How does existentialism reveal life philosophies and the human condition in modern literature?

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An essay on the relationship between existentialism and modern literature might focus on both the larger existentialist themes that appear throughout modern works and specific character studies. The existential crisis presents itself throughout modern literature, and it typically involves a moment of realization in which the main character is confronted with the lack of inherent meaning in life.

Existentialism in Modern Literature

Existentialism is alive and well in modern literature. Fight Club by author Chuck Palahniuk is a great example of existentialism presented through the lens of modern literature. The main character is a young man struggling with mental health issues who exhibits many of the classic ideas of existentialist thought. He rebels against society and its postmodern sensibilities, refusing to accept a world in which everything, including personal identity, is a commodity. The unnamed narrator goes through an existential crisis in which he questions whether his own life has any meaning. He is without goals or prospects and is confronted with the endless consumer cycle his life has become, which prompts him to take steps to create his own meaning. In this sense, Fight Club is both an existentialist story and a rebellion against postmodern thought.

Philosophies of Life and the Human Condition

Existentialism relates to philosophies of life and the human condition in many significant ways, the chief of which is the idea of the meaning of life. While other philosophies allow the individual to define life's meaning according to some inherent value in social structures, existentialism calls the very idea of meaning into question. In existentialist thought, meaning is entirely dependent upon the individual. If there is any meaning in the human condition, existentialist philosophers argue that it is up to the individual to create and define it. In this sense, the existentialist philosophy of life is a rebellion against blind obedience to authority and societal expectations and it results in a highly individualized mode of living.

One of the greater implications of existentialist thought on the human condition is that if meaning is a product of individual choice, so is suffering. No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre is an existentialist work that delves into the idea that Hell, used as a metaphor for human suffering, is created by humans and inflicted both upon the self and others. As Sartre expressed through his work, human existence may be an accident, but it is up to humans to use the freedom that has been given to them by chance to determine what purpose their lives will have, if any.

Existential Plights in Characters

Throughout modern literature, existentialist themes often result in a crisis of identity or purpose for the main character. From the ubiquitous "mid-life crisis" to existential crises in youth, characters at all stages of life are shown to experience moments of questioning that lead them to a deeper understanding of the meaning of life. This understanding can range from personal to universal in scope. In the Fight Club example, the narrator's existential plight manifests in the form of Tyler Durden, a creation of the narrator's imagination. The narrator's existential plight reaches its climax when he realizes that he created Tyler and he is both in control of and responsible for the harm he brings to others.

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