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Existentialism: Literature and Philosophical Landscape

Existentialism: Literature and Philosophical Landscape

Existentialism is a philosophical approach that focuses on the individual’s subjective experience of existence


Existentialism is a philosophical approach that focuses on the individual’s subjective experience of existence and the search for meaning in life.

It emerged in the 1940s in post-war France from a group of thinkers who were disillusioned with traditional philosophies that emphasized reason and rationality. Existentialism posits that human beings are free agents who must define their own existence and create their own meaning. The combined individual responsibility, freedom, and choice are the key themes of existentialism.

There are different school of thoughts in the philosophy of Existentialism. Let’s understand a few.

Schools of Thought

Existentialism has several contributors who have unique perspectives on the philosophy of being.

Three significant contributors include Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Jean-Paul Sartre is known for his atheistic existentialism and his view on existentialism as a humanism. According to Sartre, humans are entirely free, and they must create their own values since there is no essential human nature. Sartre believed that human freedom is frightening since it can lead to choices that may have unintended consequences.

On the other hand, Heidegger emphasizes the concept of being, which is the study of human existence and its underlying meaning. He believed that humans are destined to anxiousness and that communities shape human existence. He argues that humans must confront their mortality and the fact that they will eventually die.

Nietzsche, on the other hand, focuses on the idea of the individual and their will to power. According to Nietzsche, individuals must create their own moral values and live life passionately, as if it were their will to do so. He believed that the traditional morals of society are not suitable for everyone, and that the individual must find their own way.

Existential Literature

Existentialism has influenced modern literature significantly and provided a platform for expressing the themes of the philosophy.

Several literary works express the themes of existentialism, and one of the most representative is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground.” This novel discusses the individual’s struggle for meaning and the alienation that can result from modern society’s rationalization of human behavior.

It encourages people to be who they are and make choices based on their individual values, rather than conforming to social expectations.

Albert Camus, a French philosopher and author, wrote “The Stranger,” which highlights the idea of human absurdity. Meursault, the protagonist in the novel, finds himself facing charges of murder after he kills an Arab in a moment of passion, not fully comprehending the gravity of his actions.

Similarly, Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” discusses the concept of hell not being a place of eternal punishment but the infinite need to compare and compete among oneself. In this play, three characters are trapped in a room together and forced to confront their past actions, making them recognize their choices’ freedom. The play discusses the factors that influence human behavior and ultimately highlights the fact that humans are not chained by fate.

Impact of Existentialism on Modern Man

Existentialism has a significant impact on modern society. The 20th century witnessed an increase in the sense of alienation of human beings due to the increasingly rationalized and industrial world. Existentialism found relevance in this society, as it provided an avenue of thought for people who felt disconnected from traditional philosophical and religious tenets.

One of the significant impacts of existentialism is its challenge to traditional norms. It challenges people to look beyond traditional beliefs and convictions and to reflect on their own experiences. It allows individuals to explore the concepts of existence, freedom, and the search for meaning in their own ways. The philosophy creates a platform for people to contemplate and accept their personal experiences and explore their own potential for self-exploration.

This philosophy offers an alternative to the traditional concept of meaning that diminishes human suffering and reducing it to something that can be rationalized and tamed. Existentialism creates a space for the validation of individuals’ experiences, regardless of how non-conforming they may seem. It allows people to recognize the absurdity of life and to find ways of coping with such an absurd existence.

Implications for Modern Man

Existentialism has a significant impact on modern society, and it can help people uncover meaning in their lives. It emphasizes the importance of being present in the moment and connected to the world.

It gives people permission to embrace their individuality and explore their inner selves. The philosophy allows individuals to create their own meaning and values in life, based on personal reflection and exploration.

Existentialism also provides people with an alternative to the traditional lived experience, encouraging them to seek out a more meaningful existence. It encourages people to be who they are and make choices based on their individual values, rather than conforming to social expectations.


Existentialism provides a different view of the meaning of life and has become more relevant in today’s modern world. This philosophy emphasizes that humans are free, responsible and individuals of their own existence. This essay has discussed the variety of schools of thought and the literary works that express this philosophy of being, and how it affects modern man. Existentialism can help individuals validate and explore their experiences, providing an anchor for their identity, and exploring their own way of existentialism. In conclusion, existentialism is recognized as a philosophical framework that promotes the individual’s subjective experience and provides a valuable tool for examining meaning and valuable contributions to modern society.


Shoukat LoharShoukat Lohar is Assistant professor in English at Mehran University of Engineering and Technology Jamshoro. He can be reached at Shoukat.ali@faculty.muet.edu.pk



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