Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Crete (kreet). Island south of Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Although Kazantzakis is careful to create detailed settings for the action, Freedom or Death is really about the struggle of Crete to become free from outside oppressors. The novel is filled with descriptions of the countryside and its people. Throughout, Kazantzakis uses personification to create the impression that Crete is a living being. At one point, the island is compared to a woman being ravished. At another, the sufferings of Crete are compared to the sufferings of Christ. Like many nautical novelists, Kazantzakis uses the isolation of the island to create a sense that life-and-death issues must be resolved without resort to outside help. In this way, he manages to suggest that the island stands for the world itself—a place where men and women must struggle alone to establish their identity and define their self-worth against forces that would suppress them and strip them of their humanity and dignity.

The final scenes of the novel are set in Cretan mountains where Michales and other rebels take refuge from the invading Turkish forces. Amid the rugged terrain, a small band resists a much larger force, demonstrating their willingness to die for a cause in which they believe. The rugged landscape is an apt backdrop for such action, suggesting the rugged character of Michales and his band of patriots.



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Freedom or Death Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Anton, John. “Kazantzakis and the Tradition of the Tragic.” Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 10, no. 4 (Winter, 1983): 53-67. A clear exposition of Kazantzakis’ understanding and use of the ancient notions of tragedy, which are discussed as they relate to his novels, including Freedom or Death.

Bien, Peter. “O Kapetan Mihalis, an Epic (Romance?) Manqué.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 5, no. 2 (October, 1987): 153-173. A delightful and well-written analysis of the character of Captain Michales in Freedom or Death. Bien discusses the notions of romance in the novel.

Block, Adele. “Mythological Syncretism in the Works of Four Modern Novelists.” International Fiction Review 8, no. 2 (Summer, 1991): 114-118. A useful analysis of the method by which Kazantzakis in Freedom or Death synthesizes various mythological motifs in a workable and unified system.

Gilevski, Paskal. “From Homer to Kazantzakis.” Macedonian Review 22, no. 2 (1992): 147-150. An interesting review and analysis of the connection between Kazantzakis’ tragic hero Michales and the tragic mythological heroes of Homer’s epics.

Levitt, Morton P. “Freedom or Death and Rebellion on Crete.” In The Cretan Glance: The World and Art of Kazantzakis. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980. An excellent exposition and evaluation of Freedom or Death. Levitt looks at this novel from historical, social, cultural, and philosophical perspectives.