Life is a wonderful journey of ups and downs, happy and sad moments, good and bad experience etc. The meaning of life is found when one identifies his purpose which is of course, subjective. How to find that meaning? The classic book written by Dr Viktor E. Frankl gives the answer. This book provides a different way to life and has the power to change the perspective towards life. Before going to the review, it is important to understand the background of this book.
The Background: This book revolves around the three years’ experience of Viktor Frankl during World War II. During World War II, he had to spent three years in various concentration camps like Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps. As the book says, it is the classic tribute to “hope” from the Holocaust. Holocaust was the genocide of Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II. Around six million Jews were murdered or killed by the Nazi Germany in the German occupied Europe during those years. Auschwitz camp was the dominant symbol of holocaust. As a holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl wrote memoirs of his experiences in this book. Surviving from the holocaust and developing the “logotherapy” technique, Viktor Frankl journey is commendable. The book contains a dedicated chapter on logotherapy.
In order to understand why the book is a tribute to “hope”, one can understand the experience of a man who spent three years in various concentration camps wherein death was common punishment for prisoners. There are several incidents mentioned in the book how people were carried to gas chambers and killed. Prisoners in concentration camps were having no hope whether they will see the outside world or not. This book is about survival and a man can survive when he had some reasons to survive. If there is no reason to survive, there is no reason for existence which creates what is known as “apathy”. Every prisoner suffered a lot, and these sufferings were the motives for many to commit suicides apart from normal killings. Suicides happened due to lack of hope.
It is important to note that this book was written in 9 successive days, as mentioned in the Preface.
About the Author
Dr Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997), born in Vienna (Austria) was the founder of logotherapy. He was the author, psychiatrist, neurologist and a holocaust survivor. He was Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School. He was the founder of what has come to be called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy.
He had written 32 books that have been translated into 26 languages. Man’s Search for Meaning is a classic book with millions of copies sold.
About the Book
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”. This quote from Nietzsche is mentioned several times in this book. The meaning is clear, one should know the “why” to live. That why comes when one knows the meaning and purpose of his life.
The great task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life, as stressed by the author in this book. The author describes poignantly the prisoners who gave up on life, who had lost all hope for a future and were inevitably the first to die. They died less from lack of food or medicine than from lack of hope, lack of something to live for. Author kept his hope alive, and that hope kept him alive.
This book is an inside story of a concentration camp said by one of its survivors. The prisoners in concentration camp went through several atrocities and “one five-ounce piece of bread was their only food in four days”. The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. The readers might be surprised to know how prisoners committed suicides. They committed suicides through “run into the wire”. This was a phrase used in camp to describe the most popular method of suicide – touching the electrically barbed-wire fence. Ever wondered there can be most popular method of suicide? There was a time when prisoners did not fear death. Even gas chambers lost their horrors. The author had described these experiences of concentration camp.
The author had described the experiences in concentration camp in three phases, based on the inmate’s mental reactions to camp life. These three phases are: the period following admission, the period when he is well entrenched in camp routine, and the period following his release and liberation. The last phase was only a dream till it happened. Hope was the force behind survival including the author. In one of the incidents, a prisoner was firm and hopeful that he will be free on 31st March and he did become free but through death. The author had described this incident how and what kept him alive till 31st March.
The book had a very important incidents when prisoners started to have “apathy” feeling, the blunting of the emotions and the feelings that one could not care any more. This made them insensitive to daily and hourly beatings. The author calls this “apathy” feeling a very necessary protective shell for survival as it became the necessary mechanism of self-defense.
The author had brilliantly explained the meaning and the role of sufferings in life. Life is incomplete without sufferings. According to author, suffering is similar to behaviour of gas, which can be understood by the below extract from the book
It is possible to practice art of living in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behaviour of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.
Suffering is omnipresent and absolutely relative. It fills the human soul completely. If analysed and thought peacefully, it is true. The author had beautifully explained what is known as “provisional existence” which prisoners in concentration camp was having. Their existence was provisional as the sufferings had no end. A man who could not see the end of his “provisional existence” was not able to aim at an ultimate goal in life. This is the reason why a day in camp lasted longer than a week. The author sees such suffering in other way as such sufferings sometimes opens the gateway of opportunity to grow spiritually. This is the test of inner strength.
The author sees life in different perspective. What we expect from life does not matter, it matters what life expects from us. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for us. This is really inspirational way to look towards life as life is not “vague”. Human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes sufferings and dying, privation and death.
The book has such kind of eye-opening extracts which has the power to change the mind the perspective towards life. There is a dedicated chapter on logotherapy as well wherein the author who itself had developed this technique, had explained this concept in simple and understandable manner. Logotherapy focusses on meaning of human existence. This meaning is unique and specific and must be fulfilled by him alone. Man needs “something” for the sake to live or else it will be a “provisional existence”.
This book is an inspirational read. The journey of survivor from holocaust and finding the meaning of life is well described in the book. There are many who have always complains towards life because of the sufferings and obstacles they face. This book is a must read for them.
Lastly, I would like to conclude the review post by sharing a sentence from the book itself which is self explanatory.
Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.
After reading the review post, share your views and what you think is the “meaning” of life, in general.