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3 Novels on Meaning of Life

This study will examine three works' treatment of the common theme of searching for meaning in life under harrowing circumstances. The three works are Erich Maria Remarque's anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front, Charles Dickens's Hard Times, and Jurek Becker's Jacob the Liar. The novels deal with various aspects of European history which portray the rise of forces of dehumanization which occurred in the 19th and 20th century (through World War II). Remarque deals with world war and its impact on individual human beings. Dickens' novel deals with social and economic forces which lead to the dehumanization of workers and children. Becker's novel deals with the dehumanization of victims of a second world war, and specifically with a victim of the Nazi concentration camps which were a central horror in that war. Each of the books also deals with the search of victims of these forces of European history, a search for meaning in a life which appears at times to be without meaning due to those aforementioned forces of oppression.

A reader could come away from Remarque's novel in a state of despair with respect to the future of the human race and its ability to survive its own destructive impulses: "I am so alone, and so without hope . . . " (295). Nevertheless, Remarque, beginning with protagonist Paul Baumer, does show individuals to be fundamentally good, although, of course, they are all vulnerable to corruption by the aggressive impulses of political and military leaders. This point is crucial in considering whether one can find meaning in life at all, especially in the face of great suffering from war and other destructive forces beyond one's control. That is, Paul maintains the measure of freedom necessary for there to be any meaning in the question of whether there is meaning. Paul's ability to transcend suffering gives us the entire quotation from which the eight words were taken:

I am very quiet. Let the months and y...

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3 Novels on Meaning of Life. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 07:51, May 28, 2020, from