Here's an essay I wrote on it for school this year:
Who would ever have thought that something so common could be so complex? Everyone has one, yet there is no way to explain it. Of course the topic here is life: itís purpose and itís direction. Throughout history, and from all regions of the world, the greatest scholars, writers, and philosophers have struggled to understand the anomaly of the human existence, and, through their efforts, have produced some of the greatest works of literature in history. Through their works, it becomes possible for each person to understand their own life just a little bit better.
One philosophy that attempts to better achieve understanding of life is existentialism. Although there no stone-set definition of existentialism (and there is even disagreement on what it really is all about), it generally emphasizes the isolation of life in an indifferent universe regards life as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the cost of one's acts. How can something that seemingly explains nothing about the human existence help people to comprehend the mystery of life? Hereís the tricky part: existentialist works of literature allow their readers to draw their own conclusions and take from the material what they perceive it to contain. Thus, what one reader of existentialism derives from it may be completely different from another. This being said, I will now attempt to share exactly what I personally have gained from studying existentialism and the works therein.
One piece of literature by existentialist scholar and philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, No Exit attempts to help provide an understanding and visualization of life after death. Although many have tried to capture the true horror of what ďhellĒ could be like, in my opinion, none could be more horrible than that in No Exit. The hell visualized in this novel is not a place of physical torture, it is rather pain that is emotionally self-inflicted by the presence of other people. This short story is not only the authorís view on the afterlife, but I believe that it also helps to explain time on earth: that pain and suffering is often caused by the actions of people around us, and that real hell can develop of one allows it to.
One work by famous existentialist philosopher, Albert Camus, The Stranger, helped me to see life from an existentialistís point of view. Through its raw and simplified style, it became evident to me the attempt to convey the belief in the absurdity and pointlessness of life. As I read the novel, I began to draw the preemptive conclusion that existentialism was a very negative and pessimistic way of looking at life. However, with the completion of the book, I realized that the main focus of existentialism is not to depress readers, but rather to inspire them by helping them to realize that you are in control of your life, and the choices and decisions you make will ultimately determine itís outcome.
On itís surface, the belief system and philosophy that comprises existentialism may seem to indicate that because life is absurd and lacks direction, it is not worth living. In reality, however, existentialists believe in life and fighting for it. While fighting for life, each person must face important and difficult decisions with only limited knowledge and time in which to make these decisions. Human life is actually a series of decisions that must be made without knowing what the correct choice is. Individuals must decide what standards to except and which ones to reject. Thus, it can be concluded that existentialists can enjoy and appreciate life; indeed perhaps existentialism promotes making the most of it. Dylan Thomasí ďDo Not Go Gentle into that Good NightĒ exemplifies this belief. It seems to stress that, no matter who you are or how your life was lived; in the end you must be personally fulfilled by the decisions you made in order to be able to truly accept death.
I agree with many of the basic aspects of existentialism. Existentialism is agreeable to those of us who do not rely on fate or chance to guide us through life. Despite containing a vast multitude of philosophical and religious ideologies, the underlying concepts of existentialism are simple. Mankind has free will. Life is a series of choices, shaping the final outcome. Few decisions are without any negative consequences, and some things are irrational or absurd, without explanation. If you make a decision, you must follow through. These decisions will ultimately form you into the person you are, so choose wisely.