Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 379
American author Walker Percy’s 1961 novel The Moviegoer tells a poignant and humorous existential story. The plot concerns a young man who tries to find meaning for his life at the movies, with no satisfaction.
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Dangling Man (1944) was Nobel laureate Saul Bellow’s first novel. It presents a young man in the existential limbo of having been drafted into the army and waiting to be called up.
The Plague, by Albert Camus, examines how people react to an outbreak of bubonic plague in the north African town of Oran, Algeria. The range of human behaviors covered in this novel are as relevant today as they were when it was published in 1947.
Students often find Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical writings dense and unintelligible, but the essays in his book Existentialism and Human Emotions are chosen to introduce the philosophy to broad audiences.
Thus Spake Zarathustra is philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s lively, loose-knit allegorical exploration of the relationship between humanity and the world, considered to be the masterpiece of his formidable career. Nietzsche does not directly lecture but instead presents vignettes, mysteries, and riddles, laying the foundation for the existential approach to literature.
By 1961, when Joseph Heller’s absurdist war novel Catch-22 was published, the existential view of life’s meaninglessness had prevailed upon a generation. Set in a bombing squadron during World War II, the book uses humor to raise questions about contradictions that come from order and logic.
John Barth’s sprawling 1956 novel The Floating Opera approaches serious existential themes with humor and fantasy. The book hardly holds to a single plot, but its events center around man so extremely disillusioned with the world that he cannot even find a reason for his own suicide.
One of the central texts of the existential worldview, Søren Kierkegaard’s 1843 book Fear and Trembling examines the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac to raise questions about man’s place in the world and relation to God. This book is one of the best examples of religious Existentialism, as opposed to the French atheistic existentialism.
Famed psychotherapist and theologian Rollo May explained the considerable use of Existentialism in understanding the workings of the mind in The Discovery of Being: Writings in Existential Psychology, a collection of explanatory essays that was reprinted in 1983.