Philosophical inheritances: Nietzsche and the twentieth century American novel.
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Reid, Eleni Clare, 1989-
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In this dissertation, I argue for the influence of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy on four significant writers of twentieth century American literature: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, and Sylvia Plath. First, I establish the pervasiveness of Nietzsche’s influence on American society, explore the reasons for his popularity, and provide a brief review of other studies of Nietzsche reception in American literature and culture. Secondly, I argue that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early novels are shaped by Nietzsche’s concept of the free spirit, a prophetic voice that provides society with new values in response to nihilism. Thirdly, I demonstrate how Zelda Fitzgerald offers a life-affirming philosophy in her only published novel, in which she adapts Nietzsche’s arguments of amor fati and the process of becoming. Fourthly, I argue that Richard Wright’s protest fiction draws his readers’ attention to the nihilism that fuels white supremacist structures in America. Lastly, I uncover archetypal patterns of Nietzsche’s superman in Sylvia Plath’s writings. In these chapters, I demonstrate the pervasiveness not only of Nietzsche’s philosophy in American culture, but also of the questions that revolve around the cultural phenomenon of “the death of God” and the ensuing threats of nihilism that were introduced in this time. These writers show that the act of creating and writing literature is an affirmative response to the seeming meaninglessness of existence; a worthwhile attempt to imbue life with perspective and meaning.