distorted sense of time add to the futility of life portrayed in the play. Through the works of influential figures like Alfred Jarry and Franz Kafka, Absurdism in literature continues to be a thought-provoking and compelling movement that challenges our understanding of the human condition.

The Unconventional World of Absurdist Literature and Its Distinction from Nihilism

Absurdist literature is known for its unconventional and at times bizarre portrayal of life and its absurdities. It often features characters with no backstories and conversations filled with nonsensical words and repetition, reflecting the difficulty of effective communication among individuals. But what sets Absurdist literature apart from the nihilistic philosophy that also centers around life's meaningless existence?

Nihilism vs. Absurdism

Both Nihilism and Absurdism revolve around the concept of life's lack of purpose. However, Nihilism takes a more pessimistic approach, declaring life as inherently worthless. On the other hand, Absurdism acknowledges the lack of a defined purpose but encourages individuals to find enjoyment in the absurdity of life.

An Example of Absurdism in Action

A popular example of Absurdist literature is Samuel Beckett's play, "Waiting for Godot", first premiered in 1953. The play follows two characters endlessly waiting for a person named Godot, who never arrives. Through this absurd situation, Beckett comments on the human tendency to search for meaning and direction in life, despite its inherent meaninglessness.

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