Marinda Popp Transcending Suffering in Man’s Search for Meaning “The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man whohas nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in thecontemplation of his beloved” (Frankl 37). This quote describes the way in which aperson, even in the direst situations can choose to transcend their suffering in order tocontinue to strive towards their existential existence. Existentialism is a theory statingthat the only person who is able to construct meaning in his or her life is the humansubject. The idea of existentialism is discussed in Frankl’s theory of Logotherapy, whichstates that a meaning in life can only be constructed by the individual and not by externalinfluences and that to find meaning one must have the will to do so. In Man’s Search forMeaning by Victor E. Frankl three different methods of transcending suffering aredescribed. In the novel, many of the prisoners are able to transcend the horribleconditions they face through love, courage and by engulfing themselves with the work athand. One way that the prisoners transcend their suffering is through love. In the novel,Frankl along with other prisoners, constantly drift away from the present and into a stateof reminiscence of their loved ones. These images, talks and thoughts the prisoners haveconcerning those they love allow them to escape from the harsh conditions and into astate of happiness. Frankl remembers one morning when he and the other prisoners had tomarch to their worksite. He remembers his wife when “the man next to [him] whisperedsuddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps anddon’t know what is happening to us!”” (Frankl 37). It is because of the recurring image
and remembrance of his wife, throughout the novel, that Frankl is able to endure the cold,torture and constant work he faces every day. Frankl comes to the conclusion that, “love is the ultimate and highest goal towhich man can aspire,” (Frankl 37). Any man, that has someone he loves in his lifeaccording to Frankl can choose, to use this love to help him transcend suffering. It is alsostated that, “love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds itsdeepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self,” (Frankl 38). Love is the truestwhen a person can be loved and envisioned without being present. Many times, thephysical aspect overrides the spiritual or emotional connection between two people. Thisspiritual connection is the most pure form of love. The prisoners did not need their lovedones physically present to know that they still loved them. Their recollections of the pastgave them hope for the future. It was the thought of the future that kept some prisonersfrom giving up on themselves. Others, who could not see a final goal to reach, “whocould not see the end of his “provisional existence” was not able to aim at an ultimategoal in life,” chose to stop trying, succumbing to the torture of their everyday life (Frankl70). Throughout the novel, Frankl and his fellow prisoners are placed in manydifferent trying and stressful situations. They turned to compassion to escape from theirsuffering, which made them, “very distant” (Frankl 39). The importance of compassion isviewed through a scene in the novel where Frankl convinces two men not to commitsuicide. Their reasons for living are related to compassion. They understood that it wasnot them that should expect anything from life but the fact that life was still expectingsomething from them. This compelled them to not take their own lives. The first man’s
reason to live was, “his child whom he adored and who was waiting for him in a foreigncountry,” (Frankl 79). The other possible suicide victim found his reason because he,“was a scientist and had written a series of books, which still needed to be finished. Hiswork could not be done by anyone else, any more than another person could ever take theplace of the father in his child’s affections,” (Frankl 79). These two men understood thatthere was something waiting for them after this part of their lives. Life was still expectingsomething of them in the future and they were willing to persevere through the horribleconditions they faced daily so as not to let down those they loved. Love cannot exist without its counterpart suffering. For example, the men in theconcentration camps deal with the pain of the cold, ill fitting shoes and thin and worn-outclothing everyday while they work. Frankl explains that this pain must exist in order forthe prisoners to truly value their life and loved ones. This exemplifies the dualistic natureof love. Including Frankl, there are a couple unidentified prisoners who believe that in theend, their loved ones will be waiting for them and that all of the pain is needed in order toreach this ultimate reality. Many of them understand that their family members might bedead; many of them were gassed in other concentration camps, but they still use thepossibility of their loved ones being alive as hope. This hope the prisoners have for thefuture is seen through, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infiniteglory,” (Frankl 38). This quote describes how the angels, even as the guardians to heaven,still wonder about God and how they could become more like him. Through this quote itcan be seen that Frankl believed that God would make the right decisions concerning hislife in the concentration camp and that although he was suffering a great deal, he stillbelieved that God allowed it to happen for a reason.
The second way Frankl describes one can find meaning in life is through courage.This courage was fueled by, “one thought only: to keep himself alive for the familywaiting for him at home, and to save his friends,” (Frankl 5). The courage of these men isseen in the way they approach their various grueling jobs at the concentration camps. It isalso seen in the way many of them approach their everyday life, the fact that they do notgive up, quitting while they have basically nothing to lose. This shows just howcourageous the prisoners are and how they are willing to fight for a future they do noteven know will exist. Frankl states that meaning in life can also be found through work. Many of thepeople in the concentration camps were hard workers. They allowed themselves tobecome engulfed in the work that they were given in order to escape from the harshreality they faced. Becoming completely consumed with the present task at hand,thinking about future goals and contemplating about love allow a person to escape frompresent suffering. The horrors of the concentration camps left those that survived scarred for the restof their lives. A main theme that Frankl tries to convey is that life will always havemeaning, but that it depends on the person to understand and find this meaning. Thus,Frankl believes that even in dire and catastrophic situations we have the freedom tocontrol our emotional and spiritual state. The choice that is made can that effect how wefeel about the situation we are in and how we value our life as well as if we live. It wasbecause the prisoners were able to make this choice transcending the pain they faced, thatthey were able to forget about the current conditions they faced. This allowed them to beable to look towards the future and view their ultimate goal. Whether this goal was a
family, future employment or freedom, these goals were worked towards through the useof courage, love and work. Although many prisoners were not able to grasp this idea offuture goals, being too consumed with the present and their suffering, those that wereable to transcend their suffering were able to escape from the present even if it was justfor a fleeting moment and some were able to live to see the freedom they worked so hardto achieve.
Works CitedFrankl, Viktor E. Mans Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon, 1959. Print.