Please help me compare and contrast Absurdism and Existentialism.I am writing a paper about The Stranger by Albert Camus and i have come to the conclusion that the main themes are absurdism (camus...

Please help me compare and contrast Absurdism and Existentialism.

I am writing a paper about The Stranger by Albert Camus and i have come to the conclusion that the main themes are absurdism (camus was an absurdist) and existentialism. I am having trouble explaining the differences between the two and could use some help. This is for my 10th grade honors english and composition class. Any help is greatly appreciated.

Expert Answers
lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am not a philosopher, but I will try to simplify it.


Existentialism is the belief that life only has meaning in relation to the individual person – his emotions and thoughts. Also, it is the individual who is responsible for giving his life meaning in spite of all the opposing forces that get in the way – boredom, alienation, etc. Most existentialists did not believe in a higher power but those that did believed God may have created man, but then he left man to his own devices. There are lots of varying degrees to this belief, so this is a simplification.

Absurdism is a more extreme philosophy. Absurdism is the belief that there is no meaning to life, or no meaning in the universe, so that man’s attempts to search for such meaning are “absurd” because that meaning does not exist. Some absurdists believe in a slightly different view, that there IS meaning, but that man cannot find it, and the only thing that gives meaning to life is absurdism itself and that man should embrace the fact that life is absurd if he wants to survive. This was the view of Camus. He believed man should embrace the absurd and live in spite of it. If man could do this, this was all he could hope for in life.

Pretty grim stuff. This philosophy was in many ways an outgrowth of the pessimism inflicted upon the world after two horrific world wars that left footprints of hopelessness on the world.

If you do some research, you can define these terms even further.

besure77 eNotes educator| Certified Educator


Absurdism was created out of the existentialist movement. It holds to the belief that any rational thoughts that one may derive out of life or existence is meaningless, or absurd. It states that humans cannot find any meaning in the universe because meaning does not exist. Absurdism became very popular following WWII, one of the reasons being the devastation of France.


Soren Kierkegaard has been coined the "father of existentialism." He believed that the individual person is responsible for giving their life meaning. Life is presented with many obstacles along the way and people should live life as passionately as they can. Existentialism became very popular during the 1940's and 1950's.

kc4u | Student

This is by way of addition---

I do think that basically absurdism is an offshoot of existentialist philosophy, but having said that, the relation is self-reflexive and a little parodic too. Many of the so-called absurdist novelists and playwrights use existentialism in a self-conscious and backhand way. Great examples of this would be the early plays of Samuel Beckett--Waiting for Godot and Endgame, the plays of Harold Pinter to begin with---Birthday Party, Caretaker nad Jean Genet's The Balcony. While Beckett de-philosophizes his tramps Didi, Gogo, Hamm, Clov, Pinter further reduces them to pseudo-realistic domestic spaces. Genet makes a focused politico-racial theatre out of it.

As far as Camus was concerned, absurdism has relations to existentialism in defying logic as a system, considering the human relation with the world as absurd (not really meaningless because there is no meaning at all but since meaning has been infinitely complicated out of existence). The lack of an essential meaning is the link with existentialism, but the new focalization of the philosophical discourse of suicide, the happiness and labour situation of Sisyphus, the infinitely repeatable time frame and a political figuration of the outsider as a rebel---with Camus, the discourse of absurdism has a rather atheistic and political edge, unlike the problematically theistic discourse of Kierkegaard.