Existentialism In Albert Camus' The Plague And Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot

945 words - 4 pages

All of the characters in The Plague and Waiting For Godot exist in their fictional worlds. However, none is able to explain why. Neither work gives the reader an explanation of human existence except to say that humans exist. Providing an answer to the question of existence would constitute a paradox. To an existentialist, if you answer the question, then you've missed the whole point.

Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts (Bigelow 134). Basically, existentialism addresses man's existence. An existentialist believes that man does not exist under God or as part of a society or race. Man does exist, and that is all. An explanation as to why man exists cannot be found. Finally, an individual exists not as a function of a greater good or evil; thus, the individual is free to live his life (135).

Existentialism as a literary movement is most often associated with post World War II France. The images that come to mind are of Frenchmen with uncombed beards, smoky basement cafes, and beatniks conversing with one another on the subject of despair between sips of absinthe. However, many of the most prominent existentialist writers had rigorous and significant experiences in the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France (Lottman 54). Out of true despair they formed ideas and posed questions of great importance. They sought to understand and explain human existence. They concluded that existence is to be acknowledged, but can never be explained.

Two existentialist works are Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot and Albert Camus'The Plague. Critics often associate Waiting For Godot with existentialism simply because it is hard to understand. By identifying the work with existentialism, it is easier to gain at least some notion of what Beckett is bringing to the reader. Regardless, Beckett's work does contain many aspects of existentialist thought. The Plague is perhaps the greatest existentialist novel ever written. Albert Camus was one of the more prominent and outspoken existentialists in history (Bigelow 136).

One of the major elements of existentialism is alienation. In Waiting For Godot, the two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, are isolated from everyone. They have no control over where they are going or what they are going to do. Only by chance will another person enter into the picture to provide companionship for a short time. The Plague also shows great isolation. Camus articulates his belief that humans are isolated and alone through Oran's situation. Oran is cut off from the outside world. No ships are allowed to enter the port, which brings about the death of commerce. For...

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