Absurdism in Post-Modern Art: Examining the Interplay between "Waiting for Godot" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

By Elizabeth L. Bolick
2009, Vol. 1 No. 11 | pg. 2/2 |

Thematically, Foer looks at 9/11 as the spark of a new wave of cultural paranoia, death, destruction, and despair. For Foer’s character, Oskar, the need to search for something brings about a of youthful consciousness as the world gets in the way of his simultaneously precocious and naïve perspective. Oskar’s search is driven by tragedy, and the search itself is what becomes important, is his attempt to make sense of the absurdity of the death of his father and to “affirm the validity of his father’s existence.” Oskar’s character functions as a symbol of the naïve global perspective many Americans had pre-9/11.

Foer tries to connect the terrorist attacks to larger truths about human nature. Oskar’s search parallels the ‘wait’ that Vladimir and Estragon undergo in Waiting for Godot. Vladimir and Estragon’s ‘wait’ is a journey of existential action (thought and discussion) while Oskar’s search is interactive with the questions he is trying to answer as well as the people who might lead him to the answers. Oskar goes out into his world actively pursuing answers, Vladimir and Estragon stay within their world actively pursuing answers and neither attains what they thought they were searching for.

Contextually, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated is representative of the absurdities of life in the post-modern era. The novel begins with a series of seemingly ridiculous and unwarranted hypothetical questions and situations posed by the nine- year old narrator. The book begins with the question: “What about a teakettle?” In this same paragraph Oskar ponders, “Another good thing is that I could train my anus to talk when I farted. If I wanted to be extremely hilarious, I’d train it to say, “Wasn’t me!” every time I made an incredibly bad fart (Foer 1).” While Foer expresses many similar moments of comic ridiculousness he also comments on the more serious absurdity present. September 11th is described through repetition of the same unbelievable, unexplainable images. Their seriousness and horrid nature of the subject matter seems only to be conveyed through repetition. Foer writes:

I turned on the . I lowered the volume until it was silent./ the same pictures over and over./Planes going into buildings./Bodies falling./People waving shirts out of high windows./ Planes going into buildings./Bodies falling./ Planes going into buildings./ People covered in gray dust./Bodies falling./Buildings falling./Planes going into buildings./Planes going into buildings./Buildings falling./ People waving shirts out of high windows./ Bodies fallings./ Planes going into buildings(230).

In the novel, September 11th functions as the source of a renewed existential crisis for Americans brought on by the shocking absurdity of the events of the day. In the face of tragedy Foer’s young protagonist questioned his religious beliefs and the significance of his existence. Foer writes, “Even though I’m not one anymore, I used to be an atheist, which means I didn’t believe in things that couldn’t be observed. It’s not that I believe in things that can’t be observed now, because I don’t. It’s that I now believe that things are extremely complicated (Foer 4).”

Oskar embraced the ambiguity and absurdity found in his life by constructing an existentialist perspective. He explained his stance as, “I got incredibly heavy boots about how relatively insignificant life is, and how, compared to the universe and compared to time, it didn’t even matter if I existed at all (Foer 86).” Oskar’s assertion that his existence is of no great consequence embodies the absurdist and existentialist idea that life is devoid of purpose and meaning. Foer’s novel concludes with Oskar sticking to this theory of absurdity; Oskar’s journey, like Vladimir and Estragon’s ‘wait,’ produces no results of certainty. What each quest produces is the idea that the only authentic experience possible is the journey, ‘wait,’ or individual action itself.

This idea that the meaning attributed to individual action can only be constructed as important in the sense of the individual’s personal interest is an existential ideal which is illustrated through the historical factors and literary works discussed above. Through allusions to and contextualization of the historical factors and events which informed the Absurdist movement as well as the utilization of rhetorical techniques, structures and themes that are characteristic of the movement, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close exemplifies how Absurdism is carried into the post-modern literary world. . His protagonist, Oskar is a symbol of the result of the process through which post-modern art is defined by the absurdity.

The progression from the degradation of morality and the changed conception of ‘God’ that was realized through WWII, fascism, and the Holocaust inherently influenced the ideas of existentialism and future theorists. This progression was realized in Waiting for Godot which as an ultimate example of ‘Theater of the Absurd’ contextualized the culmination of these historical factors and influences to say that life is inherently meaningless and that this absence of meaning is defined by absurdity.


WWII Timeline 1917-45. University of San Diego History Department. 25 September, 2002. 20 November, 2008. http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/ww2Timeline/1917-45.html

“The Nuremberg Race Laws.” The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/nlaw.htm

Appignanesi, Richard, and Oscar Zarate. Introducing Existentialism. New York: Totem Books, 2006.

Bair, D. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. London: Vintage, 1990.

Bird, Kai and Sherwin, Martin J. "The Myths of Hiroshima." Los Angeles Times. 5 Aug 2005.

Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of The Absurd. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1961.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company Trade & Reference Division, 2005.

Terry, Joseph. The Longman Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Drama : A Global Perspective. New York: Addison-Wesley Longman, Limited, 2003.

Jacobson, Josephine, and William R. Mueller. The Testament of Samuel Beckett. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1964.

Hall, Peter. Production History. The Guardian, 4 January 2003. http://samuel-beckett.net/Penelope/production_history.html

Works Consulted

The Statistics of War. The History Place. 20 November, 2008

Acheson, James. Samuel Beckett\'s Artistic Theory and Practice : Criticism, Early Fiction and Drama. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Limited, 1996.

Begam, Richard. Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity. Stanford, CA: Standford UP, 1996.

Graver, Lawrence, and Raymond Federman, eds. Samuel Beckett. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, Limited, 1979.

Kalb, J., Beckett In Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

McMillan, Dougald, and Martha Fehsenfeld. Beckett in the Theatre : The Author As Practical Playwright and Director. Minneapolis: Calder Publications Limited, 1988.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

Colonel William Way is a USAR officer. He received a direct commission in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps in 1990. Colonel Way earned a BS in Economics from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, in 1983, a JD from Hastings College of the Law, University of California, and an LLM from The Judge Advocate General'... MORE»
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse follows the development of the painter, Lily Briscoe, as she strives to create a meaningful space for her artwork in an increasingly critical and unkind world.  Woolf’s stylistic devices, especially those employed in the segment, “Time Passes,” reveal... MORE»
In their introduction to Journalism: The Democratic Craft, G. Stuart Adam and Roy Peter Clark write that “journalism is one manifestation of the right of free expression, a fundamental democratic freedom” (p. xvii). This is not a radical new concept. Yet as Adam and Clark go on to explain, journalism is also more than this: it is a necessary piece of the democratic structure itself, making writers “democracy’... MORE»
This paper analyzes the evolution of the construct known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Specifically, it examines the ways in which its name has changed over millennia and how soldiers suffering from this mental condition... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP

Latest in Literature

2018, Vol. 10 No. 10
Innocent lamb, savage tiger, free-flying eagle – time after time animals interrupt poetry as the ideal, the muse, the hero, or the grotesque operating alongside humanity. In tracking animal imagery throughout contemporary Irish poetry, we... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 03
In his poem ‘Punishment’ from the poetry collection North (1975), Seamus Heaney picks up the voice of a witness who is suspended between the possibilities of love, silence, voyeurism, outrage and above all, the understanding of the process... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 03
Sexual violence and coercion became hot topics in 2017, with endless headlines. However, these problems and issues are not new, nor are they confined to a single segment of society. Rather, they have longstanding roots within patriarchal society... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 01
Both Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf detail memories of having intense shocks into consciousness during their early childhoods, where they are suddenly aware that they are beings alive, in a reality governed by temporality and humanistic revelations... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 12
Since its emergence in the 19th century, fantasy fiction has proliferated throughout the world, from the global craze of Lord of the Rings (1954) to Harry Potter (1997). As a sub-genre of fantasy based on Chinese traditional mythology and martial... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 11
The arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the “New World” at the end of the fifteenth century triggered an age of violence, oppression, and colonization that lasted until the United States took the stage as a modern colonial power in 1898... Read Article »
2010, Vol. 2 No. 01
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is about a man on a voyage by ship, who in one impulsive and heinous act, changes the course of his life – and death.  The Mariner faces an inner struggle over... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


"Should I Go to Graduate School?"
The Career Value of the Humanities & Liberal Arts
What is the Secret to Success?