From an Existential Vacuum to a Tragic Optimism: The Search for Meaning and Presence of God in Modern Literature
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From an Existential Vacuum to a Tragic Optimism: The Search for Meaning and the Presence of God in Modern Literature employs a new theoretical approach to critical analysis: Victor Frankl's logotherapy (from the Greek "logos" for word or reason and often related to divine wisdom), a unique form of existentialism. On the basis of his observations of the power of human endurance and transcendence - the discovery of meaning even in the midst of harrowing circumstances - Frankl diagnoses the malaise of the current age as an "existential vacuum," a sense of meaninglessness. He suggests that a panacea for this malaise may be found in creativity, love, and moral choice - even when faced with suffering or death. He affirms that human beings may transcend this vacuum, discover meaning - or even ultimate meaning to be found in Ultimate Being, or God - and live with a sense of "tragic optimism." This book observes both the current age's "existential vacuum" - a malaise of emptiness and meaninglessness - and its longing for meaning and God as reflected in three genres: poetry, novel, and fantasy. Part I, "Reflections of God in the Poetic Vision," addresses "tragic optimism" - hope when there seems to be no reason for hope - in poems by William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Part II, "American Angst: Emptiness and Possibility in John Steinbeck's Major Novels," presents a study of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and The Winter of Our Discontent - novels that together form a uniquely American epic trilogy. Together these novels tell the story of a nation's avarice, corruption, and betrayal offset by magnanimity, heroism, and hospitality. Set against the backdrop of Frankl's ways of finding meaning and fulfillment - all obliquely implying the felt presence of God - the characters are representative Every Americans, in whose lives are reflected a nation's worst vices and best hopes. Part III, "A Tragic Optimism: The Triumph of Good in the Fantasy Worlds of Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling," defines fantasy and science fiction as mirrors with which to view reality. J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength, and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series are considered in the light of Frankl's logotherapy - providing paths to meaning and the ultimate meaning to be found in God. In a postmodern, fragmented age, these works affirm a continuing vision of God (often through His felt absence) and, also, a most human yearning for meaning even when there seems to be none - providing, as Frankl maintains, "a tragic optimism."
billowing seas that burst past boundaries—she can still be happy. He concludes with both a prayer and a blessing, extending the metaphors of the “rich horn” and “laurel tree.” Thinking of the years to come when Anne will marry, he prays she may have the security of a home where customs and ceremonies may be observed—keeping at bay the “arrogance and hatred” of her times, a place where “innocence and beauty” (stanza 10. L.6) may be born. Whereas in “The Second Coming,” “the ceremony of innocence
EXISTENTIAL VACUUM TO A TRAGIC OPTIMISM: THE SEARCH FOR MEANING AND PRESENCE OF GOD IN MODERN LITERATURE The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century. . . . Man . . . sometimes . . . does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism). (110) —Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning An ultimate being—paralleling the ultimate meaning—or to speak in plain
tent to eat their own meager servings, Ma leaves a portion in the pot for the children, feeling that she has “robbed” her own family to feed the children of strangers, realizing that it is not enough to do them any good. Chapter 21’s description of the general plight of migrant men who are “ravenous for work, murderous for work” previews Chapter 22’s introduction of Timothy and Wilkie Wallace who, in the midst of their own great need, introduce Tom Joad to their boss and share work that will soon
Purtill likewise sees Jane from a biased perspective, maintaining that she has a “ruling vice, . . . lack of commitment to her marriage” (92). In the light of Jane’s character in the novel, stranger yet is Thomas Howard’s statement that “Jane becomes the theotokor, the ‘God bearer,’ to Mark, since it is . . . by the From an Existential Vacuum to a Tragic Optimism 167 means of her flesh that salvation is mediated to him” (141). For Lewis portrays her as a heroic, highly respected member of the
magical world, death is signified by such entities as ghosts, inferi (dead bodies animated by dark magic), reflections of Harry’s dead parents in the Mirror of Erised, and a golden dome surrounding Harry and those whom Voldemort has murdered (including his parents). Rowling’s view of death, however, is well anchored in Christian tradition—or “theology,” to use Pharr’s term. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore’s depiction of death as “the next great adventure” is a statement of faith in