Chapter One Theoretical Foundation
1.1 The Emergence and Development of Existentialism
Opposing modern speculative rationalism represented by Hegel’s philosophy,existentialism emphasizes that philosophy should study the life,experience andhistorical circumstances of specific individuals,pay attention to the irrational subjectiveemotional experience of individuals,and explain the philosophical theories aboutindividual behavior,freedom,choice and responsibility.Existentialism denies thedualism of subject and object of“epistemology”and the ontological research oftraditional philosophy,and advocates to study ontological issues from the perspective of“existence”itself,namely human oneself,because only human can realize his or herown existence and give real meaning to all the existence of the world,and human is theroot of all existence.Existentialism is the philosophy trend of thought that has thegreatest influence on the mass culture in the 20th century.It goes beyond the scope ofsimple philosophy and affects all aspects of the spiritual life of western society,especially the literature and art.Existentialism has become a characteristic of thezeitgeist of the 20th century.
With the end of the First World War,which is the end of European bourgeoiscivilization and the arrival of the modern period,human entered the non-religious stage of the historical period,and existentialism came into being.Existentialism starts fromputting forward“meaningless life”and finds a new way to solve the problem ofmeaningless life.The seemingly pessimistic proposition contains a positive solution.Existentialism points out that although life is meaningless,we can create meaning forlife through our own actions and enjoy the process of creation.Life is meaningless,butchoices and actions made by human can give it meaning.Existentialism,with its uniquetheoretical thought,breaking away from the traditional perspective and persistent spiritof inheritance,has made valuable ideological guidance for the contemporary postwarsociety and even the present society.The ideological origin of existentialism mainlycomes from Soren Kierkegaard’s mysticism,Nietzsche’s voluntarism,Husserl’sphenomenology and so on.
1.2 Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism
Jean-Paul Sartre is one of the most important philosophers in the 20th century,themain representative of French atheist existentialism,a milestone in the development ofworld thought in the 20th century and a leading figure in the literary circle.Sartre is thefounder of existentialism,and carries on the critical practice of existentialism for severaldecades,and the connotation of existentialism also develops with his practice and lifeexperience.His works such as L’Être et le Néant,La Nausée,Les Mouc-hes,andL’existentialisme Est un Humanisme also set up a systematic framework forexistentialism.Sartre is both the framer of existentialism and the integrator ofexistentialism.The opinions that Sartre mentions in his original representative works,such as“Existence Precedes Essence”and“Free Choice”,are still used by countlessexistentialists and critics.Existentialists think the irrational consciousness of isolatedpeople as the most real existence,and as the starting point of their entire philosophy.Onthis basis,what Sartre clearly put forward calls for people to pay attention to thesubjective experience and opinions of people in the real world and rely on individuals tosolve the dilemma in the real world.
Chapter Two The Predicament of Existence:TheAbsurd World
2.1 Absurdity:The Profit-Driven Values of the Absurd World
After the First World War,wealth accumulation of the United States entered ahigher level.People lived in a materialistic world,in which finance and economy ruledthe country.The United States was materially ahead of the rest of the world at the sameperiod.It was the financial prosperity that brought about people’s materialistic desireand the prevalence of hedonism.People began to measure the internal and externalvalue of a thing with money.There was no longer the pursuit and exploration of the truescientific spirit,but the exploration of the scientific spirit was calculated into thebenefits that the scientist could bring after one’s publication in the journal.Studentsentering universities were also no longer motivated by the search and thirst forknowledge,but turned their degrees into tools to find a well-paid job in the future.Thesociety was filled with the thirst for money and people were controlled by materialism.Such a social situation is perfectly illustrated in Arrowsmith by Lewis,who uses themedical profession to write in a witty and satirical way.
Although the Jazz Age in the United States was full of material desire,it stillproduced a large number of men of vision and created many famous influential worksthat directly and powerfully pointed out the ills of society.And the wake-up call from people of insight was the first step to solving social ills.Whenever only can a society befilled with different voices and there is a voice from the truth,it proves that the societywill progress and develop.Martin,the hero of Arrowsmith,is a typical figure living inthe utilitarian society in Lewis’work.The utilitarian society was full of desire andtemptation.Martin has gone through many ups and downs as an ordinary and specialperson in this environment.Through the description of the struggle with the socialenvironment,readers are brought into the background of that age and feel the distortedand absurd values under the real social environment.The existence dilemma of theabsurd world proposed by Sartre also encircles Martin’s life experience from twoaspects.
2.2 Otherness:“Hell is Other People”
“Hell is Other People”(L’enfer,c’est les autres.)is an important philosophicalthought of Sartre’s existentialism.The quote comes from one of Sartre’s plays,Huis-clos.The story is about three imprisoned ghosts waiting to go to hell,but in theprocess of waiting,the three ghosts constantly deceive and torture each other,andfinally they realize that they don’t need to wait for the appearance of hell,they alreadydeep in the hell.Hell is not a mountain of fire,but means that people have been living inthe eyes of others,living with others’environment is hell.Hell is not a mountain of fire,but means that people have been living in the eyes of others,with others together isitself hell.In Sartre’s philosophy,self and others are an opposite relationship,which isalso a relationship between subject and object.The self and the other are existence.“I”am conscious,so is the other,and both parties through the“gaze”of the other intoan existence.“Gaze”is very important and even very scary.Sartre clearly expressed that“the other is the root of the conflict”.Everyone lives in the world,and gets along withothers.It is easy to deteriorate under the eyes of others,and to be enslaved by the eyesof others.It is precisely because we have only ourselves and no others in each otherworld,everyone firmly adheres to himself and looks down on others,so others willbecome an important cause of“my”misfortune and pain.
Arrowsmith establishes a whole world of rules under the gaze of the other.Thisworld from the gaze of the other includes the so-called moral standards and rulesdefined by the society.This set of social rules fetters Martin and binds him tightly to the gaze of others,resulting in the dilemma of realizing Martin’s personal scientific idealwill.
Chapter Three The Alienation of Existential Consciousness:Separation ofExistence and Essence..............................35
3.1 Lack of Subjective Consciousness................................36
3.1.1 Lack of Scientific Belief:Acceptance of Tubbs’Invitation.....................37
3.1.2 Lack of Social Discernment:Martin’s Idolatry.......................................38
Chapter Four Self-Actualization:Taking Responsibility through Free Choice......51
4.1 Free Choice beyond the Constraints of the Environment..................................52
4.1.1 Firmly Marrying Leola...............................52
4.1.2 Following Professor Gottlieb..................................53
Chapter Four Self-Actualization:TakingResponsibility through Free Choice
4.1 Free Choice beyond the Constraints of the Environment
The influence of environment on a person is very profound.The ancient ChineseMozi’s Susse theory shows the importance of environment to people.Susse theoryexpresses that human nature is as white as pure silk,but once it is affected by theexternal environment,it will become other colors.The environment has a huge impacton people,essentially because people are subconscious imitation of explicit behavior,and will have an impact on the formation and shaping of their own character and values.However,a poor environment will have a negative effect on a person’s growth.Peopletend to lose themselves under such an environment and do not know what theyoriginally wanted.
A person is constantly shaped by the environment,smoothing his edges,blurs hiscognition and true self,and finally disappears into the crowd.But for some people withstrong ideals and beliefs,the constraints of the environment are only temporary.Martin,the hero of Arrowsmith,is a kind of person who can break the shackles of theenvironment.He is able to make a free choice of true freedom after being shackled bythe environment for a short time.
Based on Sartre’s Existentialism theory,this thesis explains predicament ofexistence and free choices of Martin Arrowsmith,a pure medical scientist in Lewis’Arrowsmith,and further reveals the essence of American medical class in the 1920s.
The 1920s was also known as the“Golden Age”of America,which was a socialand cultural prosperity.However,since the new norms was not established,moneyworship and carnalism had ran rampantly at this time.The theme of the novel is topraise medical scientists who have been working hard for scientific idealism in thissociety.In the novel,Lewis described the social environment of different classes indetail,including the medical university under the influence of the utilitarian view ofmedicine and the social environment under the influence of the value of money worship.Martin was deeply influenced by medical absurdities,by the standards under the gaze ofothers,and by the occasional mishap of random life.The social environment hinderedMartin’s adherence to scientific idealism and made him confused about the value andsignificance of his own existence.
The alienation of Martin was influenced by the social environment.At thebeginning of his life,Martin’s values did not come into being.At that time,he lackedsubjective consciousness,and his ability to adhere to scientific belief and socialrecognition was very limited.Therefore,Martin could not firmly refute and question allkinds of absurd values in the medical college.The next stage was when Martin firstlyentered the society.The material needs and work pressure led to Martin’s inability tomake choices reflecting his personal free will.His lack of subjective consciousness andfree will would break the relationship between existence and essence and eventually ledto the loss of individual independence.Martin’s loss of personal independence wasmanifested in his dependence on a comfortable life and his addiction to social vanity.The alienation of Martin’s view of existence also made him temporarily lose the pursuitof truth and ideal.