Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning


Victor Frankl

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Man’s Search for Meaning Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Victor Frankl's Man’s Search for Meaning. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Victor Frankl

Viktor Frankl grew up in Vienna at a time when great advances in the field of psychology were being made there. His interest in the subject developed early, and as a medical student, he organized suicide watch programs that maintained a 100% success rate. Upon completing his residency, Frankl set up a private practice. In 1938, during the German occupation of Austria, Nazi leaders forbid Frankl, a Jew, from seeing non-Jewish patients. Two years later, Frankl became the head of the neurological department at the Jewish Rothschild Hospital. In 1942, Frankl, his wife Tilly, and Frankl’s parents were arrested and sent to Nazi death camps. Frankl’s wife and parents died in the camps, but Frankl survived three years in four camps, after which he wrote many books and served as a professor at a number of universities. He is best known for his book Man’s Search for Meaning, and for developing the fields of logotherapy and existential therapy. Frankl remarried several years after his liberation and had one daughter. He died of heart failure at the age of 92.
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Historical Context of Man’s Search for Meaning

Frankl’s book is set during and in the immediate aftermath of World War II. During this war, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, Hitler (the dictator of Germany at the time) and his followers, the Nazis, killed six million Jews and five million other “undesirables,” including homosexuals, Romani people, and the mentally disabled. Victims were usually taken prisoner and sent to concentration camps (like the ones Frankl experienced), where they were either killed or made to work in starvation conditions. This systematic genocide, known as the Holocaust, was the product of Hitler’s desire to create a pure “Aryan” race that would rule the world. Frankl’s book also relates to Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, the impact of which is difficult to overstate. Frankl’s psychological theory, “logotherapy,” is considered the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy” after Freud’s psychoanalysis (which focuses on sexuality, childhood events, and subconscious drives) and Alfred Adler’s “individual psychology” (most famous for the idea of the “inferiority complex”). Frankl’s logotherapy is based in the philosophical idea of existentialism, which holds that freedom is the most important value in life, and that one must create one’s own meaning in a fundamentally meaningless world. Famous existentialists include Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Other Books Related to Man’s Search for Meaning

Frankl wrote many other books during his career, including Psychotherapy and Existentialism (1967), The Will to Meaning (1988), and Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (1997). His text references the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, as well as the philosophical writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, among others. Man’s Search for Meaning is often compared to Elie Wiesel’s Night (1956), which is an account of Wiesel’s experiences in Nazi camps. Frankl’s book could also be compared to twentieth-century existentialist and religious works like Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be (1952), or Martin Buber’s I and Thou (1923).
Key Facts about Man’s Search for Meaning
  • Full Title: Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy
  • When Written: 1946
  • Where Written: Vienna, Austria
  • When Published: 1946, although Frankl updated the book until its final version was published in 1984
  • Literary Period: Post-war non-fiction
  • Genre: Psychology, memoir
  • Setting: Nazi concentration camps during WWII
  • Climax: This book does not have a traditional narrative arc or climax. Important moments included Frankl’s vision of his wife and his decision to rewrite his manuscript.
  • Antagonist: Nazis, apathy
  • Point of View: First person (autobiographical)

Extra Credit for Man’s Search for Meaning

Adventurer. Frankl received his pilot’s license at age 67, and was an avid mountain climber.

Statue of Responsibility. Frankl proposed that the United States build a Statue of Responsibility on the West coast to compliment and balance the Statue of Liberty in the East.