Discuss how the novel 1984 and the memoir Man’s Search for Meaning were products of their time.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The 1930s and 1940s were the decades in which totalitarianism—in both its fascist and communist forms—reached its peak. These two books, one a memoir of the Holocaust and the other a dystopia, are records of the actual and imagined experiences of victims of totalitarian systems.

Man's Search for Meaning is both a chronicle of imprisonment in a concentration camp and an attempt at a psychoanalytic approach toward those who, like the author himself, were victimized in this way. Viktor Frankl states at the outset that he does not intend to detail the physical horrors of the camps (since other survivors have already done this); he focuses on the mental state that the Nazis imposed on their prisoners. Nevertheless, it's impossible to tell the story without the stark and lurid specifics of his and others' experiences at the hands of the Nazis.

1984 is a fictional projection into the future of this totalitarian period in history. Orwell had never personally experienced such a regime or anything like it—except, significantly, for his time spent in Spain fighting against the Fascists. Much of his knowledge of totalitarian methods comes from the writings of an author whose experiences were similar to those of Frankl—namely, Arthur Koestler. Darkness at Noon, Arrival and Departure and other works of Koestler take place largely in prison, where the protagonists are men who have defied regimes that became the prototypes of Orwell's dystopia. Orwell's famous prophecy is one in which the entire population—not merely a group or groups such as the Jews were, targeted for destruction as scapegoats—is subjected to constant surveillance, mind control, dehumanization and torture. When Winston is arrested, his experience goes through stages as that of Frankl does, and that of Rubashov in Koestler's Darkness at Noon does, though the details are completely different. Both Frankl himself and Winston survive their imprisonment, but in the latter case, Winston emerges to spend the rest of his life a brainwashed zombie. Frankl's real story, on the other hand, ultimately is somehow a positive one despite the horrors he went through. In their aftermath, he was able to come to grips intellectually with them and to send the word out to others. But both Frankl and Orwell were chroniclers of a dark period in recent history—one through fact, the other through fiction.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial