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Existentialism in The Trial and Nausea  

The Trial and Nausea   Webster's Dictionary defines Existentialism as a "philosophic doctrine of beliefs that people have absolute freedom of choice and that the universe is absurd, with an emphasis on the phenomena of anxiety and alienation." As Existentialism was coming to the foreground of the philosophical world during the 1940's, a group of Existentialist philosophers became well-known public figures in America. Their philosophies were commonly discussed in magazines, and their concepts of man's ultimate freedom of choice were quite intriguing to readers.

Two philosophers who embodied this set of beliefs were Jean-Paul Sartre and Franz Kafka. These men displayed their beliefs mostly through novels. Sartre wrote Nausea, the story of a man's struggle to find meaning in a world in which most everything gives him a paralyzing sense of sickness. Kafka relayed his thoughts through Joseph K., a man who has been put on trial without being given any information about what he's done. The outcomes of Kafka's The Trial and Sartre's Nausea are two examples of the effects on a man who questions his existence.

The main focus of Nausea is Antoine Roquentin's experience with what he describes as the "Nausea." The overwhelming absurdity of his everyday experiences create this sickness. Roquentin's first experience with this sickness is described when he reaches down to pick up a slip of paper: "Objects should not touch because they are not alive. You use them, put them back in place, you live among them: they are useful, nothing more. But they touch me, it is unbearable. I am afraid of being in contact with them as though they were living beasts" (Sartre 10). The term "Nausea" has since become common when the subject of Existentialism is brought up. It is an excellent term to describe the sudden realization that things are not as one had previously perceived them to be and that there is great weight in the matter of existence. Roquentin's battle with his own mind to find meaning in life has become one of the most effective manifestations of Existentialist thought in literature. Along with the writings of Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett, Sartre's writings are among the most highly regarded of the Existentialist works.

Franz Kafka wrote a novel which evaluates a similar state of mind. The Trial deals with a much different situation, in which a man's freedom, and possibly even his life, literally hangs in the balance. The events of the trial exist certainly as a metaphor in that outside societal forces cause the protagonist's insecurities about existence. The man Joseph K. resembles the mind of Sartre's Roquentin, and the conflict between the court and K. appears to parallel Roquentin's bout between body and mind. In Nausea, Roquentin's plight is a result of his own mind. Although this is quite a defined contrast to K.'s problems, Kafka's goals are reached in a similar fashion. He also reaches with great profundity the tragic conclusion that life ultimately lacks meaning.

The ideas of Existentialism are effectively displayed within The Trial and Nausea. Though presented in completely different manners--one approach is in the mental realm while the other is in the physical--both novels have similar messages. Both convey the messages of existentialism and the great lack of meaning that existentialists found in life. These novels are important taken at several levels.

 

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