Existentialism and Symbolism in Literature Free Essay Example

April 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

Existentialism is important for all those philosophers who think that nature of human condition is key philosophical problem and this problem can be addressed by ontology (which deals with all those concepts that are related to being, specifically becoming, existence, reality etc.). Philosophers who support existentialism think that this concept comes from the continent of Europe mainly in 19th and 20th century (Burnham, and Papandreopoulos). Both existentialist-leaning writers, Ford and Hemingway have shown common existential traits in their writings. Existential traits for both the stories will be discussed here.

Richard Ford’s “Under the Radar” has this existential trait, ‘life is oftentimes random and irrational.’ Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” has this trait, ‘as a result, the anxiety of being alone in the universe, is a condition of life.’ Similarity between both the stories is sequence of the events that are present in them. Moreover, no one can predict about the end from the flow of both the stories.

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Elements of fiction will be discussed for both the stories here.

In Richard Ford’s “Under the Radar”, the element of fiction is irony. This term explains certain meanings as it distinguishes between reality and appearance, fulfilment and expectation or the complications belonging to experience.. The story shows irony of situation as there is discrepancy between appearance and reality or between expectation and fulfilment. The story is not only plot driven but also shows series of actions that lead to unexpected twist in the end. This element of fiction is related to the story as it tells about situation of a husband and a wife where the wife Marjorie admits to her husband that she had an affair with George Nicholson a year ago.

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This life changing news shocked her husband Steven Reeves and he hit his wife on her nose. After apologizing for striking her, Marjorie insisted that he should get out of the car to help an injured raccoon. When Steven gets out of the car, his wife turns the car. Steven life was cut tragically short by own wife.

Lines that are supporting this element of fiction (irony) are: Above two lines are taken from the story that shows irony situation. The first line shows a shocking news that wife tells her husband about her affair. They have been married since 2 years and spending a happy life with each other. This shocking news creates definitely an irony situation for the husband. Element of fiction ‘irony’ is shown in the above mention line 2, when Marjorie started the car to hit her husband and Steven saw a glow coming towards him. The story was plot driven at the start but ends with an unexpected twist. Along with strong plot and irony, characterisation is another element of fiction in the story. There are two characters that are mainly focused and Ford explains about these characters very well with the help of following two lines: Above two lines are taken from the story which show strong characterisation.

First line explains character of the wife Marjorie, about her people thought that she would not continue her marriage more than two years. Marjorie is considered to be frivolous as compared to husband Steven, who is really sweet. Talking about above mentioned line number 2, it tells about George Nicholson who is a lawyer and a very rich man. Marjorie cheated her husband because of her affair with George Nicholson. Symbolism is another element of fiction in Ford’s story. Symbols have various layers of meanings. This story of Richard Ford uses situation as a symbol. The raccoon being hit by the beat-up Ford pickup is used to symbolize their relationship after Marjorie tells her husband about her one year ago affair with George Nicholson.

In Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, the element of fiction is plot. The plot of the story is strong as it tells about sequence of situations (Henneke). There isn’t any kind of action or hint of any motivation of the characters in depth. Shortly before the death of Hemingway, critics claimed that printed version of this story does not make any sense as apparently there is loss of the track which waiter speaking what line (Flora). Scribner’s sons suggested alternation and later provided readers with a dialogue among the waiters alternated properly. The story tells about two waiters at a Spanish café who were gossiping about an old and deaf customer. Waiters are waiting for him to leave so that they can close up. The younger waiter is impatient to go to his wife and has no sympathy for the old man. The older waiter is reluctant to close the café but later, he closed it and has a cup of coffee at a bodega. He then goes home to stay awake until it is day light.

Lines that are supporting this element of fiction (plot) are: Above lines are directly taken from the stories and show that there is sequence of simple events as there is no action. Like other stories of Hemingway, this story is brief and has few characters involved. The story is concerned with the search for refuge and for transcendent meaning as this has been shown in the title too (Flora). The writer leaves his readers wondering a lot at the end of the story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” but does not resolve anything himself. The famous ‘Our nada’ prayer recalls other prayers in the work of Hemingway. Like author’s works as ‘ToDay Is Friday’ and ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, this story is also dramatic. Deaf man is feeling the quietness of the last hour and his image represents ultimate significance of life in the face of death. The story doesn’t provide identification of the lines spoken by the two waiters. The opening lines of the story says ‘…Last week he tried to commit suicide.’ It focuses the religious dimension also (Flora). Suicide is not incidental topic for the speaker of this line (i.e. spoken by one of the waiters). It is one of the greatest sins as it shows despair from God’s mercy for the orthodox. As the course of the dialogue continues, traditional judgement of the suicide becomes inappropriate. As older waiter not only feels for the old man but also cherishes his dignity. According to Carol Dell’ Amico, Hemingway shows his sadness with his own father history in this story (Kim).

Although old and deaf man is not bothering anyone in the story but younger waiter seems annoyed by his presence. Hemingway uses characterization to present the characters and to describe the condition of old man (Kim). The younger waiter wants to close the café as his wife is waiting. His character shows impatience and insensitivity. On the other hand, older waiter not only pays attention the old/ deaf man but also listens carefully to his companion. He might be looking his own future as he sees old man because he feels about his isolation and loss more. The word ‘nothing’ had different meaning for him and this meaning is philosophical which his companion waiter cannot grasp. He also speaks to himself a lot.

In the concluding part of the story, the older waiter himself becomes customer tough the narrator continues to use word ‘waiter’ for him. In other words, he emulates the old man. And it is Hemingway’s one of the most successful puns. Both the writers Ford and Hemingway have unique style of writing (Egri). While writing the stories, both the writers focus on surface elements without explicitly discussing underlying themes and this is the beauty of their work. They involve their readers without giving any hint about the end thus grabbing full attention of them.


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