Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Skip Willman, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Prentiss Clark, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Benjamin Hagen, Ph.D.


Albert Camus, absurd, American Fiction, 20th century, Desperate Characters, The Rules of Attraction, Rabbit Run

Subject Categories

Literature in English, North America


Out of the turmoil caused by significant intellectual and scientific developments during the 19th century, many people seem to believe that life has no inherent purpose. Albert Camus’s existential treatise The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) outlines his theory of the absurd. Using Camus’s thoughts on the absurd and various critical texts to supplement his theory, this thesis will show that the side effects of the humanity’s intellectual and scientific progress up to and including the late-20th century are documented at length in John Updike’s Rabbit, Run (1961), Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters (1970), and Bret Easton Ellis’s The Rules of Attraction (1987). Together these texts illustrate a pattern of absurdity in characters of 20th century American fiction. Although these novels largely limit these feelings to Americans of European descent who occupy places of privilege in society, they document an increase in absurdity in terms of both the extent to which the individual is affected as well as the number of people who confront the absurd.



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