Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 617
*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.
*Megalokastro (meh-gah-loh-KAS-troh). Cretan village under the rule of the Turks. The village is a microcosm of the island, as the island is a microcosm of the world. In Megalokastro, Cretans and Turks live in tenuous co-existence; the slightest insult by a member of one group against the other sets off skirmishes that eventually lead to armed conflict. In this primitive village the Cretans struggle to make a living, but also enjoy the elemental pleasures of family life and friendship. Despite not having any of the modern conveniences available in the late nineteenth century, the Cretans display a lust for living and a deep commitment to their country.
Captain Michales’s house
Captain Michales’s house (meh-KAH-lehs). Modest home in Megalokastro that is the Cretan patriot’s refuge from the political turmoil that runs through his village. Scenes at this home dramatize Cretan domestic life in a patriarchal society dominated by concerns for both immediate and extended family. Michales’s house is also the location where a small group of dissatisfied Cretans plot a rebellion against the Turks.
Nuri Bey’s estate
Nuri Bey’s estate. Home of Michales’ blood brother, the Turkish political ruler in the region. Nuri Bey retires there to escape the pressures of government as Crete’s people become increasingly discontented with Turkish rule. The estate is like an oasis amid the tumultuous political landscape created by the arbitrary and oppressive rule of the Muslims over the Orthodox Christian Cretans. The sanctity of this retreat is violated, however, when Nuri Bey’s wife Eminé entertains her lover, Captain Polyxigis, when her husband is away.
Monastery of Christ the Lord
Monastery of Christ the Lord. Centuries-old monastery that stands as a symbol for Greek Orthodoxy and for the independent spirit of the Cretans. Captain Michales leads a band of defenders against the Turks, who launch a day-long attack on the monastery. In the evening, he learns that the Turks have captured Eminé, now wife of Captain Polyxigis. Inflamed with passion for her himself, he leaves his men to rescue her. In his absence, the monastery is taken. Through the episode, Kazantzakis makes clear the duty of the freedom fighters to remain committed to their task, and symbolically the duty of men to pursue the ideal rather than the temptations of the flesh.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 203
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.
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