The Psychology of Nihilism Written from the perspective of a struggling writer living in the city of Christiania near Oslo, Norway, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger is a semi-autobiographical work that reflects upon Hamsun’s own struggle as he worked to establish his literary reputation. The reader follows the protagonist as he descends ever deeper into psychological unrest as a result of poverty. Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground offers the same voyeuristic experience for the reader as they observe the life of a man on the lamb for being wrongfully accused of a crime and who takes to city sewers to seek refuge. Both pieces share the same overarching theme: the psychology of nihilism in the face of poverty. Hamsun use of
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Hamsun uses stream of consciousness here to allow the reader to feel an intimate connection the protagonist. The reader is able to observe the thoughts of the protagonist has they come to him in a fit of sorrowful rage. This passage of stream of consciousness suggests the protagonist’s destruction of his humanity and the adoption of savage animalism. In Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground the reader follows the protagonist Fred Daniels, whose name incidentally is not revealed until typed out on a typewriter, as he adopts a life under the city in a sewer system. He is hiding to escape from the police who have forced him to confess to the murder of a white woman. Through a series of experiences encountered during his forced isolation in the sewers, Wright’s character develops a new perspective which allows him to acquire an understanding of humanity.
Wright employs stream-of-consciousness in his short story to demonstrate a different aspect of the psychology of nihilism: the rejection of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. In this case, Daniel’s attitude on access to certain aspects of life as an African-American man loses meaning as he is able to gain access by remaining hidden, when he otherwise would not if he were on the surface:
I’m going to have some wallpaper, he said with a luxurious, physical laugh that made him bend at the knees. He took the towel with which he had tied the sack and balled it into a swab and