Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of the absurd?

The definition of the absurd is a narrative style characterized by an intentional lack of so-called traditional narrative elements.

(the) Absurd

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Last Updated on September 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 249

The absurd is an experimental style characterized by an intentional lack of concern with traditional narrative elements. Many absurdist works are concerned with the futility of life and the difficulty of finding meaning in an indifferent universe.

Absurd evolved from the Latin word absurdus, which translates to “out of tune.” It is composed of ab, meaning “of, from,” and surdus, which means “deaf, unresponsive.”

The word “absurd” is often used in relation to the theater of the absurd, a term coined by critic Martin Esslin in 1961 to describe the works of playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, and Eugène Ionesco. It is also associated with the philosophy of existentialism, which examines free will, authenticity, and the possibility of meaning.

Notable examples:

A famous example of the theater of the absurd is Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in which two men wait beneath a tree for someone named Godot, who by play’s end has not arrived.

Catch-22 is an absurdist novel by Joseph Heller. Set in World War II, it follows the struggles of a young airman named Yossarian, who resorts to increasingly outlandish tactics to overcome the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the US military and avoid taking part in dangerous bombing missions.

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, is an absurdist novella, in which Gregor Samsa wakes up having transformed into a gigantic bug. The change puts a burden on his family, and Gregor has to adapt to the new, inexplicable experience.

see: black comedy

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