Existentialism in American Literature “I must find a truth that is true for me, the idea for which I can live or die,” (Sfren Kierkegaard).
Being the first acknowledged existentialist, Kierkegaard s ideas set the standards. Existentialist ideas are based mainly on the individual, his plights, and his confrontations. Ernest Hemingway, another existentialist and author of “A Clean Well-lighted Place,” shows multiple examples of this philosophy in his work. The universe s indifference to humanity, an emphasis on individualism, and a focus on death and its role in human life are all ideals represented in the story. During the early portion of the short story a discussion about an old man’s suicide attempt occurs.
Because the waiter has no compassion for the old man he expresses his disregard for this man s life; “He should have killed himself last week,” (Hemingway 30).
The waiter even relates his feelings to the old man; “You should have killed yourself last week,” (Hemingway).
Walt Whitman: Transcendentalism By the late 19 th century, Walt Whitman had become positioned at the forefront of the American cultural lexicon. His poetry was at once brash, dissonant and resoundingly erotic. His raw, unabashed poetry flew in the face of the prevailing ideals of his time. Whitman's greatest literary accomplishment, Leaves of Grass, had set the ideas of divinity, the hierarchy of ...
This clear disregard for human life represents the universe s indifference to humanity, and existentialist belief. Along with the universe s indifference to humanity, an emphasis upon death is shown through the elderly man s suicide attempt. The waiter tells how he would rather be dead than to become an old man; “I wouldn t want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing,” (Hemingway 31).
This seemingly insensitive remark is telling of the acceptance and normality of death in humanity. Death is inevitable; existentialists accept L engen 2 this fact. An emphasis on death and its role in human life is a theme of existentialism and is depicted in Hemingway s short story. Amid the death and indifference a sense of individualism is present. The old man s attempt upon his life, again shows the freedom of choice that individuals possess. There is no obvious reason fo his suicide attempt other than his own choice.
The waiter informs his companion that the old man s financial standings give him no reason to do such a thing; “He s got plenty [of money],” (Hemingway 30).
Also the old man makes his own choices as far as when and where he spends his time. Again the older waiter s conversation with his coworker tells of the old man s individualist nature; “He stays up because he likes it,” (Hemingway 30).
These two instances clearly show and emphasis on the individual and his convictions, another existentialist theme. Throughout the short story, “A Clean Well-lighted Place,” existentialist ideas are present. The waiter s lack of concern for an elderly customer symbolizes the universe s indifference to humanity.
The old man s suicide attempt represents the normality and emphasis upon death and its role in human life. The suicide attempt along with the old man s choices show an emphasis on the individual and his tenets. Sfren Kierkegaard, as the first proclaimed existentialist started many of the beliefs of existentialism and shows them through his ideas and his quotation.