How is existential angst portrayed in fiction? – 71Bait

This content contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, we may receive an affiliate commission.

The existential movement emerged in the 19th century and then slowly conquered the literary world. Existential literature captures the chaos and meaninglessness of our world. At a time when “things are falling apart; the middle can’t hold” is literature that depicts existential fears, not aesthetics, but the need of the hour. Many people feel that their daily chores are a futile hamster wheel, and the literature confirms this feeling. When the adult world is urging us to come out of the emptiness we hold inside, existentialist literature reassures us that it’s okay to feel that way.

In “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”, Ottessa Moshfegh’s unnamed protagonist is the dystopian interpretation of “Sleeping Beauty”. She is an art history graduate in her twenties living the conventionally desired life. She has an inheritance that pays for her lifestyle and the social capital that comes with being pretty. Despite having everything, she keeps her existential crisis in a stranglehold. She is still coming to terms with the death of her parents, with whom she did not have the ideal relationship. Her depression is spiraling out of control and the constant emptiness she feels is gaining strength every day. She then decides to go into a chemically induced hibernation.

Growing up in a household where she rarely found warmth and love impacted our narrator’s ability to invest in genuine human relationships. Her troubled relationship with her friend Reva and her boyfriend contributes to her existential estrangement. It is a cautionary tale, warning readers to take note of an emotionally flawed life. Moshfegh’s characters are always repellent, or repelled by themselves, and My year of rest and relaxation Protagonist is no different. The narrator’s exhaustion and escapism are universal. Her need to escape from herself, even if the consequences are dire, is understandable to anyone who can’t find any reason at all to get out of bed. Her need to sleep through her life is not suicide but an instinct for self-preservation. Consciousness will demand that she confront the fullness of her being and the existential crisis that engulfs her whole. Moshfegh’s protagonist is far too exhausted to work on herself or out of herself.

Notes of a Crocodile book cover

Qiu Miaojin’s Notes Of A Crocodile introduces us to Lazi, a queer woman growing up in 1980s Taipei. The plot revolves around her existential angst as she tries to embrace her sexuality and find love in people who exhibit hot and cold behavior. The heartbreak of youth is palpable in Miaojin’s writing. The hard knocks of a homophobic society and the ups and downs of first love are too much for Lazi. Lazi writes,

“Most people go through life without ever living. They say one must learn to construct a self that remains free despite the system. And you have to get used to the idea that in this world everyone is for themselves. It takes a strange confidence in having everything performed in minute detail in front of the world.”

She is highly intelligent and confident, which makes one wonder if her emotional acuity is a reason she is so unhappy and existentially angst. Her desire for social interaction directly contradicts her desire to hide from everyone. Living in a society where queer people are considered transgressors contributes to their fragmentary identity. Between the chapters that focus on Lazi, there are surrealistic accounts of crocodiles that think and speak like humans but aren’t humans. These crocodiles do not belong to the society they belong to, as they are constantly being fetishized by it. These chapters further emphasize the theme of existential dread, as the crocodiles stand as a metaphor for Lazi’s failed attempts to find a sense of belonging.

James Baldwin said, “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me to all the people who lived, who had ever lived.” While literature, the While focusing on existential anxiety may not ease our suffering, it gives us a home, albeit fictional, to return to. It connects us to the rest of humanity, telling us that we are not the first people to feel lonely and we definitely won’t be the last. We suffer, but our suffering does not only affect us. It is the universal human condition, and perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that we are here together.

Leave a Comment