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 Waiti...
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... them to reevaluate their relations to others and to question their own existence. At first, most citizens assume that they will not get the plague, but they soon realize that even they are not immune to it. In this way they question their own humanity and are faced with something bigger than they have ever contemplated. They, like Vladimir and Estragon, are unable to come up with answers.
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. The key is in asking the question. The realization is in accepting that there is no answer
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