Suicide in literature

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It is common to depict suicide in literature. Suicide, the act of deliberately killing oneself, is a prominent action in many important works of 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.


According to Lorna Ruth Wiedmann, novelistic suicide patterns first emerged in the nineteenth century. She categorized 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.’[1] Kevin Grauke stated that suicide serves an "ambivalent rhetorical function" [2] in the works of the nineteenth-century. Authors such as Kate Chopin, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf include themes of suicide in their writing.


William 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.[3] Ophelia commits suicide in Hamlet following the death of her father.


The subject of suicide itself is controversial.[citation needed] 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.

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.[4] The poet Sylvia Plath committed suicide by self-asphyxiation in 1963.


“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 special 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." - diaz, 1971.[5]


  1. ^ Wiedmann, Lorna Ruth, “Suicide in American Fiction, 1798-1909” (diss. University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1995)
  2. ^ Grauke, Kevin, "I cannot bear to be hurted anymore" Suicide as Dialectical Ideological Sign in Nineteenth-Century American Realism
  3. ^ >Wymer, Rowland, Suicide in the Plays of Shakespeare
  4. ^ Berman, Jeffrey, Surviving Literary Suicide (University of Massachusetts Press, 1999)
  5. ^ Alvarez, A. (235) The Savage God: A Study of Suicide, 1971 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990)
  • Blankenship, Robert (2017). Suicide in East German Literature: Fiction, Rhetoric, and the Self-Destruction of Literary Heritage. Rochester: Camden House. ISBN 9781571135742.
  • Frank, Lucy E. (ed.) Representations of Death in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture (Aldershot, Hants, England ; Burlington, VT : Ashgate Pub., c2007)
  • Gentry, Deborah S The Art of Dying: Suicide in the Works of Kate Chopin and Sylvia Path (Lang, Peter Publishing, Incorporated, 2006)
  • Kushner, Howard Self-Destruction in the Promised Land: A Psychocultural Biology of American Suicide (New Brunswick New Jersey: Rutgers University Press)
  • Studies of Suicide in Literature