Existentialism, the root in all our readings

Existentialism, the idea that every person has the power to determine what has importance in their life, because you are the person in power of your own choices and actions. Both King Lear and The Stranger dance around the subject of existentialism, but they both do it in different ways. Meursault’s approach to life is very different from Lear’s but they both went through a major change in terms of what concepts impact their lives. Lear’s identity crisis results in a total change of how he approaches life. The old Lear, naively believed in typical family hierarchy, placing himself at the top, and putting his daughters below. These ideals lead him to expect his daughters to listen and obey to all his commands. Once Lear discovers that his life will not play out how it does in his head, his existential crisis begins. 

Lear put so much blind faith into things like family, power, and wealth, that he structured his whole identity around it. This is similar to how characters in The Stranger were comforted by similar concepts. Marie’s fixation with finding love, the prisoner’s hold in religion, and Salamano’s use of friendship. When Lear lost everything that identified him, he was lost. He realized that ”Man’s life is cheap as beast’s” (2.4.307), marking the start of his character change. Out in the storm he felt that he lost everything that was important to him, so he felt he had lost who he was as a person. As his journey went on, he learned to prioritize other things.

While Lear did not come to the same conclusion as Meursault, he does grow as a person, his priorities shift, he starts to care about others, he cries “O, I have ta’en/Too little care of this” (3.4.37-38) when talking about the poor, homeless people he encounters once banished from his home. Where Meursault came to believe that everyone is born to die, so nothing in life really matters. Lear grows to think that these man made ideas are not always the things that should take priority in our lives. Lear acknowledges that, “The art of our necessities is strange/And can make vile things precious” (3.2.76-77). Emphasizing that everyone’s life is different, and everyone is in control of what gives their life meaning.

Lear goes through a transformation from King Lear, the narcissistic, power hungry man to Lear, a man who puts others before himself, and cares for those who he deems deserve it. After his existential crisis, he no longer identifies himself based off of what he has, but who he surrounds himself with. Lear gave his life a new meaning, and it turned him into a better person.

One thought on “Existentialism, the root in all our readings

  1. cassie m

    This is such a good connection! In both stories, the characters grow (and in Meursault’s case affirm what they already know) through existentialism. Thus, by debunking the social structures around them, a person is able to grow and gain perspective on the world around them. Perhaps it’s the social structures that are holding other people back from the growth that Meursault and Lear undergo.


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