The Existentialism Of Norman Mailer English Literature Essay

Thesis statement: Norman Mailer (1923—2007) is one of the most important contemporary literary figures of America.His famous The Naked And the Dead (1948) brought him enormous prestige,and since then he had been regarded as a famous representative of the postwar American literature.First,he had developed a kind of American existentialism;Second,he was honored as the contemporary US existential writer;Third, his new journalism and non—fiction novel won him two Pulitzer prize of literature in 1968 and 1979.This dissertation conducts the research on Norman Mailer’s existentialism and to discuss Mailer’s existentialism by philosophy terms,it must be compared with European existentialism which could be represented by the philosophy of Heidegger and Sartre,and it must be taken into account the characters of the acceptance of the American scholars to the European existentialism in the postwar days, which Mailer advocated both in his works and personality.

Ⅰ. Introduction

Ⅱ. The Classification of Existentialism in Norman Malier’s Works

The introduction of the existentialism

Definition and background

The center idea of the existentialism

The cause

The World WarⅡ

2. The influence of the existentialism in France

3. The prevalence of totalitarianism

Ⅲ. The Existentialism in Norman Malier’s Works

A. The Exemplification of The Naked and The Dead

1. The Endangering self alien force

2. The lack of goals and pursuit anxiety

3. Full of despair pessimism

B. The Exemplification of An American Dream

1. The revolt of modern mainstream society

2. The revert to self-process

Ⅳ. Existentialism in the personal character

Ⅴ. Conclusion


Ⅰ. Introduction.................................................................................................................1

Ⅱ. The Classification of Existentialism in Norman Malier’s Works............................1

A. The introduction of the existentialism………………………………………….2

1. Definition and background…………………………………………………..2

The center idea of the existentialism……………………………………….3

B. The cause ……………………………………………………………………....5

1. The World WarⅡ…………………………………………………………..5

2. The influence of the existentialism in France……………………………...5

3. The prevalence of totalitarianism…………………………………………..6

Ⅲ. The Existentialism in Norman Malier’s Works…………………………………..7

A. The Exemplification of The Naked and The Dead……………………………7

1. The Endangering self alien force…………………………………………..7

2. The lack of goals and pursuit anxiety………………………………………8

3. Full of despair pessimism…………………………………………………..8

B. The Exemplification of An American Dream………………………………………9

1. The revolt of modern mainstream society…………………………………….9

2. The revert to self-process……………………………………………………..9

Ⅳ. Existentialism in the personal character……………………………………….10

Ⅴ. Conclusion………………………………………………………………………….10


The Existentialism of Norman Mailer

Tang Meijun

School of Foreign Languages, CWNU, Nanchong, China, 637009

Abstract: Norman Mailer(1923-2007)was a contempary Amelican novelist with great

Success and striking personality.He kept writing for more than half a century,leaving many glorious masterpiece.The existentialism he advocated,made a great effect on American literary even the whole Society.He won the Pulitzer Prize and the prestigious National Book Award. Increasingly colored by radical politics and existentialism in the 1960s, Mailer's writing attempts to engage and reenact the major crises of the modern world to affect greater understanding of self and society.

Keywords: Norman Mailer; existentialism; totalitarianism

Ⅰ. Introduction

To understand a writer and his work,we may do research in many perspectives.The influence from the outer world to a writer, creation is an essential part which cannot be neglected by critics.Existentialism is a philosophical and literary movement that is generally considered as a study that pursues meaning in existence and seeks value for the existing individua1.It emphasizes on action, freedom and decision as fundamental to human existence and is opposed to the rational tradition positivism. Moreover,it tends to view human beings as subjects in an indifferent,objective,often ambiguous, and absurd universe.Existentialism is often associated with anxiety,dread,awareness of death and freedom.

An outspoken intellectual and celebrity, Norman Mailer is a controversial figure in contemporary American literature. Increasingly colored by radical politics and existentialism in the 1960s, Mailer's writing attempts to engage and reenact the major crises of the modern world to affect greater understanding of self and society, and is mirrored in reality by his active participation in national events. Mailer achieved sudden fame with his first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948).An independent thinker who eschews identification with literary and political circles, Mailer has given forceful expression to the voice of alienation and disillusionment in postwar American society.

Norman Mailer hailed as the most qualified to represent the era of American writer. This is based on his imagination and extraordinary courage. He reflects the era of the most significant issues in his unique way, in fact, is based on his shaping ability. Rather than based on his one masterpieces .He uses sharp strokes, unmatched analytical ability and the courage to report the major event in American society ,and shows them the real America life in front of the reader by the form of novels.

Ⅱ. The Classification of Existentialism in Norman Malier’s Works

Existentialism is a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. (from oxford dictionary) . The existentialist philosophical discourse is not abstract traditional philosophy, rather focus on the present, focus on life. While not the real existence, but refers to the existence of the spirit, put the psychological consciousness (anxiety, despair, fear, etc.)with the reality of the existence of social existence and take it as the only existence.

The Introduction of the Existentialism

Existentialist literature is popular in Europe and America in the 20th century, a literary and artistic schools of thought. It stems from the philosophy of existentialism, existentialist philosophy reflected in literature.

Definition and Background

There has never been general agreement on the definition of Existentialism. The term is often seen as a historical convenience as it was first applied to many philosophers in hindsight, long after they had died. In fact, while Existentialism is generally considered to have originated with Kierkegaard, the first prominent existentialist philosopher to adopt the term as a self-description was Jean-Paul Sartre. According to philosopher Steven Crowell, defining Existentialism has been relatively difficult, and he argues that it is better understood as a general approach used to reject certain systematic philosophies rather than as a systematic philosophy itself.

Although many outside Scandinavia consider the term existentialism has originated from Kierkegaard himself, it is more likely that Kierkegaard adopted this term (or at least the term "existential" as a description of his philosophy) from the Norwegian poet and literary critic Johan Sebastian Cammermeyer Welhaven. This assertion comes from two sources. The Norwegian philosopher Erik Lundestad refers to the Danish philosopher Fredrik Christian Sibbern. Sibbern is supposed to have had two conversations in 1841, the first with Welhaven and the second with Kierkegaard. It is in the first conversation that it is believed that Welhaven came up with "a word that he said covered a certain thinking, which had a close and positive attitude to life, a relationship he described as existential". This was then brought to Kierkegaard by Sibbern.

The second claim comes from the Norwegian historian Rune Slagstad who claims to prove that Kierkegaard himself said the term "existential" was borrowed from the poet. He strongly believes that it was Kierkegaard himself who said that "Hegelians do not study philosophy 'existentially'; to use a phrase by Welhaven from one time when I spoke with him about philosophy". On the other hand, the Norwegian historian Anne-Lise Seip is critical of Slagstad, and believes the statement in fact stems from the Norwegian literary historian Cathrinus Bang.(wikipedia)

The Center Idea of the Existentialism

Existence refers to the human existence, and ‘Essence’ refers to the human social conception. Existentialism believes existence precedes essence. That is to say, if a man wants to be a man, to be an entire whole man, he must start with knowing himself, knows the society, goes into the society, takes on commitment, and becomes in essence a man. Existentialism aims to indicate for man in a hostile or indifferent universe the philosophy of being man and philosophy of going into a society, and instructs people how to exist and how to be man. Existentialism encourages people to go advance optimistically, to depend on himself and to start with existence, to find himself and to enter the society actively, to realize his value and to become a real man. Existentialism also rouses people to start with himself, to take on commitment, to exceed himself, and taking up the humanitarianism as his tenet, to create the society and initiate a harmonious social life.

It is often claimed in this context that a person defines himself or herself, which is often perceived as stating that they can wish to be something—anything, a bird, for instance—and then be it. According to most existentialist philosophers, however, this would constitute an inauthentic existence. Instead, the phrase should be taken to say that the person is (1) defined only insofar as he or she acts and (2) that he or she is responsible for his or her actions. For example, someone who acts cruelly towards other people is, by that act, defined as a cruel person. Furthermore, by this action of cruelty, such persons are themselves responsible for their new identity (a cruel person). This is as opposed to their genes, or 'human nature', bearing the blame.

As Sartre writes in his work Existentialism is a Humanism: " first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards." Of course, the more positive, therapeutic aspect of this is also implied: A person can choose to act in a different way, and to be a good person instead of a cruel person. Here it is also clear that since humans can choose to be either cruel or good, they are, in fact, neither of these things essentially.

Living in a world where each one has his own standard to do his business,we often confront and fight with each other,thus contradictions are inevitable.Sartre’s second view is that man is free to choose.To him, man is radically free to act independently of determination by outside influences.It sounds like a happy dream. However.extreme freedom usually leads to loneliness.Sartre does not believe that God will save man. "Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist,and man is in consequence forlorn,for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himseIf." (from Existentialism Is a Humanism,p215)To Sartre,God of course does not exist.

B. The Cause

Existentialism popular in the United States, has a deep social roots. First, the World WarⅡ led people thinking of their own survival state, which is the unavoidable problem to Mailer; Second, the prevalence of post-war totalitarian society in the United States also forced Mailer and other sensitive intellectuals to think: how to maintain the independence of oneself in a depressive totalitarian society ; In addition, the French existentialism also formed Mailer's existentialism .

The World WarⅡ

World War II is a great catastrophe in the history of mankind. Harsh reality caused people's psychological trauma. After this war,the whole society were in the lack of security especially the massacre of the Jews and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb explosion .Entire world were in helpless despair. The recovery of the economy and science and technology brought material wealth, but this is not able to make the human rebuild confidence,instead constitute their survival and development to a larger deeper into threats. The feelings between people were increasingly indifferent, suspect fulfilled people's inner world.Materialism olive stream in the world, the people gradually become a vassal of the machine,a slave to money, the inner silence suddenly lost emotions have long plagued the people, but also inspire such a pessimistic and depressed by their pen. Therefore, existence seems to be hopeless, meaningless.

As a witness of the World WarⅡ , Mailer witnessed the demise of fresh life in gunfire and saw buried bodies over hills and also saw human cold, cruel. So he had a deeper understanding of the war compared to others.World War II nightmare can not be forgot . It allowed people to sit down thinking their own situation and to explore their own way out, which brought Mailer more philosophical thinking.

The Influence of the Existentialism in France

The becoming of Mailer's existentialism is also inseparable from a certain cultural background: the French existentialism spread in the United States after World War II had a subtle impact on Mailer;thinking about the meaning and the value of existence in the United States, but also provided a rich soil to the formation of Mailer's existentialism theory.

French existentialist Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus in 1946, 1947 visited the United States then promoted existentialism in the United States. At that time, Sartre, Camus and other Americans doubted if America could truly understand the existentialism.

Court Kim pointed out that in the experience of local life in the United States,in fact,there have long been all the existence of the meaning and value of the experience. (from existential). From Jonathan Edwards, Herman Melville to Emily Dickinson and William James, as early as before Sartre and his peers have studied the existence and the problems of the chance of the world . Therefore, in the United States can find existentialism without existentialist, which has the inner similar with European existentialism. Thus, under the impetus of Sartre and other European existentialist, existentialism developed rapidly and had an far-reaching impact on American literary. Today, the existentialism has become frequent courses of the department of Philosophy and Literature in the American, and has a considerable amount of followers.

The Prevalence of Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism repressed the personality is another reason for the rise of existentialism in the United States.Totalitarianism mentioned here mainly include two aspects: one is dominant, that is, more and more authoritarian, terrifying domestic political environment; the other is more hidden and difficult to be perceived, mainly performanced through the rapid development of modern industry, science and technology squeezed on the human personality .The essence of totalitarianism is "devoid of personality, diversity, opposition, extreme possibility , romantic belief.Weaken human instinct, eliminate past and discourage insight.".Mailer and other sensitive intellectuals clearly aware that totalitarianism does not exist only in fascist countries, it has spread to the United States.

Increasingly authoritarian policies of the military in the post-war U.S. ,authoritarian oppressive rule and modern industrial society subtle controlled people's thought , these have prompted the intellectuals such as Mailer to think about their own situation. "What kind of situation we are, how to keep the subjectivity of self" these issues constitute Mailer American-style existential motivation.

Ⅲ. The Existentialism in Norman Malier’s Works

The existentialist 1iterary writing ideology is realized by way of depicting three social phenomena:dissidents’power endangering ego-centered existence;expressing people’s lacking of any goals to pursue,and pessimism being filled up with fear and despair.The fiction not only discloses the American social contradictions,but also carries out a deep research and analysis on the American people’s mentality of that age.

A. The Exemplification of The Naked and the Dead

The Endangering Self Alien Force

On "The Naked and the Dead", the existential impact embodies in the individual exists in many alien force under the control of resisitence, struggle and frustration. In all the endangered self alien force, the first is the power. "Powers, especially the rich power and charm of dignitaries had been Mailer's center, he certainly will recorde its roleno matter where he is". In the naked and dead , almost all the conflicts and contradictions are around "Power" Mailer's amazing insight for power epitomized in two figures-- Cummings and Cloverfield.

Cummings as the supreme command Officer of the Enuobopei battle who is a figure with a fascist totalitarian ideology, he worships strong rights to has a strong desire to reign with the sense of privilege .In his view, the military should be distinct pecking, lower to higher levels must be obeyed. In the pursuit of power, the Platoon Sergeant Croft Cummings has the same point. Croft is also mad ,although he did not has clear set of theories as cummings, only connected himself with ambiguous fantasy in his soul .While he is a strong representative of "political storms decision", the deformity passion for any means to achieve their goals. This two "stronger" appeared in the "army" is not accidental, army there to Mailer represented organized state violence and collective repression. In this extreme area, the presence of individual personality has long been covered by the endless desire for authority and power.

In the novel, Cummings and Croft was not the final winner. In this huge war machine, they are also a tool, can not go beyond the entire human fate as well as unable to escape the fate of inevitable failure.

2. The Lack of Goals and Pursuit Anxiety

The Naked and the Dead tone is gloomy.,most of the characters descried incompetence and had no goals in life, they were fetterd by the reality and pressures of life. They not only felt anxious about personal life but also tortured by social problems.A novel about "personal morbid," is also a reflection of American society's morbid representing a generation of psyche crisis. characters revealed anxiety, it is one of the concepts of human nature .The existentialism think that man is born free and choose free.

Anxiety is that one can choose according to his main desire, but this choice can not escape him as human who has a heavy sense of responsibility, then selection will not only based on wishes of their own choices, therefore lead to the anguish in thinking and self-unconfidence which already deny general selection. This anxiety, evolved into the pain of a variety of options and choices which often lead to unconfident, strangeness and distortion sense.

In The Naked and the Dead, the anxiety generate from the behavior of many figures showing the conflict between freedom and living environment . Cummings is a loser essentially , the last victory has nothing to do with his plan, but is caused by a series of fortuitous events. In order to get a destroyer coordinate with his landing operation plan he labored, however when the destroyer arrives, the war on the island has been completed. He still commanded the destroyer bombing on the first beach, then to shore direct fire support. It was a farce with no plan and purpose. Mailer influenced by existentialism and the United States impacted by the impact of World War II was filled with pessimism and negative emotions. So he reproduced the novel's characters and plot with real people's emotions. Most of the soldiers in the novel were depressed, pessimistic and despair.

3. Full of Despair Pessimism

For the existentialist, human has nothing besides behaviour. Since some things can not be done, then it is meaningless for people .These things just means "no", that is to say "man has nothing except aiming to be something , only exist when manifests himself . Therefore, except the sum of the behaviour and life ,man are on the emptyfree for all. All existentialists believe that truth is the most reliable, while the so-called dream, hope are just disillusion and notachieve expectations. Existentialist denied hope, aspirations and a better emotional, they are pessimist full of despair.

B. The Exemplification of An American Dream

"An American Dream" is the 1965’works of Norman Mailer,which is his masterpiece of his existentialism idea.Novel modeled on "Hip-ster"(Norman Mailer used "Hip-ster" on behalf of the existentialist in the United Stated which painted a portrait of US) shaped the protagonist of the novel - Stephen Rojek.

1. The revolt of modern mainstream society

The characteristics of "Hip-ster" is drift to revert tradition and go to the unknown path of self independence. They are always trying to get rid of the mainstream culture . The protagonist of An American Dream Stephen Rojek manged to embody the feature of "Hip-ster". He had had a brilliant American Dream, "to struggle from the bottom of society , starting from scratch, finally success to reach the high society". After World War II, Stephen retired and was selected to be congressman, he felt so close to his American dream. Rojek, however, facing the future but appeared lost in thought. The novel described his psychological in the first person, "I always feel like acting, my existence is built above the nothingness. In the end, Stephen Rojek resigned congressman to be the University professor of psychology, get rid of the political circle.

In the end of the novel, the relationship between the development of Stephen Rojek with other characters embodied Stephen Rojek revert to the pursuit of self independence. But this process is a tough snare of the capitalist system for the living conditions of the middle class. Eventually he used violence, murder, and sexual perversion to express his resistance to mainstream society and fight for his right.

2. The revert to self-process

Existentialist is always concerned about the ultimate topic of life - death. Stephen Rojek always wanted to figure out what death really means ,whether death make sense to life. Stephen Rojek shot in the first battlefield ,he saw" the abyss " which led him go insane. This is what Norman Mailer depicts the psychological state of the fifties and sixties of the last century--What is the meaning of existence when facing death? What is the difference between alive and death?

In the contest of Stephen Rojek and his father in law kelly ,although Kelly had the power to dominate the United States, Stephen Rojek still chose force to against Kelly. This is a reflection of existentialist "Hip-ster"-- one should revert to self no matter how much violence been taken.

Ⅳ. Existentialism in the personal character

Mailer belongs to the kind of writer, "In order to create work he take part in life; On the other hand, he take his thoughts, opinions, performance, faith, hope, and even imagine into practice in his life ". He finds the subject in life, but also interprete his artistic ideas in life. He mixes life and art together to become the most personalized writer .

Mailer will not change because of other people's eyes, does not live in the rules set by the world, as long as what he thought was right .This idea is mentally fit with the existentialist shaped in the White Black. Mailer indulge his emotions, and his instinctive desire. In the balance of the moral and self-feeling, he point to self-feeling.

Mailer's language is bohemian, he believes that the language of the writer or artist should be different. Relative to the pursuit of elegant, sophisticated literary language, Mailer is more fond of risque language. Because Mailer believes: in a totalitarian society, filthy language better challenges the hypocrisy democratic system in the United States then stimulate people's obedience conservative consciousness and prompting the awakening of the American people.

Ⅴ. Conclusion

It is proved that when Mailer's existentialism came out, it is like a bomb damaged public opinion. It encourages people to rethink the human relationship with God, the relationship of the individual and society, as well as the individual and the relationship of self to wake up the repressed self-awareness. It reveals the more and more totalitarian rule under the appearance of "civilized", "democracy" , so that people had a more clear understanding of World War II and domestic authoritarian rule and rampant technology.