What is the setting in Man's Search for Meaning, and why is it important? What impact does the setting or time have on the story?

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The primary setting of Man's Search for Meaning is Auschwitz, though parts of the book also describe cattle car travel to and from concentration camps. The time period is World War II, a period in which Frankl's Austrian homeland had been absorbed into Hitler's Third Reich.

Frankl is deported to...

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The primary setting of Man's Search for Meaning is Auschwitz, though parts of the book also describe cattle car travel to and from concentration camps. The time period is World War II, a period in which Frankl's Austrian homeland had been absorbed into Hitler's Third Reich.

Frankl is deported to Auschwitz for being a Jew. The setting is integral to the book and has a powerful impact on the story because it represents the extreme of what humans can be expected to suffer. Against life in the camp (called the lager), Frankl can explore what it means to be human and the importance of finding meaning as central to the human experience.

Frankl describes the camps as places where suffering is woven into the fabric of existence. The inmates are cold, hungry, overworked, forced to stand in miserable or freezing weather for long roll calls, and treated with arbitrary cruelty as a matter of course. Death is ever present. Also, as Frankl explains, every day seems endlessly long because of the physical misery but weeks and months go by in a blur because there is no future to look forward to. Nobody knows how long they will be there or can have any expectation of one day being different than the rest in this place of endless, monotonous present misery.

Frankl recognizes several truths more forcefully because of the extremity of the setting. First, he realizes the importance of love. He is helped in his misery by remembering his beloved wife and dreaming of the time they will be reunited. She is dead, but he does not know this and says that even if he had known, the recollection of their love would have worked powerfully to keep him alive.

While Frankl is very clear that in a place as arbitrary as the camps, hope does little to keep one alive, he nevertheless comes to understand the power of hope to give one a slight edge in this struggle. The men who have given up hope of survival are doomed while those who can maintain optimism have a chance of surviving.

Frankl also realizes that joy is relative and that even in a place as miserable as the lager, brief moments of pleasure are possible. He records, for instance, a time when a fellow inmate calls the rest of them to look at a beautiful sunset, and they all are transfixed by its beauty. In another, very darkly comic scene, Frankl recalls a time he and fellow prisoners are on a train being transported from one camp to another. They all know that if the train turns one way they will go straight to a death camp and into a gas chamber; if the train turns the other way they will go to Auschwitz. They are joyous when the train heads fo Auschwitz and they arrive (who could be joyful to go to Auschwitz?), because they at least have hope of more life.

The experience in the camps reinforces for Frankl that having a sense of meaning or purpose is integral to human life. He argues that this will to purpose is more important than either Freud's sex drive or Nietzsche's will to power.

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