Date Thesis Awarded

5-2015

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

English

Advisor

Arthur Knight

Committee Member

Christy Burns

Committee Member

Timothy Costelloe

Committee Member

Christopher MacGowan

Abstract

Thrown Into America examines the social, cultural, philosophical phenomenon known as Existentialism—a product of 19th and early 20th century European intellectualism—and its influence on the literary landscape of the United States. I propose that Ralph Ellison, Jack Kerouac, and Walker Percy, are central figures in American existentialism. While dealing primarily with their work and lives, I understand them as but a vibrant few, among many, representatives of the existential tradition. This is, in part, a genealogical investigation. Rather than studying single texts, isolated from their own place and time, I explore their specific historical conditions. The American affinity towards Søren Kierkegaard and his continental successors—such as Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre—is accounted for in terms of social reality. Thus, the final concern of my essay is the utility of existentialism. I articulate its particular uses, and examine exactly why it was so attractive to postwar American authors like Ellison, Kerouac, and Percy.