Study Guide

Tuesdays With Morrie

by Mitch Albom

Tuesdays With Morrie Summary

Summary

At his commencement from Brandeis University in 1979, Mitch Albom promises his favorite teacher, Morrie Schwartz, that he will keep in touch. Life intervenes, however, and Mitch loses contact with his old mentor until sixteen years later, when he sees him being interviewed by Ted Koppel on ABC's "Nightline." Morrie has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease will eat away at his nerves, rendering his body useless but leaving his soul and mind intact. Although doctors give him a prognosis of two years, Morrie knows it will be less.

Mitch is stunned to see his old teacher on television. During the years since his graduation, Mitch has tried but failed to make a living as a musician. The death of a close relative instills in him a sense of urgency to do something significant with his life, and he turns to journalism as a career. Mitch works obsessively, burying himself in accomplishments in a single-minded but ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of happiness. Because of his frenetic lifestyle, Mitch has cut himself off from all his past acquaintances, and forgotten the lessons Morrie had taught about relationships and "being human." Seeing the dying man on television rekindles old yearnings, however, and Mitch is drawn to visit his former mentor.

Morrie greets Mitch with unqualified joy, but Mitch reacts with feelings of guilt. Mitch is not the idealistic, sensitive young man he had been when he was in college; he has become jaded, having "traded lots of dreams for a bigger paycheck." Morrie asks Mitch if he is at peace with himself, and Mitch can only squirm uncomfortably in response. Morrie says that dying is only one thing that brings sadness; living unhappily has the same effect. His words strike a cord with the troubled young man, and, upon returning from a short business trip, Mitch arranges to visit Morrie again on Tuesday, in what essentially becomes the opening session of the professor's last class, a class for one.

Mitch and Morrie slip easily back into their old manner of college dialogue during their first Tuesday meeting. Observing the havoc the disease is wreaking on Morrie's once vigorous body, Mitch is astonished at the positivity his teacher shows in facing his inexorable decline. Morrie calls death "the great equalizer," because it allows him to better understand the suffering of others. He is thankful to have been given the time to reflect on the important things in life before he dies.

The topic of the second Tuesday class is self-pity. Morrie, who has every reason to feel sorry for himself, tells Mitch that he consciously imposes "a daily limit on self-pity," a few tearful minutes in the mornings when he allows himself to mourn before focusing on the good things in his life and carrying on with his day. Mitch learns to lift Morrie from his wheelchair to his recliner, and as he holds his mentor's wasted body, he knows that for Morrie, time is truly running out. Mitch brings a tape recorder to their third session, during which Morrie talks...

(The entire section is 1251 words.)

Tuesdays With Morrie Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1 Summary

Tuesdays With Morrie is a memoir about the lessons the author, Mitch Albom, learned from his professor while at university and later at the end of his professor’s life. Chapter 1, “The Curriculum,” introduces the narrative structure of the opening chapters, the characters, and the themes Mitch Albom discusses in Tuesdays With Morrie.

Morrie Schwartz was Mitch Albom’s favorite professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. The first half of “The Curriculum” explains that Morrie is dying and that they have begun to meet each other on a weekly basis, likening their visits to a class. Although Albom is learning from his former professor, this is not a traditional class. Albom juxtaposes the reader’s expectations of a traditional class with the more intimate classes that his “Tuesdays With Morrie” took. The class is unorthodox because it does not contain tests, grades, or lectures, but it does involve an oral exam and the student is expected to ask questions. Instead of a graduation ceremony, this class has a funeral. Albom explains that the book Tuesdays With Morrie is the class’s final paper.

Albom provides an overview of his memoir in “The Curriculum.” Broadly, the book discusses the meaning of life. Specifically, the topics include love, work, community, family, aging, forgiveness, and death. The opening chapters of Tuesdays With Morrie discuss the difficulties Morrie Schwartz faced at the end of his life, juxtaposing them with the lessons Albom learned from his old professor. This structure of juxtapositions is an organizing device that makes for a mood that is in turns nostalgic, sentimental, and uplifting.

The latter half of “The Curriculum” tells of Morrie’s college graduation in 1979. Even at this time, Morrie was already old and fragile, but he is still very intelligent and kind, which is reflected through his honest and warm smile. Albom clearly admired Morrie during their time together in college; he took nearly all of the classes Morrie taught.

Albom explains that graduation is the end of childhood. It also seems to be the end of his time with Morrie. When Albom introduces his parents to Morrie, it is clear that both the professor and the student have a great deal of respect and affection for each other. Morrie describes Albom as “a special boy” and Albom gives his professor a briefcase. As they embrace, Albom already feels like their roles have been reversed—the aged professor feels like a child in his arms—which foreshadows their later relationship during Morrie’s illness. Although graduation is often a time of parting, the two promise to keep in touch. They fulfill that promise with their informal Tuesday class at the end of Morrie’s life.

Chapter 2 Summary

“The Syllabus” outlines the disease Morrie Schwartz suffered from before he died. Albom introduces the disease, its effects, and how Schwartz responded to his decline. Bravely, Schwartz fought to remain useful and a part of his community rather than going into retreat during his illness. Albom’s writing relies on repetition and juxtaposition to create the chapter’s sentimental mood.

Although he was a distinguished professor of sociology, Morrie Schwartz could be found every Wednesday night at “Dance Free,” which was primarily a student gathering. Albom explains Morrie’s love of dance, a love so pure that he would dance without a partner to any music, ranging from the tango to Jimi Hendrix. Dressed in sweat pants, a white T-shirt, and a towel around his neck, he danced every week. He knew something was wrong with him when he was no longer able to dance.

Although it took several tests, Morrie’s doctors eventually diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1994, which is more popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although doctors did not know the cause, they knew the disease was terminal. Albom likens ALS to a burning candle because it “melts your nerves and leaves your body like a pile of wax.” Morrie slowly lost his ability to dance, to drive, and to dress himself—a depressing process that Albom emphasizes by using the refrain “that was the end of” to organize the details of Morrie’s decline. At first, Albom explains, Morrie was surprised to find that the world had not ended, but he later strove to make the most of his remaining time. He refused to become “useless.” Instead, Morrie went on to teach his final course, warning his students that he might die before it ended.

Morrie lead discussion groups about death and dying and he refused to “wither,” choosing instead to “narrate” the process of dying. This unusual attitude led to unusual events. After attending a friend’s funeral, Morrie felt that the time had been a waste because the deceased never heard all those wonderful expressions of love and friendship in life. So Morrie planned a living funeral for himself so he would be able to hear and experience all the kind things people would say to him. However, this “living funeral” was not the end of Morrie’s life. Albom ends the chapter suggesting that “the most unusual part of his life was about to unfold.”

Chapter 3 Summary

Mitch Albom explains in “The Student” what happened to the promise that he made to Morrie to keep in touch. Rather than keep in touch, Albom went on to participate in a daily and nightly grind following his dream of becoming a professional pianist. Unfortunately, Albom explains, he did not become a professional pianist. For all his nights in dank nightclubs and for all his time writing songs, he found himself failing for the first time. He did not enjoy the experience.

However, this came to an end when Albom’s favorite uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Albom explains that this had been the uncle who taught him about music, driving, girls, and football, and even as a child Albom identified this uncle as one of his first role models. When his uncle died, Albom’s life changed. No longer would he waste time writing songs at night that no one would listen to.

Instead, he returned to university and obtained a master’s degree in journalism. Rather than following his own dreams, he would write about athletes following their dreams. Albom explains the breakneck pace and relentless drive that led him to success. He wrote all night and all day; he took jobs in Florida and New York. However, his great success as a sports journalist came when he wound up in Detroit, a city so enthusiastic for sports that it has professional teams in every popular American sport. Albom explains how he moved from writing articles to columns to books to appearing on the radio and television. Although he married a woman named Janine and bought a house on a hill, he found that he did not have time to start a family.

Although it may sound like working for the Detroit Free Press was a waste of time, Albom did not think it was. He felt he had gained a sense of control over his life. The rapid pace with which he worked would bring him happiness. Albom recalls thinking that his uncle died young, in his forties; therefore, he should squeeze every ounce of happiness out of life that he could. Consequently, Albom did not have time to keep up with the affairs of Brandeis University. He was busy working, buying cars, and building a stock portfolio; he ended up throwing away his alumni letters. Ultimately, Albom was unaware that his favorite professor was sick.

Chapter 4 Summary

In “The Audiovisual,” Albom recalls how he discovered that his university mentor was suffering from ALS. By 1995, a year after his diagnosis, Morrie was wheelchair bound and increasingly reliant on the people around him. However, he was still focused on making the most of his life and being productive and engaged rather than useless and withdrawn.

One thing he began to do at this point was to write aphorisms on Post-It Notes. The sentences he wrote contained bits of wisdom like “Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do” and “Accept the past as past, without denying it or discarding it.” These notes soon became so numerous that Morrie’s colleague, Maurie Stein, eventually collected...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

In “The Student,” Mitch Albom discusses the conflict between Morrie’s life and his own obsessive drive to succeed as a sports journalist. “The Orientation” brings this conflict into the open.

“The Orientation” opens as Mitch Albom is in his car with a coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Albom is talking to his producer about a television clip, asking to hear a segment again. After seeing his dying professor interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline, Albom has decided to visit Morrie while in Boston. He has a few hours until his flight. Suddenly, Albom realizes that he has arrived at Morrie’s house. Although he wishes that he could circle the...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

In “The Classroom,” Mitch and Morrie have their first discussion about the meaning of life, but it is only preliminary. Albom uses this chapter to highlight some of the conflicts that drive his discussion of life in America. Surprisingly, Morrie seems to be happier in his state of dying than Albom is in his state of health and success. Morrie is surrounded by people who care about him. Over the years, he has influenced the minds of many students and others; Mitch is not the only one to have returned to pay his respects or to reconnect with the old professor.

It cannot be denied that Morrie is dying. Albom recalls how his mentor struggled to eat. Morrie even explains that he will die of suffocation. ALS has already...

(The entire section is 443 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

In “Taking Attendance,” Albom recalls his time in England covering the Wimbledon tennis competition. Albom is juggling a number of jobs for newspapers, television, and radio stations while in England; this has become routine in his life. On the stands in front of the venue, he sees tabloids that speculate about the British royalty. Looking at these articles, Albom finds himself recalling Morrie’s advice about not buying into a culture that fails to help you.

For many years, Albom has found satisfaction in his work, and only recently has he begun to realize that this is misguided. Now, when he looks around him, he sees people chasing the wrong things, like a group of tabloid photographers chasing tennis players and...

(The entire section is 397 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary

In “The First Tuesday: We Talk About the World,” Albom returns to his old professor’s home. Morrie’s crushing illness is again juxtaposed with his optimistic, compassionate attitude. Recalling his confession that his greatest dread was to have someone “wipe my ass,” Morrie has come to accept this fate and chooses to view it as a unique way to return to life as a baby. These contrasts are used to discuss the nature of sympathy and love.

Morrie’s nurse, Connie, invites Albom into the house. Albom has brought food, hoping to help his ailing mentor somehow. As they sit down to eat, Albom is surprised to find that Morrie still reads newspapers. Morrie explains that although he is dying, he still cares about...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

In “The Second Tuesday: We Talk About Feeling Sorry for Yourself,” Morrie explains how he deals with the daily reminder that he is dying. The ALS is accelerating, and Albom reminds himself that he only has a little time left with his mentor. Now Morrie no longer sits in the dining room. Instead, he spends most of his time in a recliner in his study. When he needs to use the washroom, he rings a bell to summon one of his four nurses. Albom lifts his professor from the wheelchair into the recliner and notices that Morrie is no longer able to even hold onto the person helping him. Albom wonders how Morrie can deal with such difficulties. The professor explains that the morning is his time of mourning. He feels for parts of his...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

In “The Third Tuesday: We Talk About Regrets,” Albom once again returns to Morrie’s home with food. This time he has also brought a tape recorder. He hopes to record Morrie’s lessons, but then he worries that he has introduced an invasive and foreign object into their intimate discussions. However, Morrie explains that he welcomes the tape recorder because he wants to share his life with Mitch.

Their conversation turns to regrets, and Morrie explains that many people focus on certain things without realizing they should be pursuing other goals as well. This is why people need teachers and mentors—to help them keep track of what they have not been paying attention to. It seems that this is the role that Albom...

(The entire section is 444 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

In “The Audiovisual, Part Two,” Ted Koppel from the television program Nightline returns to talk to Morrie. The first episode had gone so well that the producers decided to do a second program. This time, the process is different. Koppel and Morrie are warmer and do not need to check each other out before the interview. They begin talking to each other about their childhoods before moving on to more dire topics.

Koppel comments that Morrie is looking much the same as he did during their first meeting. However, Morrie explains that he is getting worse however much he might look and sound the same. In their previous interview, Morrie explained that he dreaded having to need someone to “wipe [his] ass”...

(The entire section is 384 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

Albom explains in “The Professor” how Morrie’s childhood experiences with death led him to become a professor. “The Professor” is among the saddest chapters in Tuesdays With Morrie for its description of childhood loss and life in poverty.

Morrie’s mother died when he was still young. Morrie was the son of a Russian immigrant who spoke little English, so he had to read a hospital telegram that announced his mother’s death to his father. Furthermore, after Morrie took his younger brother, David, out to scrub porches for nickels, David woke up the next morning unable to move. He had polio, and Morrie naively blamed himself for his brother’s illness. It was a dark time in Morrie’s life, and he...

(The entire section is 400 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

In “The Fourth Tuesday: We Talk About Death,” Morrie responds to Albom’s request that they discuss death. Morrie’s continued decline is reflected by the addition of an oxygen machine to his office. The rest of America’s culture is noticeably out of sync with the peace Morrie feels: O. J. Simpson’s lawyers are becoming famous and a woman has murdered her family to protect them from “the bad people.” In contrast to all of this, Albom continues to find solace in the company of his former professor.

According to Morrie, most people do not believe that they will die. In fact, he claims that even in his sixties he was unable to believe in his own death. However, he says there is a better way: “once you learn...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary

In “The Fifth Tuesday: We Talk About Family,” Morrie’s illness continues to worsen. Albom emphasizes this by explaining that the tape recorder he had begin to bring to their meetings no longer works well because its microphone is too heavy for Morrie to hold. Now they use a microphone that clips onto Morrie’s loose sweater. The sweater is so loose that Albom sometimes has to readjust it, which Morrie likes because he now craves physical contact on a regular basis.

When they begin to discuss the importance of family, Albom is really concerned about his relationships with his own family. At this point, Albom has concentrated on his career to the exclusion of everything else. He views parenting as a sort of anchor...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

Throughout Tuesdays With Morrie, Mitch Albom has struggled to face his emotions, often dismissing them as too touchy-feely. In contrast, Morrie has often been very open about his emotions and has been encouraging Albom to put more effort into facing his emotional side. In “The Sixth Tuesday: We Talk About Emotions,” Morrie tries to teach Albom about emotional detachment and emotional penetration.

Like most chapters, “The Sixth Tuesday” opens as Albom arrives at Morrie’s house with his usual bag of food. Today, it is not one of Morrie’s nurses that answers the door but rather Morrie’s wife, Charlotte. In accordance with Morrie’s wishes, she has continued to work throughout Morrie’s illness, and...

(The entire section is 455 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary

In “The Professor, Part One,” Albom explained how a series of childhood encounters with death and disease shaped Morrie’s desire to help others and why he went on to choose to become a professor. In “The Professor, Part Two,” Albom summarizes Morrie’s early career and the influence of the 1960s, and he contrasts Morrie’s worth with that of highly paid lawyers and businessmen.

After completing his doctorate at the University of Chicago, Morrie did a study in a mental hospital in the 1950s. Although this seems routine today, Albom points out that it was a breakthrough idea in the 1950s. Albom outlines the challenges that staff faced at the mental hospital, ranging from people who soiled their pants to people...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Chapter 17 Summary

“The Seventh Tuesday: We Talk About the Fear of Aging” opens with another loss for Morrie. His great dread—relying on others to wipe his behind—has finally come to pass. Morrie cannot reach around behind his body anymore and he must rely on his nurses to clean him. However, as Morrie predicted in “The First Tuesday: We Talk About the World,” he is able to accept this latest inability by viewing it as a return to childhood. Morrie has discussed his need to give to people, but now he is focused on receiving. What he receives is the physical touch and intimacy that children receive from their mothers. Morrie argues that people do not get enough love as children, and he in...

(The entire section is 481 words.)

Chapter 18 Summary

“The Eighth Tuesday: We Talk About Money” opens with the headline “I don’t want my tombstone to read ‘I never owned a network.’” The newspaper is quoting billionaire Ted Turner, who had been struggling to acquire CBS at the time. Albom finds himself wondering whether Turner would really lament his lack of a network if he were facing death as Morrie was at the end of his life. Morrie explains that this is yet another symptom of the way American culture has lost sight of what is important. This lack of perspective explains why people tend to be so disillusioned about their lives.

Morrie explains that the American culture is unduly influenced by the need to acquire commercial goods, and he explains that...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Chapter 19 Summary

In “The Ninth Tuesday: We Talk About how Love Goes On,” the summer has ended and autumn has begun. Albom’s newspaper is still on strike and the process has stagnated. Meanwhile, televised news is still broadcasting depressing stories. The primary concern for most Americans has become the O. J. Simpson trial. Meanwhile, Albom explains that he had been trying to contact his brother in Spain. Morrie’s health has continued to worsen, and he now has a catheter in his penis, which allows him to urinate. While he cannot control his legs, they still give him pain. Finally, he can no longer move his head.

Morrie explains that Ted Koppel and Newsline are thinking about doing a third interview. However, Albom is...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Chapter 20 Summary

In “The Tenth Tuesday: We Talk About Marriage,” Morrie has continued to decline. He now requires oxygen to be supplied to his lungs, his coughing has become frightening, and Albom cannot help remembering Morrie’s prediction that he would die when the disease started to affect his lungs. Albom brings his wife, Janine, to meet Morrie after the two of them talk briefly on the phone. As Morrie looks at their wedding photos, he shares a story from his time teaching in Detroit when he allowed a surgeon to watch him teach. In return, he watched the doctor operate on a woman. Just as the surgery began, Morrie had to leave because he could not stand the sight of blood. Yet now, Albom reflects, Morrie is enduring ALS.

...

(The entire section is 403 words.)

Chapter 21 Summary

“The Eleventh Tuesday: We Talk About Our Culture” opens with Albom hitting Morrie’s back. By beating his professor’s back, Albom can help prevent the poison in Morrie’s body from solidifying. Ultimately, Morrie is dangerously close to choking to death as the ALS begins to close in on his lungs. Although these are disheartening moments for Albom, they reveal the extent to which he has changed since he first started visiting Morrie. Before, Albom kept his emotions inside and felt awkward focusing on his feelings. Now, he and Morrie often hold hands, and he has taken on more therapeutic responsibilities.

Morrie and Albom begin to discuss American culture, how it affects people, and how people affect it. Although...

(The entire section is 422 words.)

Chapter 22 Summary

In “The Audiovisual, Part 3,” Morrie once again meets with Ted Koppel for Nightline. The chapter is noteworthy for how it differs from the previous “Audiovisual” entries. Of course, Morrie’s disease has significantly progressed since the first interview, conducted just six months earlier. Now Morrie can barely raise his arm, and he only changes his clothes every other day—he does not change his clothes for the interview because it is not held on the “other day.” When they first met, Koppel and Morrie were somewhat suspicious of each other, but now they are quite close. Koppel worries that Morrie will be unable to complete the interview and says that he would come to say “goodbye” no matter what....

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary

“The Twelfth Tuesday: We Talk About Forgiveness” opens with Albom massaging Morrie’s ankles. Although Morrie cannot move his legs, they still give him pain. Albom is grateful to be able to alleviate that pain through massage. Although it might once have bothered him to touch Morrie, he has overcome his inhibitions and would now do anything to please his old professor.

Morrie is eager to tell Albom about the importance of forgiveness. His latest aphorism is “Forgive yourself before you die. Then forgive others.” Morrie illustrates his point by pointing to a bronze bust in his study. Albom has never noticed the sculpture before, but it actually a bust of Morrie in his 40s. Morrie explains that he spent weeks...

(The entire section is 399 words.)

Chapter 24 Summary

Morrie has begun talking to his Rabbi and family about how to deal with his remains. Morrie has determined that he would like to be cremated, though he jokes that he does not want to be overcooked. The Rabbi is shocked, but Albom interprets this joke as evidence that Morrie had come to identify primarily with his spirit and perceive that his body is just a container. Morrie and Albom go on to discuss how people are scared to look at corpses, almost to the point that you would think they were contagious. As evidence, Morrie points out that in hospitals, after people die, the bodies are quickly covered in a sheet, wheeled away, and sent down a chute. Morrie explains that death should be viewed as a natural part of life.

...

(The entire section is 445 words.)

Chapter 25 Summary

Most of the chapters in Tuesdays With Morrie begin with a discussion of Morrie’s declining health. However, in “The Fourteenth Tuesday: We Say Goodbye,” there are no new machines or nurses in Morrie’s home. Rather, when Albom receives a call from Morrie’s wife, Charlotte, Albom learns that Morrie has reached his final days. The gravity of this final stage is emphasized when Albom arrives at Morrie’s home and finds that his mentor is not even in the study. He is in bed, has been cancelling the appointments he holds so dear, and has been sleeping a great deal.

Albom, perhaps not wanting to admit the extent to which Morrie’s illness has changed for the worse, enters the bedroom with his tape recorder...

(The entire section is 334 words.)

Conclusion Summary

Morris (Morrie) Schwartz died on November 4th, a Saturday morning. His family had all managed to return to see and be with him during his last days. His son Rob had to travel from Tokyo, but he did, which is a testament to the closeness of Morrie’s family. When all of the family members briefly left his room—for a coffee and for the first time in days—Morrie stopped breathing and passed on. Albom suggests that Morrie died this way intentionally so that no one would have to witness his final moments in the way he had been forced to deliver his mother’s death-notice telegram as a child. Although Morrie had feared he would die horribly, he was fortunate enough to pass serenely.

At the start of Tuesdays With...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear