Reality and Existentialism in House of Leaves

Matthew Scott Scarano, Jennifer Ann Krause


House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski, is a novel first published in 2000 that has since developed notoriety in literary circles for its arguably unique experimentation with a multi-layered plot, varied visual typography, and multi-media format. Despite being widely read and influential over the past decade, little scholarly analysis has been done on House of Leaves. As House of Leaves could represent an entire new genre of literature, it is important that we understand its themes and the ways in which various writerly techniques function within the novel.
In this paper, I analyze House of Leaves through an existential lens, specifically utilizing the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus to examine the psyche of one of the novel’s main characters, Johnny Truant. In addition to primary sources by Danielewski, Sartre and Camus, I employ a 2002 analysis of House of Leaves by Katherine N. Hayles to aid my research. I conclude that Johnny’s story, and House of Leaves as a whole, breaks down traditional notions of reality, but retains existential hope for individuals who are able to find a purpose in life, even if that “purpose” is necessarily subjective.
My analysis presents an original take on House of Leaves, and contains wider implications for future novels that emulate its experimental style. Past analyses have focused on post-modern aspects of House of Leaves, but I analyze it through an existential lens. Beyond adding to the body of work on House of Leaves, my existential take on an otherwise post-modern text may prove influential to analyses of other “post-modern” novels in the future.


House of Leaves; Mark Z. Danielewski; Existentialism; Post-modernism

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