Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way

Viktor E. Frankl

Holocaust, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is the “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”. The technical definition can be confined to a few words, but from the eyes of the victim, the word holocaust can take on several shades of meaning, the most prominent being the meanininglessness of suffering.

When an individual is reduced to merely a number among a hated minority, it is so easy to reduce him or her to sub-human stature in the society and even justify the unfounded reasons to ostracize him or her being from the civilized society. All of a sudden, normal human living no longer applies, and you find yourself to have suddenly become the reason behind all problems ailing the society. People turn a blind eye towards your basic human rights and leave you to the sadistic persecution and slaughter by the privileged in power.

Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist was among more than a million Jews who were imprioned in concentration camps during the Nazi occupation of Austria. Having been separated from his wife and parents, his is a story of finding meaning in life when there is nothing left to live for, and death is an immediate reality, more than often at the whims of the Nazi prison guards.

By 1992, Man’s Search for Meaning  sold over 100 printings in English. Today, this work is cited not only as one of the masterpieces of Holocaust Literature, but also as guide for young men and women to find meaning in their lives. The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Frankl recalls his experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, and describes the events that became the foundation of what he went on to call Logotherapy. He recounts a time at the camp when the inmates were suffering from Typhus infection. He makes an observation that only those who still held on to their hopes of deliverance did survive the plague. He describes how those prisoners, as their hopes of freedom withered away, chose to use their resources to buy the momentary pleasure of smoking a cigarette over food that could sustain them another day. He advises his readers not to look at the meaning of life, rather think of oneself as as someone being questioned by life. Life truly belongs with those who hold on to their hope, no matter how discouraging their experiences might be.

In the second part, he explains Logotherapy in a nutshell, just as the section’s title offers the reader.  He argues how Logotherapy differs from the standard clinical psychiatry of the time. His experiences shed light on how the human psyche can be reoriented towards a more positive and fulfilling living experience by means of identifying the purpose of one’s life, one’s existence.  Logotherapy helps you see what your life is all about, and what what you want to do right now. To someone who has lost hope in living, Logotherapy reveals how courage at the brink of death or suffering, can turn life profoundly meaningful.

In the the third section Frankl breaks it down to us how we can apply Logotherapy to our selves and find meaning in the universal tragic triad – guilt, suffering and death. The author wills the reader to pursue one’s meaning and purpose of life, more earnestly when one encounters any of the tragic triad, especially when it seems all hope is lost, for he believed suffering stays suffering only until one finds meaning in it.

Frankl has broken down to the readers what wills humanity to survive, and revealed the spirit that fuels perseverance to endure any pain and wills a man to make peace with his existence in vast and indifferent universe – the pursuit of meaning.

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