A short analysis on Man’s Search for Meaning

Created on: 29 Aug 21 22:10 +0700 by Son Nguyen Hoang in English

Man’s Search for Meaning and the concept of time

Unlike most of the books I read recently, Man’s Search for Meaning is regarded as as mainstream classic, the book is well-known as a masterpiece and highly praised as one of the best on the topic of meaning and how to figure out the meaning in the state of decay. The book can be treated like a diary of a Jewish man who was captured and taken into a concentration camp. Different than 99.99 percent of other prisoners in the camp, the author, Viktor Frankl is an exception, he was a brilliant psychologist.

A quick review of his career, he was already a good student in the subject of psychology. Also, he began his study on the topic of meaning when he was around 20 years old. So that means he had big interest on the topic of meaning of life for a long time before he was captured. In addition, after he was released from the camp, he continued his research on this field and even begun his old school in therapy, which he refers to as Logotherapy, this one is regarded as the third school of Viennese Psychotherapy, after Freud’s and Adler’s.

Even in the prison, the idea of learning and investigating the human’s motive grows in the mind of Viktor. It’s very clear that he already wrote the first manuscript and even brought it into the camp. Some passages in the book even suggest that Viktor treat the idea of writing a book and teaching the others about the concept of meaning as one of his dreams, his lifetime goal. As we know, the book had been written, be published, and soon become his most well-known book. As far as I concern, people know more about this book rather than his school of thought.

In brief, the book depicts the time when Viktor stay in Nazi concentration camp for 3 years. His depiction was gruesome and very realistic. It’s so realistic that I will recommend the book to anyone who wants to have a bit of understanding of what life in the concentration camp was. In short, the concentration camp is the place where prisoners are forced to work endlessly. If you are too old or get sick, you get gassed. As the author mentioned, the first day he and the others transferred into the camp, they get divided into two groups, the first one include people who are young and able to do heavy, manual jobs, the other group is people too old or children who were gassed to death.

On his depiction of life in a concentration camp, the most memorable passage I want to want to share is his memory of a night sleeping in the camp. One of his prisoner friends talking in his dream, and it’s seemed like that person was having a nightmare. The most often action we take in this case is that we would wake our friends up, as it would help them to get out of the dream. The author had a similar thought, and he was almost waking the man up. However, he quickly changed his mind, as he realized that there was simply nothing in the human mind can be worse than the reality, they are living in. Personally, this is the most gruesome and memorable passage in the book.

The book is not all about life in the camp, but it also talks about how the human mind works in the state of decay and suffering. As a psychologist, the author tries to investigate the other’s prisoner’s mind and thinking (and his mind too). He went deep into the human mind and categorize how a prisoner’s motivation and thinking change after a while living in the camp. Many times, in the book, he stated that even in this situation, people can still find meaning in this unfairness and injustice. Vicktor’s analysis on the state of mind in prisoners had been appraised and talked about many times. So, I am not retelling everything. I focus on his small, neglectable but insightful paragraphs on what the concept of time means for the prisoners.

A little bit of side note, in Hollywood and horrors movies, there is often a motif of unending suffering or eternal suffering. This is often related to hell, which in Western Literature is described as the place where sinners take the punishment for eternity. In Asian folklore, the concept of hell is mostly the same, but the time of punishment still has an upper limit, although it’s still very, very long.

Now, although the author only stays in the camp for around three years, and this is not a very long time span. However, a neglectable truth is that in the case of prisoners in a concentration camp, who live in a country where people & the government goes against YOU and your RACE. This combined with the lack of information from the outside world means that the worst-case scenario could happen, that you may live in this state of suffering for the rest of your life! So, in any prisoner’s mind, they accept that fact they may live in the concentration camp for the rest of their life. And they would have to do the same heavy, manual jobs days after days until they die painfully because of tuberculosis. This is so to speak, one of the closest things to hell in the world.

So, the next question is that how does living in hell, where the concept of time has little to no meaning, can affect the human mind? The answer is that the prisoners feel like they cannot see their goal and aim. They cannot see the future. Time becomes longer, as the author said, days become weeks! Hours of torture become endless, and no goal can be formed inside prisoners’ psyche. A quote from the book I would like to share:

One of the prisoners, who on his arrival marched with a long column of new inmates from the station to the camp, told me later that he had felt as though he were marching at his own funeral. His life had seemed to him absolutely without future. He regarded it as over and done as if he had already died. This feeling of lifelessness was intensified by other causes: in time, it was the limitlessness of the term of imprisonment which was most acutely felt; in space, the narrow limits of the prison. Anything outside the barbed wire became remote—out of reach and, in a way, unreal. The events and the people outside, all the normal life there, had a ghostly aspect for the prisoner. The outside life, that is, as much as he could see of it, appeared to him almost as it might have to a dead man who looked at it from another world.

This paragraph is tragic, and the depiction is indeed hopeless. From my point of view, the key takeaway from this paragraph is not about how life can be such desperate and fragile but instead on the fact that human being needs to have a goal, an aim for their life. If they are unable to find that goal then the truth is that their minds will become so frustrated, so dysfunctional to the point that each day of their life become more and more like Hell on Earth.

That’s also the end of this essay. The version of the book I read had a big part on Viktor’s school of thought, aka logotherapy. The book ends with a funny, light toned share of the author on a conversation he had with one student, who asked him about his own meaning of life. What did he reply? He said something similar to this: “My meaning of life is to help the others to find their meaning of life!”

And that’s it for today. Hope you enjoy and wish you all would be safe and healthy.

Son Nguyen 29th of August, 2021, Saigon City

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