Existentialism is a common theme in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Albert Camus's The Stranger, and Steve McQueen's film, Hunger. How do these three works relate to existentialist thought and the human condition?

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Existentialism plays a significant role in each of these works, although its role is perhaps most obvious in The Stranger.

The Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis uses a strange metaphorical transformation to illustrate the themes of existentialism and its role in the human condition. The main character, Gregor, discovers that he is undergoing a grotesque transformation into a giant insect. This transformation is used to illustrate Gregor's alienation from society and his family, which is a common theme in existentialist thought. The existentialist theme of consequence presents itself as well. Gregor chooses to do meaningless work he hates in order to care for his family and, by doing so, creates his own meaning in life. This story illustrates the painful aspect of alienation in the human condition. In doing what he believes is right, Gregor becomes isolated from his fellow man and loses his humanity. This story could also be considered an example of Absurdism (closely related to Existentialism) with the bizzare and uncontrollable events in the story representing the idea that there is no order or reason in the universe.

The Stranger

The Stranger is one of the strongest examples of existentialist thought in literature and, though Camus rejected the existentialist label, his works are often classified as such. The story follows Meursault, who learns of his mother's death through a telegram and travels to attend her funeral. He exhibits no grief or emotion during the funeral, and after a series of events and acquaintances, he commits a meaningless murder. In the face of execution, Meursault asserts that there is no greater meaning to human life and denies the existence of God, serving as a mouthpiece for many of Camus' existentialist philosophies. In this sense, The Stranger holds that the human condition is a result of human creation and insists that the only true peace to be found lies in accepting that life has no inherent meaning.


Hunger is a film that deals with the existential ideas of faith, imprisonment, and consequences. The story focuses on a prisoner who starves himself as a political protest against his imprisonment and the government regime he opposed. It is through this dark event that Hunger explores the nature of choice and consequence, two themes that are essential to existentialist philosophy. Hunger shows the worst of the human condition in a dark prison devoid of comfort or hope. Despite their squalid circumstances, the prisoners find ways to express their ingenuity and anger.


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