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The purpose of this paper is to analyse Victor E Frankl's Man Search for Meaning. The paper will discuss how Frankl finds meaning in the Nazi death camps and why are some people unable to find meaning. The paper will explain what I have determined to be the meaning of life.
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl is one of the most impressive works of psychiatric literature after Freud. This 1946 book gives an account of the author's experiences while being an inmate in a concentration camp. He gives a detailed account of the psychotherapeutic method he gives to find a reason to live. Frankl believes that the book's objective is to answer the question-How the daily routine life in a concentration camp is depicted though the mind of an average prisoner there.
The first part of the book encompasses the analysis of Frankl's experiences in the concentration camps. It gives lengthy and stark and profoundly moving personal essay about the imprisonment of Frankl in the concentration camp of Auschwitz and others for five years. He struggled during this time to determine the reasons to live. The second part, "Logotherapy in a Nutshell," depicts the psychotherapeutic method that Frankl establish as a result of the days he spent in the concentration camps. He introduces his ideas of what exactly meaning is and what is logotherapy theory (Viktor E Frankl).
finding meaning in the Nazi death camps
One of the different believes that Frankl nurtured during this time was that man's strongest desire is to look for meaning and purpose. His logotherapy theory, (logos, a Greek word, denotes 'meaning') which is quite compatible with the Western religions, unlike Freud's, is an amusing, advanced and very human work. His personal and professional discussions conflate into a style of great power. He writes, "Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is." (Viktor E Frankl).
Being a well-known Viennese psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl was able to scrutinize how he and the other inmates of the Nazi camp suffered in Auschwitz. He observed that the men actually comforted others. They even gave away their food and actually proved that life can take almost everything from them but cannot change their attitude towards it in any situation.
The prisoner became a unique sort of person and it was due to an inner decision. The life in the camp was not an only influence. Only the prisoners who lacked a strong inner control on their ethical selves gradually became victim to the camp's deteriorating environment. On the other hand, the prisoners who became victorious of the sufferings and harsh experiences eventually turned them into a triumph of the self (Viktor E Frankl).
Frankl writes about the three psychological reactions which the inmates of the camp experienced to a great extent:
shock after going through the preliminary phase of admission in the camp,
Numbness after becoming used to the life in camp, where the inmate values only the thing which helps him and his fellow inmates survive
reactions of reification, resentment, moral disfigurement and disenchantment from life if he is lucky enough to survive and is released.
The meaning of life
Ascertaining the meaning of life is the key theme of the book. The book makes you ask yourself -what is the meaning of my life?" It even moves the people who have not thought about it. And for some of them it was a recurrent quest. The book made me think that it is certainly not an easy question to ask anyone. No denying that is one is not an easy question either to ask or to answer. However, Viktor Frankl's Man's search for Meaning explores this question in a great detail.
Why Man's search for Meaning helps in understanding the meaning of life, is because it is beautifully crafted book. Other than the precious details of the Frankl's experience in the Nazi camps, the book also takes us to his philosophy by presenting logical details. The main theme of the book is the detailed explanation and development of Logotherapy therapy theory (Viktor E Frankl).
As I understand Logotherapy, it says that a primary motivational force helps a person to come through any annihilating crisis is his or her constant search for meaning in life. Unlike the other theories such as Psychotherapy, Logotherapy is futuristic. It tries to help the person find out the meaning in life and what will make his or her life meaningful or to put in Frankl's words, 'life-to-be-lived'.
Frankl's idea to find meaning is in the midst of utmost suffering. Other people in the nazi camp were unable to find meaning in life because they wanted to run away from suffering and not just sit and understand it. Frankl does not say that suffering is important to find meaning in life-rather he says that understanding life's meaning is possible even despite suffering (Viktor E Frankl).
Frankl discovered that most of the prisoners died when they were doing less hard work and were suffering more than the people who survived. The survivors were supposed to be the people who had a vision of a glorious future for themselves despite the horrible present. They believed they were pursuing a meaning in life and refused to surrender to despair.
The prisoner's life and experience in a concentration camp was finally only a remembered nightmare. Even when the fear of Nazis was utmost, he knew that he has nothing left to be afraid of, except "God." The true meaning in life for Frankl is to make others find their meaning. As a victim and a successful survivor of the dreadful Nazi concentration camp, his pursuit of meaning kept him from losing his last possession. His strong and incessant will to finish his manuscript destroyed earlier, became the key for his believe in life and survival. His dream to finally hold a complete manuscript in his hand, actually helped him to endure every hardship and suffering imposed upon him in the death camp (Viktor E Frankl).
Frankl concludes in Man's Search for Meaning that one can find the meaning of life is almost every moment of life, whether it is of suffering or of happiness. He believes that life never stops to have a meaning; it is just that a person has to find it out right on time. He learns a lot from his experiences in the camp and believes that a prisoner's psychological reactions are not only caused by the sufferings or adverse conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice that he always has even at the time of suffering. The strong inner hold that a prisoner has on his spiritual self depends on his faith in the future. Once a prisoner loses his faith in future, he not only loses his track to find the meaning of life, but is also doomed.