On the Predicament of the Human Being in Modern Society in the Novel the Crying of Lot 49

Topics: Existentialism, Meaning of life, Jean-Paul Sartre Pages: 9 (3190 words) Published: October 26, 2011
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon is a canon of American postmodern literature. In this thesis, the author firstly expounds the anguish of existence after elaborating on the fundamental concept “existence precedes essence” in Sartrean existentialism, and then discusses the anguish of meaninglessness and of alienation resulting from absence of essence and the absurdity of the world. Confronting anguish, the protagonist is forced to examine the state of her existence, thus realizing that she has to get rid of the condition of lacking meaning so as to achieve authentic existence. In Sartrean existentialism, “free choice” is the prerequisite for choosing one’s state of existence. It is through “free choice” that the protagonist of The Crying of Lot 49 chooses to escape from the inauthentic existence and tries to reconstruct a true self by breaking away from the oppression, confinement and conformity of industrialized civilization, through which she hopes to find the meaning of existence and live an authentic life. However, all the efforts made by the protagonist finally end in failure, which dashes her hope of reconstructing her identity. The loss of identity plunges the protagonist into isolation and despair. Meanwhile, she can no longer expect to find the meaning of existence. What she has to face is chaos, disorder, void and absurdity of existence. Based on the above analysis, the author of the thesis draws the conclusion that The Crying of Lot 49 gives a thorough exhibition of the predicament of the human being in modern society. 1. Anguish of Existence

“Existence precedes essence” is the fundamental point of Sartrean existentialism. On this basis Sartre builds his theory of freedom. Human freedom is taken as the basic subject of existentialist philosophical analysis. According to Sartre, the human being has no pre-established essence or nature that can define what it is to be a real human being. There is no given rule that can confine human beings. This basic thinking of existentialism reveals the unstable situation of individuals as well as the astonished feeling of human beings in the modern world in which changes in science, technology and society are drastic, especially after World War II. Being in a society whose development and changes are rapid and uncontrollable, people feel universally that the whole world and the society are absurd and hostile, growing bewildered for the loss of significance of life. Existentialism is a philosophy that tries expounding such situation, using its own unique theory. In general, Sartre’s predication “existence precedes essence” brings us to the critical point where traditional truth we believed for a long time about existence and essence collapse, which forces us to reevaluate everything that we took for granted, subverts our preconceptions and shocks us into a new awareness about life. Jean-Paul Sartre, the most influential existentialist philosopher, has “probed into the meaning of being through the deep recess of man’s anxious and restless soul” (Stumpf 476). Now that all the preconceptions and established values are subverted in Sartrean existentialism, there is nothing left for the human being to rely on in order to exist in the world. However, this situation does not mean that there is nothing man can do to achieve his existence. Actually, according to Sartre, the human being can exist by choosing freely. In Sartrean existentialism freedom is reasonless. It simply enters into one’s world no matter he is willing or not. The absolute freedom leaves man in a state that he can do anything and be anything to the extent that he does not know where to start or what to do. Being faced with the absolute freedom, the human being encounters anguish when he senses that his choice “is original and cannot be justified by reasons” outside of his own choice (Yu 50). He will always enter upon “self-questioning concerning the rightness of the choice”...
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