Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The Theatre of the Absurd is, to a large degree, a child of its times. Certainly the vision of life's futility is nothing new in literature, but certain features peculiar to our century have heightened our awareness of this futility and deepened our despair. Chief among these features, along with the triumph of the technological society which we have fashioned for ourselves, is the decline 0£ belief in traditional mythologies. "The decline of religion in modern times," William Barrett writes in Irrational Man. "means simply that-religion is no longer the uncontested center and ruler of man's life. Religion is no longer the final and unquestioned home and asylum of his being. . . The waning of religion…penetrates the deepest strata of man's psychic life. It is, indeed, one of the major stages in mans psychic evolution. The loss of religion signifies the loss of a whole series of symbols, images, archetypes, rites and rituals. But man, Barrett explains, “was bound to feel homeless in such a world which no longer answered the needs of his spirit." Furthermore, in, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell states that "religious pantomine is hardly more today than a sanctimonious exercise for Sunday morning, whereas business ethics and patriotism stand for the remainder of the week. In short, modern man is experiencing the spiritual sickness which C. G. Jung writes about in "The Collective Unconscious, Myth, and the Archetype" while the loss of myth is indeed a catastrophe for Western civilization, that loss is by no means irrevocable. In fact, we need not look too far afield if we truly do wish to renew our awareness of myth, if we wish to recover our souls. Jung tells us that besides our immediate consciousness, "there exists a second psychic system of collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes is inherited. According to Joseph Campbell, in The Hero With Thousand Faces, what we are dealing with here is a pattern repeated throughout time, irregardless of place. "Dream is the personalized myth,” Campbell observes, "myth the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of the psyche. This essay will attempt to show how, especially in their use of the forms of language, the plays of Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, and Samuel Beckett reflect the contemporary loss of belief in traditional mythological guidelines and the growing distrust of scientific, rationalistic, substitutions, and how they attempt to pit us back in touch with the importance of myth by increasing our sensitivity to the "forgotten language" of myth. This thesis will attempt to show, too, how these playwrights attempt to communicate the sense or experience of absurdity and its attendant feelings of chaos and fear.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Ionesco, Eugene

Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989

Pinter, Harold, 1930-2008

South Dakota State University Theses



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University