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The Meaning of Absurd

The word, absurd, is an adjective that qualifies something wild, ludicrous, unreasonable, inappropriate, or illogical.

Origin of the Term Absurd

Albert Camus, a French philosopher, writer, and playwright, introduced the term absurd in his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942). Camus proposed, “The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.” Camus referred to the clash between human logic and the futility of human action guided by the same logic. He believed that the feeling of the absurd aroused from the discord between desire and reality. The conflict between ideal and practical, and logical and ludicrous urged the sentiments of the meaninglessness of existence. Human beings have an innate desire to find meaning and purpose in life. However, this desire faces severe opposition from certain forces of nature that make its fulfilment impossible. Like Sisyphus, every human being is busy in a useless effort to prolong his life. The purpose of life seems to carry the boulder to the top of the mountain and let it roll down.

Absurd Art
Absurd Art

The Theatre of the Absurd

The Theatre of the Absurd is a continuation of Camus’s concept of the absurd. Martin Esslin introduced the phrase in his 1962 book of the same title. In this book, he tried to define a particular genre as a form of theatre. The dramas of this genre portrayed the chaos and meaninglessness of human existence. They depict characters struggling to find a stable place in an erratic world. The themes of the plays of this genre include alienation, isolation, the futility of effort, and the search for meaning.

Distinguishing Features of the Theatre of the Absurd

The plays of the Theatre of the Absurd contain non-realistic elements. There are symbols with multiple layers of references and meanings. The imagery employed is surreal. There is a visible lack of connection between the character and the surrounding. These plays do not have a traditional narrative structure. Their plots are non-linear. The dialogues are fragmented. The scenes are disjointed. The arguments are illogical. There is a lack of action and more talk.

Major Authors of the Absurd Tradition

The following are the most famous authors of the absurd tradition:

Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Eugène Ionesco, Franz Kafka, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Some Celebrated Plays of the Theatre of the Absurd

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

This play is one of the most popular and the most important works of the Theatre of the Absurd. It describes two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon. They are waiting for the arrival of a mysterious figure, Godot, who they suppose will solve their problems. This figure, however, never appears. The other significant characters who appear on the stage are Lucky and Pozzo. Both of them represent two types. Pozzo is the representative of the senseless and insensitive class that exploits others. Lucky represents the class of people with suppressed emotions and chained knowledge. The play highlights themes of boredom, despair, and the search for meaning in a meaningless world.

Endgame by Samuel Beckett

It is a one-act play with four characters who have certain disabilities. Hamm, the master, is a blind attention seeker. He remains confined to a wheelchair. His servant, Clov, cannot sit down. His parents, Nagg and Nell, are crippled and live in trash bins. However, a sense of companionship and compassion keeps them connected. They are of no use to one another. Still, they are very important to one another.  The play explores themes of death, the end of the world, and the human condition. Critics consider Endgame a model for the Theatre of the Absurd.

The Bald Soprano by Eugène Ionesco

It is one of the first and most famous plays of the Theatre of the Absurd. It depicts a group of upper-middle-class characters. These characters do nothing in the name of real action. They remain engaged in seemingly inconsequential conversations and actions. The play is a satire on the hollowness of modern society and the human condition.

The Chairs by Eugène Ionesco

In this play, an old couple awaits the arrival of an unseen audience. The old man wants to deliver a message to the audience. However, the message and the meaning remain a mystery till the end of the play. This play is a commentary on modern man’s lack of ability to communicate. It is also a sharp comment on the deplorable condition of human beings in modern society.

The Caretaker by Harold Pinter

This play is about the relationship between a tramp, Davies, and two brothers, Mick and Aston. Aston invites Davies to live in the caretaker’s room of their battered house. Davies seems to have found stability in terms of the need for a place to reside. However, this stability proves short-lived. At the end of the play, Davies becomes homeless again. His pleas and pledges fail to inspire Mick and Aston. This betrayal of desire and satisfaction is characteristic of the Theatre of the Absurd. The play deals with themes of power, isolation, and the search for identity. It also comments on the difficulty of communication in the modern world.

Summing up

These are just a few examples of the leading works of the Theatre of the Absurd. These plays have their unique perspective and approach. They depict the chaos and confusion of the human experience. All of them represent the meaninglessness and lack of logic in the world they create.

Looking for Kubla Khan by ST Coleridge!!!!

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