Existentialism is a philosophy which evolved during the twentieth century. This doctrine of existentialism gained its significance during the Second World War when the human race suffered a great crisis. The rationality and hope of human existence were become susceptible and questioned by inhuman political philosophy such as Nazism and fascism. These powers challenge man’s freedom of thought and action; as a consequence, it led to the negative aspects of survival such as pain, frustration, sickness and death.
Since the philosophy of existentialism deals with the plight and the difficulty of human existence, Webster’s definition of Existentialism may be appropriate.
It is chiefly a twentieth-century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centring on the analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for his act of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad.
Existentialism concentrates on the choices, decisions and personal commitments of an individual. It urges a life of involvement as the surest way of creating meaning for human existence, thereby portraying the events of day-to-day life. Existentialism attempts to offer a way of understanding existence and to give meaning to life. The critical situations such as war, industrializations diminished the importance of man to a mere number. This dehumanization has led to the feeling that there is no meaning in existence. Wars have made life so hazardous, ambiguous, Insecure and man has become anxious and desperate. The sense of powerlessness, a sense of meaninglessness, a sense of norm-less-ness, cultural estrangement, self-estrangement and social isolation are the effects of the existential crisis suffered by an individual during difficult times. These pessimistic times of an individual force them to find the purpose for their presence in the world.
This work of Anuk Arudpragasam, The Story of A Brief Marriage is essentially about what life is like for a man who is counting his days towards inevitable death. The young Dinesh, a high school student in a previous life, has been run away from the approaching Sri Lankan army and living in the makeshift camps for countless days when the author introduces him in the novel. The war turned him as an orphan who is living a life of little sleep, less diet and daily violence. Literally, this young boy is living among the group of refugees trying to avoid being shelled by the army and he is witnessing death and waiting for this turn. In this novel, Anuk Arudpragasam made us experience the existential crises by the protagonist Dinesh’s experience during his life in camp as a refugee. Throughout this novel, Dinesh aims to explore the role of sensory perception and gives importance to the special character of personal, subjective experience.
Dinesh isolated himself from the camp area to escape from the traumatic situation around him and to observe his own existence. Dinesh found a place in the forest and turned that as his shelter. He isn’t able to remember when he has enjoyed the company of another human being. The author uses the loneliness of the protagonist as a tool to highlight the existential crisis experienced by him.
“He should spend his remaining time committing to memory the shape of his hands and feet, the texture of his hair, fingernails and teeth, appreciating for the last time the sound of his own breathing, the sensation of his chest expanding and contracting”.
In this line, the author clearly depicts the condition of Dinesh. He is keenly observing his body movements and breathing process frequently throughout the novel and his action conveys that living for him is nothing but breathing. He has lost his society, family and every basic necessity of life, his body is just breathing and he turned numb towards the exterior world and lost emotional connection with the other human beings. The author records the minutiae of refugee life and captures both the physical and mental feelings of the protagonist. The novelist conveys that he didn’t go into the dugout during every shelling but he stood still and observed the earth’s movement. This incident throws light on the detachment of Dinesh from the world. He is powerless to stop the violence so he just observes himself and confirms that his body is still functioning as the sign of living.
At one instance, Dinesh valiantly goes out of the forest area to the seashore for the act of shitting and he wants his excreta to be disposed of properly. Though there is a probability of being caught by the army, he gives importance to the act of shitting and he properly disposes of his excreta in a pit. He was unable to give a proper burial to his mother. He tries escaping from his inability by concentrating on his body. In a way, Dinesh experiences power by repeatedly turns his head to observe too closely his own activities to escape from the powerless situation.
The marriage proposal of Mr Somasundaram reconnects Dinesh to the outside world around him. He never thought about marriage before Mr Somasundaram approached him with this proposal. Somasundaram is the father of a young girl Ganga, who is the only living member of his family and he wants to perform his duty as a father by finding a spouse for his daughter. Unlike our protagonist Dinesh, Mr Somasundaram has not lost connection with the constructed social norms. As a responsible father, he thinks that the marriage will give security for her daughter’s future as well as safety in the war field. Dinesh ponders his memory about family and the people around him for the first time after the proposal.