Tuesdays with Morrie
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
The Rejection of Popular Cultural Mores in Favor of Self-created Values
Each of Morrie's lessons contributes to a larger, all-encompassing message that each individual, Mitch especially, should reject popular cultural values, and instead develop his own. As Morrie sees it, popular culture is a dictator under which the human community must suffer. In his own life, Morrie has fled this cultural dictatorship in favor of creating his own culture founded on love, acceptance, and open communication. He develops his own culture as a revolt against the media-driven greed, violence and superficiality which has tarnished the mores promoted by popular culture. Morrie encourages Mitch to free himself of this corrupt, dictatorial culture in favor of his own, and it is only when he does that he begins to reassess his life and rediscover fulfillment.
"Love Or Perish"
Morrie recites a quote by his favorite poet, W. H. Auden, to encompass one of his most important lessons to Mitch: in the absence of love, there is a void that can be filled only by loving human relationships. When love abounds, Morrie says, a person can experience no higher sense of fulfillment. Throughout his fourteen Tuesday lessons with Mitch, Morrie divulges that love is the essence of every person, and every relationship, and that to live without it, as Auden says, is to live with nothing. The importance of love in his life is especially clear to Morrie as he nears his final days, for without the meticulous care of those he loves, and who love him, he would perish. Morrie clings to life not because he is afraid of dying or because he fears what will become of him in the afterlife, but because his greatest dying wish is to share his story with Mitch so that he may share it with the world. Morrie clings just long enough to divulge the essence of his story, then releases himself to death, leaving Mitch and his audience with the message that love brings meaning to experience, and that without it, one may as well be dead.
Acceptance Through Detachment
In his quest to accept his impending death, Morrie consciously "detaches himself from the experience" when he suffers his violent coughing spells, all of which come loaded with the possibility of his last breath. Morrie derives his method of detachment from the Buddhist philosophy that one should not cling to things, as everything that exists is impermanent. In detaching, Morrie is able to step out of his tangible surroundings and into his own state of consciousness, namely for the sake of gaining perspective and composure in a stressful situation. Morrie does not intend to stop feeling or experiencing in his detachment, but instead, wants to experience wholly, for it is only then that he is able to let go, to detach from a life-threatening experience which renders him fearful and tense. He does not want to die feeling upset, and in these frightening moments, detaches so that he may accept the impermanence of his life and embrace his death, which he knows may come at any moment.
The media is continually portrayed in Tuesdays With Morrie as being inherently evil, sucking Mitch dry of his passion and ambition, and feeding the public stories of murder and hatred that have ravaged the goodness of the world's general community. Mitch, who is out of work due to a unionized strike at the Detroit newspaper he writes for, continually notices the horrific events reported by the media he for a long time has been a part of. He reads about homicides, torture, theft, and a dozen other gruesome crimes that serve to juxtapose the evil of the popular culture with the goodness of the world Morrie has created for himself. The O.J. Simpson murder trial also makes multiple appearances throughout the book, and provides Mitch with evidence to support his claim that the the general populous has become dependent on, and somewhat addicted to, media coverage of relatively meaningless stories, stories that contribute nothing to personal development or goodness as a human being.
Reincarnation and Renewal
Reincarnation and renewal are presented as facets of both life and death; in life, Morrie teaches that a person is ever-changing, and in death, looks forward to some form of new life with the natural progression of the life cycle. With Morrie as his mentor, Mitch is able to reincarnate himself in life, transforming a man who was once motivated by material wealth into a man who is motivated by a passion to love, and to emulate the man who has so touched his life. Morrie reveals that despite his old age, he is still changing, as every person does until their dying day.
Each Tuesday, Mitch brings with him a bag of food from the grocery store for Morrie to enjoy, as he knows that his professor's favorite hobby, second to dancing, is eating. Morrie can no longer dance, and soon, he can no longer eat the food that Mitch brings him, either, as his health and strength have deteriorated so much, he can no longer ingest solids. The food that he brings for Morrie serves as a reminder for Mitch of the days he and his professor would eat together in the cafeteria at Brandeis, when he had been young and passionate, and Morrie energetic and in good health. Now, Mitch has been corrupted by commercial wealth, and Morrie by his illness. Although he knows that Morrie can no longer eat solids, Mitch continues to bring food each week because he so fears Morrie's fast-approaching death. The food Mitch brings him acts as a means by which to cling to Morrie and the fond memories Mitch has of his favorite professor. Mitch also feels that food is the only gift he can give to Morrie, and feels helpless as to how to soothe him any other way.
Pink hibiscus plant
As Morrie's body deteriorates, so does the condition of the hibiscus plant. The plant's pink petals wither and fall as Morrie grows increasingly dependent on his aides and on oxygen. As his death approaches, so does the death of the plant. It is continually used as a metaphor for Morrie's life and for life itself. Like the plant, humans, Morrie in particular, experience a natural life cycle, which inevitably ends in death. Morrie must accept this inevitable fate, as must Mitch.
Waves on the ocean
Morrie recounts a story he had heard about a small wave seeing the waves ahead of him crash on the shore, disappearing into nothingness. He suddenly brims with fear upon the realization that he too will soon 'crash on the shore' and, die as the wave fears he will. This little wave confides his fear in another wave who comforts him with the news that he will not crash and die, but will instead return to become a small part of the larger ocean. This small wave is symbolic of Morrie, as he too is on the brink of crashing into a theoretical shore, a symbolic embodiment of his death. Like the wave, Morrie is comforted by the knowledge that he will soon return to something larger in the afterlife. Morrie's affinity for the parable denotes his belief in a form of reincarnation, which he understands as intrinsic part of the natural life cycle.
Morrie's aphorism, "When you're in bed, you're dead," eventually comes true. Throughout Morrie's struggle with ALS, he refuses to stay in bed, as he sees it as a form of surrender, and instead opts to rest in the chair in his study. Morrie intends to live his last days as fully as he can, and knows that if he is to remain in bed, he will surrender himself to death by forfeiting the simple enjoyment he gets from lying in his study. In his study, photographs of loved ones, and the books he has collected in his lifetime surround Morrie. There, he can look outside of his window, and though he cannot go outside, he admires the beauty of the seasons and the plant and animal life outdoors. It is not until Morrie's final days that he does stay in bed, when he has at last accepted and readied himself for death.
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