Columns > Published on January 5th, 2023

Wednesday Addams and the Nihilist as Narrator

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The internet has been buzzing about the new Addams Family Netflix adaptation since it was released in November, especially a catchy dance sequence showing Wednesday Addams killing it on the dance floor. I watched the show and generally enjoyed its quippy dark humor at face value, but I couldn’t help but wonder why someone as seemingly nihilistic as Wednesday Adams is compelled to do anything to further her own plot, never mind get out on the floor at a high school prom and bust some moves (not the first Addams to start a dance craze. “The Lurch” was apparently big in the sixties).  

Kurt Vonnegut advised that every character should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water, and as I watched the series, I couldn’t always figure out what Wednesday’s glass of water was. Why was she so interested in solving the mystery of the murders in the woods, pursuing truth and saving lives while simultaneously having little to no interest or empathy for the characters around her? Based on her own remarks, wouldn't it make more sense for her to just stay in her room and play violin in perpetuity? Can a nihilistic narrator drive a successful plot, and is it possible for a character who experiences growth to be a true nihilist?

Of course, the Addams Family has always been tongue-in-cheek. It’s not lost on me that the beloved family of morose outsiders is meant to be black comedy. Its creator, Charles Addams, once said of his own life, “It would be more interesting, perhaps, if I had a ghastly childhood—chained to an iron bed and thrown a can of Alpo everyday. But I’m one of those strange people who actually had a happy childhood.” And Addams seemed to continue to have a fairly happy life, as far as these things go, making it rather unlikely that the Addams Family was ever meant to be much darker than a satirical take on modern living.

But looking back to Jenna Ortega’s 2022 rendition of Wednesday: Wednesday as a character makes sense if you take her as a somewhat unreliable narrator or “straw nihilist.” She likes to torment her family but is instantly inspired to revenge if someone else decides to mess with them (this is how she gets expelled and sent to Nevermore, a school for outcasts, in the first place). Essentially, she’s a psycho with a heart of gold, and that’s arguably what draws the plot onwards—love and protection of family. There are far weaker motives, even if buried beneath a pile of Tim Burtonesque puns and a slightly generic teen boarding school plot. 

On the other hand, Wednesday could be more of an “optimistic nihilist.” In this Guardian piece about Gen Z and “sunny nihilism,” there’s a sort of “everything is permitted” spin to nihilism that may make it appealing to the younger generation. Because we are meaningless, our actions can be extreme. We can watch movies on a date in a mausoleum or snap back at the school Queen Bee, because who gives a damn? This point of view opens the path for a celebration of the weird, the offbeat, the dark. It makes sense that this type of thinking would appeal to young people who went out into the adult world during the time of Covid. Siddharth Gupta, a senior at Kodiakanal International school in India, gave a TED Talk on this "sunny" view of nihilism. He remarked, “I still believe there is no inherent meaning in life, but I now believe that because of this, there is no reason not to give everything I have and try to create my own meaning in this most likely hollow existence.”

Did you watch "Wednesday?" If so, what did you think? Let us know in the comments.

Get The Addams Family: An Evilution at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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