In what way does each of the following quotes relate to the overall meaning of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning? "A life of short duration could be so rich in joy and love that it could...

In what way does each of the following quotes relate to the overall meaning of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning?

"A life of short duration could be so rich in joy and love that it could contain more meaning than a life lasting eighty years."

"If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering."

"Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude."

"What is to give light must endure burning."

Expert Answers
rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These are great quotes. Here's another: "Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love." Frankl's theme, even as he describes the incredible brutality of the camps, is that life is not meaningless -- in fact, it is full of meaning, and that meaning comprehends all of human experience, joy and suffering alike. The meaning of life, in short, is love. Furthermore, Frankl argues that no matter the situation, we are always free to choose to respond with dignity and love.

Each of your quotes has to do with Frankl's belief in this fundamental mental freedom.

"...a life of short duration..." The quote comes from a logotherapy session in which an old woman looks back on her life. The actual extract runs as follows:

As for myself, I can look back peacefully on my life; for I can say my life was full of meaning, and I have tried hard to fulfill it; I have done my best - I have done the best for my son. My life was no failure!" Viewing her life as if from her deathbed, she had suddenly been able to see a meaning in it, a meaning which even included all of her sufferings. By the same token, however, it had become clear as well that a life of short duration, like that, for example, of her dead boy, could be so rich in joy and love that it could contain more meaning than a life lasting eighty years.

The woman realizes that the meaning of her life had been to care for her two sons -- one who died, and another who was born crippled. This "meaning" -- how her love bettered the lives of her children -- provides a framework within which all her experience, including her suffering, makes sense. If we understand the meaning of a life in terms of the degree to which we affect others, Frankl's comment about how even a short life can contain "more meaning" that one lasting eighty years suggests that our ability to give and receive love is the ultimate measure of "meaning."

"...meaning in suffering..." This quote comes during a discussion of the people Frankl describes as the "martyrs" of the camps, those who refused to allow their basic decency to be stripped away by the brutality of their treatment. Here is the passage in which the quote occurs:

But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man's attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

Frankl's point about the "meaning of suffering" is connected to what he terms the "last inner freedom" -- the freedom to choose one's attitude towards circumstances, to choose, in other words, to remain human, or become an animal. Suffering was unavoidable in the camps, but suffering also is an "ineradicable part of life," an essential component to all human life.

"...our greatest freedom..." Frankl here explicitly ties outward behavior to inner decisions about how to respond to conditions. The paragraph in full reads:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

These "martyrs" made a fundamental choice: to love instead of hate, to care for others rather than fixate on their own survival. This choice is open to everyone, can cannot be taken away.

"...endure burning..." I'm not able to find this passage in my edition of the book, however the quote expresses a fundamental tenet of Frankl's thought, which is that meaning comprises good and bad, suffering and joy. The "light" of life, our ability to love others, requires burning -- suffering, sacrifice. Our abilty to care for others consumes us, but both are part of "meaning."