Many think that when times seem unbearable and severe, it is unescapable, with no possibility of ever escaping and surviving such hardships. However, I believe that people can survive almost any suffering if they have a goal to strive for, as shown in Siddhartha, Night, and Man’s Search for Meaning. Written by Herman Hesse, Siddhartha provides a unique experience of how suffering can be overcome with an aspiration in mind, no matter how long it takes. Even at the beginning of the book, Siddhartha realizes he is discontent by the sheltered world of his fancy life of a Brahmin.
He believes there is something more, to truly understand and find peace with his innermost self, the goal of achieving Nirvana. He begins with joining the Samanas, believing that one has to suffer to reach this enlightened state; living like the Samanas would create conditions of treacherous life, having to starve, feeling weak in order to feel better (13). Siddhartha even encounters Buddha, and decides it is not worth it to follow him, for he wants to experience life and suffering for himself, instead of being taught second-hand. Eventually he met a girl, Kamala, and it almost consumed him.
The epitome of lust and greed, Kamala drove Siddhartha off his intended course to reach the enlightened state, which caused him to drink and gamble. However, Siddhartha felt something was wrong after dreaming of a dead bird, which represented “throwing away all value and goodness” (73). Siddhartha then left Kamala, to pursue his journey, which he eventually completed, only after being reduced to the lowest depths. This reveals that even though someone like Siddhartha experienced deep suffering, mentally and physically, he still achieved his goal he intended to finish.
His life went through a whirlpool of questioning, misery, and confusion, ways in which he suffered, but he still persisted, based on the fact it would all be worth it in the end, to achieve Nirvana. The idea of that alone is what gave him the reason to endure all that he did. Along with Siddhartha, Night also depicts that when a target is set, ordeals can be faced and conquered. Based on the experience he went through at the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, Elie Wiesel illustrates how intense suffering can be, along with how it can be overcome, even in the darkest of times.
Most people taken to the concentration camps did not find a reason to live or to hold on to life, after how brutally they were treated by the Nazis, pushing them on the brink of death, if not death itself. However, Elie made a distinction between the victims’ control over their fate and control of their actions, believing man does have control over his moral choices, even in extreme situations. Despite his small size, he does not give in to cold or exhaustion. Elie’s will to survival is found in his ability to understand the reality of the brutal situations that were faced.
It was the fact he had faith in himself (76). He might have even thought of the possibility of being reunited with his mother and sisters, which would keep Elie going, The essential idea of freedom and escaping the brutality is also what made Elie sustain such suffering. Towards the end of Night, when being evacuated to one of the last camps before being liberated, Elie had to insist he and his father) would stay awake (85), for sleep meant death. Several would succumb to the extremity of the pain and decide it is not worth to keep living if it meant they had to endure such agony and torture.
Elie fought this, as tempting as it would seem to let himself die, for to him, liberation was everything, and it drove him to the end, being released at last. While trying to survive these dark times, he had to hold on any piece of decency and humanity left within him, and attempting to stay alive at the same time. Even though these foul encounters at the camps twisted Elie’s perspective on life forever, being faced with such anguish and suffering showed him what he did not want to turn into, a will so strong which led him to outlast the others.
Furthermore, the idea that hardships and ordeals can be endured and outlasted if there is a goal to seek is expressed in Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. Under “The Importance of the Future in Suffering”, it discusses how man “can only live by looking to the future”. Only by looking at what is ahead and to think about what could potentially happen can make one give worth in living in. If there is nothing to look for up ahead, what worth is there in living? At the concentration camps during Nazi Germany, prisoners had to aim at finding inner strength by “point out a future goal to which he could look forward”.
While he sometimes might have to “force his mind to the task”, he still gets it done. Additionally, the text states how prisoners who had lost faith in looking at the future, were doomed. “With the loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay”. If one looses sight of the future ahead, there ends up being no future. “Any attempt to restore man’s inner-strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal”.
A lot prisoners did not think escaping or being freed would ever be a possibility after such intense suffering for so long that they just gave up. They had no will left in them to live which caused their demise. But to the ones who did, similar to Elie Wiesel in Night, it reinforces the idea that if one has a positive outlook on their future no matter how bad the present may be, it can be conquered. With a reason and purpose, there is motivation to complete the task at hand, compared to those with nothing to live and dream for.
One could say, during the time of Nazi Germany and the concentration camps, there could have been someone who had high hopes of surviving and escaping, but by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he was killed, even though they had a goal in mind. That could be true, but he would have tried his best to not get killed and escape given the chance, and sometimes there is no escaping death, and that has to be accepted. However, say that person was given a short slip of time which miraculously allowed him to leave safely and securely.
If he was not hopeful and optimistic about escaping his suffering in the first place, he most likely would have wasted the opportunity, and probably not even see it as a chance to escape in the first place, because he had such a negative mindset of never leaving. Also, if one was set on escaping the camps, I think they would have been smart enough to not be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it is unfair to judge what could have been done when I was not even there or any similar experience like that.
Suffering can take on an assortment of forms, being mentally, physically, and spiritually. It can be easy for someone to be overwhelmed because of this and decide to give up on all hopes and dreams on whatever might have been in their future. However, as Night, Siddhartha, and Man’s Search for Meaning illustrate, adversity can be overcome, so long as there is an objective to live for. As Nietzsche states, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how”.