In his non-fiction text, Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl, writes about the extreme suffering he and his fellow inmates endure in Nazi concentration camps as a way to describe the thought processes humans use to survive the worst possible situations and inform readers how people can choose to see good instead of bad in the most difficult situations. The reader is moved both by the insight the author provides and the strength and perseverance he proves possible through his personal and professional experiences. Frankl first tells stories from his imprisonment, from which he develops his theories and then explains how his ideas can be applied life as a neurologist and psychiatrist treating patients and to the broader public. Frankl uses concrete examples from his own life and those of his patients to show the reader how and why his coping mechanisms help people find deeper meaning in life.
Frankl describes his experiences during his imprisonment as a way to teach the reader the invaluable lessons he learns about the strength of the human condition, and how those who are willing can train their minds to transcend difficulties to see love and beauty in the world. The author describes enduring scenes of unthinkable horror, death, and devastation. But, Frankl explains that his coping and survival is not coincidence, rather he uses the power of his mind and emotions to his advantage. He evokes memories of his wife, her image, smile, and the joy she brings to his life; they flood his senses and carry him through days, weeks, and years. Through this example of choosing love over suffering, Frankl teaches the reader how to choose the greatest of human experiences to surpass the hardest situations. He writes, “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth- that love is the ultimate and highest goal by which we can aspire.“ (57) Love raises his spirits and carries him through, because of his choice to recognize there is still good in his life. The author shows the reader that once he alters his perspective, he views his circumstances and the world differently. Frankl uses the coping mechanisms and concepts he develops in captivity to help others find deeper meaning.
Frankl explains how he uses his experiences to develop his existential analysis theories and logotherapy treatments to his help his patients and the readers of his text find meaning despite life’s struggles. As many human difficulties are universal, most of his own experiences are applicable to other people’s problems. He shapes logotherapy to address issues patients and readers may encounter in life such as pain, guilt, and death. (161) He shows readers through example that humans strive to find love and beauty, even in the worst of times, because these are the things that mean the most to us. In addition to love, Frankl says that recognizing “the beauty of art and nature” aid in the human capacity to rise above agony and sorrow. (60) Prisoners, he remembers with sadness, watch the horizon as they work in the cold, and admire how beautiful the world can be. The reader realizes that this ability to appreciate something grander than ourselves can help people in all kinds of situations. The human mind can help us thrive if we adopt a positive point-of-view.
Frankl doesn’t divulge the meaning of life by the end of the book. Yet, unlike so many texts that originate from lessons the author learns during his life, this one provides insight and even room for improvement in the life of each reader. The author’s story makes the reader understand that people can focus on the negative, but this path only leads to sadness and lack of meaning. Frankl shows us that when we always try to see the positive and decide to love instead of hate, we find life’s challenges less daunting. The idea that we do not suffer unjustly, if we do it with love, seems worth it.
Final Rating: 4 out 5 Stars