Suicide in literature  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Suicide, the act of deliberately killing oneself, is a prominent action in many important works of English literature. Authors use the suicide of a character to portray defiance, despair, love, or honor. Whether it is written as the ultimate act of devotion or the result of depression, the act of suicide was and is a prevalent action within the context of English literature.


Suicide in the Novel

According to Lorna Ruth Wiedmann, novelistic suicide patterns first emerge in the nineteenth century. She categorizes nineteenth-century works based on five themes: ‘murder-followed-by-suicide; the survivor of suicide; age and the suicide; the suicide’s choice of method; and gender and suicide.’ Kevin Grauke states that suicide serves an "ambivalent rhetorical function" in the works of the nineteenth-century. Authors such as Kate Chopin, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf include themes of suicide in their writing.

Suicide in Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is one of the most famous authors of all time. Shakespeare’s characters commit suicide in several of his plays. Perhaps most famously, the young lovers Romeo and Juliet both commit suicide in the final scene of Romeo and Juliet. Suicide also occurs in Julius Caesar when Brutus and Cassius both kill themselves. Othello commits suicide with a dagger after murdering his love in a crime of passion in Othello. The play, Antony and Cleopatra, ends with five suicides, including the deaths of both Antony and Cleopatra. Also Ophelia comits suicide in Hamlet after finding out he doesn't really love her.


The subject of suicide itself is controversial. While the act of suicide can be symbolic in literature, the act itself still possesses the ability to cause controversy in the real world. Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, was extremely controversial when it was released in 1899. Toni Morrison gained fame and critics through novels such as Beloved.

Some authors who have created characters that commit suicide have committed suicide themselves. Ernest Hemingway shot himself in 1961. Some of his short stories included suicidal themes. The poet Sylvia Plath committed suicide by self-asphyxiation in 1963.

Thoughts on Suicide in English Literature

“Once suicide was accepted as a common fact of society- not as a noble Roman alternative, nor as the mortal sin it had been in the Middle Ages, nor as a simple cause to be pleaded or warned against- but simply as something people did, often and without much hesitation, like committing adultery, then it automatically became a common property of art." - Alvarez, 1971.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Suicide in literature" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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