So in my literary arts class in my junior year we had a philosophy unit. And we learned about existentialism. I’m not sure if our teacher didn’t explain it very well, or if we were just too young and it went completely over our heads, or if I’m just dumb, but we hated it. HATED it. Also, we had to read Thoreau’s Walden in this unit, because Thoreau was an existentialist. If he wasn’t already dead… we might have killed him. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, because I love reading. And I like to think of myself as an intellectual, or at least not completely stupid. But Walden is quite possibly the most boring book I have ever read, and I am not ashamed to admit that. Anyway, the point of this rant is not to make you think I have violence issues or that I do not appreciate good literature; just know that I haven’t really cared existentialism in the past.
The existence before essence, that one’s “essence” can only be decided once their “existence” has ended (they died) really helped me to understand what the heck these existentialists are trying to tell us, and that Walden isn’t really just about some bigoted guy living out in the woods by himself. I like the idea that we as human beings determine our fate, that everything isn’t just predetermined.
Bandini really shows this existentialist idea towards the end of Ask the Dust. He realizes that everyone is going to die,”There came over me a terrifying sense of understanding about the meaning and the pathetic destiny of men. The desert was always there, a patient white animal, waiting for men to die, for civilizations to flicker and pass into the darkness” (page 120). Not only does this show that Bandini is capable of change and caring for his fellow man, but when he speaks of Sammy’s writing later on on that same page, “in my hand I held an effort of his, an expression of his struggle against the implacable silence toward which he was being hurled” Bandini shows us he has finally grasped that he DOESN’T need to live forever, or have a forever lasting legacy through his writing. Maybe just the fact the he, and Sammy, and everyone, tries, does something important in their life… maybe that’s enough.