Joseph Burton

Document Type


Date of Award



College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences (COLABS)

Degree Name

MA in English

Committee Chairperson

Michael Zeitler

Committee Member 1

Charlene Evans

Committee Member 2

Michon Benson

Committee Member 3

Danita Bailey-Samples


• Africana Critical Theory • Black Existentialism • Existentialism • Invisibility in Society • Underground Man Theme


Existential philosophers Fyodor Dostoevsky and Jean Paul Sartre sought answers concerning man’s placement and subsequent importance in the universe. From a Eurocentric perspective, western man, his being, position, and influence emanate from the center of thought and existence in the western hemisphere. Dostoevsky’s existential crisis exhibited in the protagonist from his Notes from Underground, and Sartre’s concepts of facticity which gives man a direct philosophical link to his freedom, are two popular viewpoints of contemporary existentialism. However, French West Indian Frantz Fanon, counters the European tenets of existential philosophy as it pertains to black people. The conclusions reached in Black Skin, White Masks open literary and philosophical pathways to Black Existentialism and Africana Critical Theory. The gulf or great divide between European existentialism and Africana Critical Theory seems mainly unchartered and apparent, especially in the subgenre of existential literature. This paper will attempt to bring forward and narrow the gap by analyzing the works of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright, and their usage of existential anti-hero characterization within their novels. This thesis will examine the narrator of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and how his meaning of life experiences differ existentially from Fred Daniels, the protagonist in Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground, the former being an heir to the Dostoevskian model, and the latter as the precursor to Fanon’s ideologies in the afro-centric views on existentialism. A defining of Africana Critical Theory and Black Existentialism will be given, including similarities and differences. The evolvement of existentialism through Ellis and Wright through their works from the philosophical viewpoints of Dostoevsky and Fanon will be explored.