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Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



First Advisor

Robert Knighton

First Committee Member

Rheinhart Lutz


Presenting and applying an ideal developmental model for the classical existential hero, or main character, provides a functional paradigm for discrimination between essentialist and existential texts. In particular it allows for degrees of fine existential differentiation amongst the hero's acts of any literary work. The paradigm does so by making it possible clearly to discern and describe the "recuperation" that a reader must do to render an "impaired" text intelligible.

The paradigm covers four phases of transformational activity by the hero, more or less successfully negotiated, depending on the given work under analysis; vacillation/bad faith; crisis/arrest; abrogation/nothingness; and nihilation/project choice. Only one of the three novels so analyzed, Camus' The Stranger, contains a hero, Meursault, who is able to engage this paradigm successfully. The other two novels, not generally associated with existentialism, Heller's Something Happened and Chopin's The Awakening, reveal important and explicable variations of the model, but neither finally gives an exemplary authentic hero. The value of this paradigm is the way it functions as a dynamic heuristics, as a template, to isolate and render meaningful the dimensions of the career of each main character of these works as an "existential murderer." After an introduction of the paradigm, the thesis analyzes the tragic suicide of Mrs. Edna Pontellier, the comic infanticide of Bob Slocum, and the tragicomic homicide of Meursault.



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