eNotes Lesson Plan
Introductory Lecture and Objectives
People face death every day, but it is when one becomes terminally ill that contemplating the meaning of a life, and of life itself, becomes most compelling. The emotional journeys of those who are dying are intensely personal and usually private affairs. Such was not the case for Morrie Schwartz, a beloved professor of sociology for many years at Brandeis University. Diagnosed in 1994 with Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS), he chose to share the experience of dying and the truths he had learned through living, and they became the subject of a book treasured by millions of readers. One of the most acclaimed memoirs of all time, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for four years, sold 14 million copies, and was translated into forty-one languages. The book was made into the most-watched TV movie of 1999, which starred Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon, the latter in the final role of his life; the movie won several Emmy Awards. Tuesdays with Morrie also was produced as an off-Broadway play.
The book’s overwhelming success is worth deconstructing. Morrie Schwartz was by all accounts an insightful man, and before Albom, Morrie’s former student, embarked on writing his book, Morrie and his views of life and death had already been the subject of Ted Koppel’s television news show, Nightline. A gifted storyteller, Albom had written two successful books and had earned a national reputation as a sports columnist by the time Tuesdays with Morrie was published in 1997. These factors certainly contributed to the book’s success, but perhaps the most convincing reason so many people responded to it can be drawn from the praise of a minister who called the book “[a] wise and loving story that teaches us those things we ought to know already, but have somehow forgotten.”
The Tampa Bay Tribune called Tuesdays with Morrie “elegantly simple,” and in its language, structure, and message, it undoubtedly is. The book follows the structure of a college course, starting with a curriculum that introduces the subject of the class and ending with a funeral, “Graduation.” Along the way, Mitch and Morrie spend fourteen Tuesdays together. Mitch fears death, resists strong emotion, and has an almost single-minded focus on his career, yet he senses that he and his generation have distorted values—that they are getting it all wrong. Talking with Morrie (his favorite college professor) brings Mitch to an understanding of how life should be lived and how death should be viewed; Mitch asks, and Morrie explains. Their conversations include discussions of marriage and children, culture, aging, love, forgiveness, spirituality, and death. As the minister correctly observed, Morrie’s messages are not new and revelatory but are the “things we ought to know already.” Morrie believed people should look out for one another, love one another, and remain critical of cultural messages that encourage them to pursue superficial success and material acquisitions. From church sermons to yoga classes to self-help books, these same messages are offered up continually, yet people forget them when someone cuts in front of them in line or when they are asked to work longer or harder for the promise of professional advancement or financial gain. Tuesdays with Morrie may have touched a nerve with readers, therefore, because it is a simply and beautifully stated reinforcement of the truths people need to hear.
Also significant in explaining the overwhelming acceptance of the book is that Tuesdays with Morrie confronts death and dying, subjects that cause discomfort in our culture, in a way that is realistic but comforting, and even inspirational. Death often seems too profound to contemplate and too distressing to witness, but through Morrie’s conversations with Mitch, it becomes less forbidding. In his younger days, Mitch was deeply uncomfortable with sickness and death, turning away from the inevitability of a favorite uncle’s demise. From Morrie, he learns that death is not to be feared. The deterioration of Morrie’s body is described in detail; he does not let his students, visitors, or Mitch deny the fact that he will die, and soon. However, Mitch comes to realize that opportunities for renewal and growth lie in the way we die. This is his professor’s last and greatest lesson.
Mitch Albom’s career has continued an even more impressive upward trajectory since the publication of Tuesdays with Morrie. He has written several additional best-selling books and has been honored by numerous organizations. In his great success, however, Albom has not forgotten Morrie Schwartz and the wisdom he imparted, not only about dying but also about living. The proceeds from Tuesdays with Morrie were contributed to pay off his professor’s medical bills; Albom started at least two charitable organizations and works with several more. Morrie told Mitch that people should “invest in the human family” and that if they do what’s from the heart, “you’ll be overwhelmed with what comes back.” In this way, Morrie was prophetic about his own story and the good that has come from his sharing it.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain how Mitch changes through his Tuesday meetings with Morrie.
2. Describe Morrie’s views about life, death, and culture.
3. Identify how Mitch uses newspaper stories and the O. J. Simpson trial to make a greater point about Western culture.
4. Compare and contrast Morrie’s views of what is important in life with those of Mitch’s generation (the latter as filtered through Mitch).
5. Identify the book’s central messages about spirituality and what happens after death.
6. Describe Morrie’s personality and character traits.
7. Explain the events in Morrie’s life that shaped his character and his philosophies.
8. Describe Morrie’s career at Brandeis University in the 1960s and discuss how he related to students and the atmosphere on campus.
9. Explain how the book is structured and discuss why the author’s use of flashback and exposition is effective.
Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Study Guide
• The Study Guide is organized for a segment-by-segment study of the memoir. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in each segment and to acquaint them generally with the segment’s content.
• Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Study Guide vocabulary lists include words from the memoir that vary in difficulty. Working from the lesson plan’s vocabulary lists, the teacher may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each segment that are most appropriate for them.
The discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.
2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.
Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the memoir; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences.
2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the memoir.
3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.
Before students read through the book, explain that themes are universal ideas developed in literature. Point out that these themes will be developed in the memoir; discuss them with students as they read and/or after they finish reading.
- Independence vs. dependence
- Openness vs. repression
- Cultural influences
- Death and dying
- Marriage and family
Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or a repeated action, element, or idea in a book. As they read, have them look for the following motifs:
- The O. J. Simpson trial
- Deterioration of the body
- Talking and listening
A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have students discuss how the author develops the following symbols and what ideas the symbols could suggest. Have them look for other symbols on their own.
- The hibiscus plant
- Food from Bread and Circus
- The briefcase
- A gazelle
Essay and Discussion Questions
1. What are Morrie’s central critiques of Western culture? Is it possible to create your own culture? Why or why not?
2. What purpose do Mitch’s flashbacks to his college days serve?
3. Compare Mitch’s uncle’s death with Morrie’s. How are they different? How is Mitch different in the presence of each death?
4. In his final months of life, to what extent is Morrie buoyed by the knowledge that he is serving as an example of how to die? Might that affect his honesty? Why or why not?
5. How was Morrie different before he became terminally ill? How was he the same?
6. Mitch writes about how Morrie “wasted no time in front of TV sitcoms or ‘Movies of the Week.’ ” Do you think television is a bad influence? In what ways does the media create a celebrity culture and with what effects?
7. Mitch wrote Tuesdays with Morrie in the mid-1990s, when people still used modems and rented cell phones; technology wasn’t nearly as fast and connective as it is today. How have the problems of human connection and misplaced priorities gotten worse since then? In what ways have these problems been addressed? Are they less pervasive now?
8. Mitch always puts Morrie’s words in quotes but not his own. Why might that be? What influence does it have on the voice of the book?
9. Why did Mitch structure the book like a class? Is this structure effective? Why or why not?
10. What does Morrie mean when he says, “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live”?
11. Describe Morrie’s views about the necessary ingredients for a strong marriage. Do you agree with all of them? Can a marriage still be strong without one of them?
12. Do you believe that detachment, as defined by Morrie, is a healthy way to move through life? Why or why not?
13. Morrie says that Western culture teaches that More is good. More is good. Consider what influences you have been subjected to over the last twenty-four hours. Have you received the message that “more is good”? If so, in what way?
14. What does Morrie mean when he says, “Invest in the human family”? Is this a legitimate path to happiness?
15. Is Morrie a prophet? An ordinary man? What makes him so?
16. When Mitch first reunites with Morrie, he “swallowed because I knew, deep down, that I was no longer the good, gift-bearing student he remembered.” By the book’s end, is Mitch closer to his former self? If so, in what ways?
17. Was Nightline exploiting Morrie? Why or why not?
The Curriculum / The Syllabus
blissful: extremely happy
commandeered: took possession of something
husk: the dry outer covering of some fruits or seeds
inexplicably: in a way unable to be explained
lieu: instead of; in place of
lindy: a type of swing dance
prominent: important; well known
trunk muscles: the muscles on the midsection of a human body, often referring to the area from the pelvis to the shoulders
1. Based on “The Curriculum,” what can readers tell about the subject of this book?
The book is about the author’s relationship with his former professor as his professor is dying, and it concerns the...
(The entire section is 751 words.)
averting: turning away, avoiding
insatiable: impossible to satisfy
1. Why is the period right after college disappointing to Mitch? What happens to change his direction?
Mitch tries, unsuccessfully, to be a professional musician. His inability to get a foothold is his first experience with failure. When he lives near his terminally ill uncle and watches him die, Mitch is shaken and decides to change his professional path.
2. What does Mitch mean when he describes life as “water going down an open drain”? What makes him suddenly view it in this way?
He means that life...
(The entire section is 335 words.)
aphorism: an adage; a short statement that contains a general truth or wise observation
Aurelius, Marcus: a Roman emperor who ruled from 161 AD to 180 AD. He is considered one of the great philosophers of Stoicism, a set of beliefs that focuses on control of your emotions and damaging behavior through wisdom, control, and living in accor-dance with nature.
clamor: loud noises; often refers to the sound made by many people talking or shouting at the same time
humility: the state of being humble; lack of pride or arrogance
insidious: (in terms of a disease) developing in a gradual or subtle manner so that it is well established before becoming known
(The entire section is 446 words.)
student deferments: government exemptions from being drafted into the military for those enrolled in college during the Vietnam War
withered: dry and shriveled
1. Contrast the way Mitch behaved on reuniting with Morrie with the way he wishes he had behaved.
When Mitch arrives at Morrie’s home, he parks at the curb; Morrie is sitting outside the house in his wheelchair, waiting for him. Instead of going to Morrie immediately, Mitch stays in the car talking on his cell phone, conducting business. Ashamed of what he is doing, Mitch drops down in the seat so that Morrie cannot see him, but he continues to keep Morrie waiting just the...
(The entire section is 353 words.)
1. Morrie asks Mitch a series of questions: “Have you found someone to share your heart with?”; “Are you giving to your community?”; “Are you at peace with yourself?”; “Are you trying to be as human as you can be?” In the context of these questions, what does the difference seem to be between the way Morrie thinks and the way Mitch thinks?
Mitch has not thought much about these questions or the answers to them and squirms with the effort of trying to pretend that he has. He is living life on the surface, filled with schedules and deadlines and tasks, whereas Morrie lives life focused on more important and more meaningful concerns.
(The entire section is 443 words.)
alienation: estrangement; a withdrawing or separation of a person or a person’s affections from that to which he or she was formerly attached
jolting: shocking; surprising
1. How are Mitch’s impressions in London different from what they were before he reunited with Morrie? Why?
Mitch notices the senselessness of the media culture around him much more than he did previously. Whereas before he would have bought the same gossip magazine everyone around him was buying, now he does not. He’s also aware of the ridiculousness of the media hunt for Andre Agassi and Brooke Shields. His visit with Morrie has affected him. Though he is...
(The entire section is 268 words.)
The First Tuesday: We Talk About the World
anguish: suffering, pain, distress
cynical: having or showing an attitude that is distrustful or disbelieving of others (often expressed in a mocking or sarcastic manner)
1. What is Morrie’s attitude about being unable to attend to his own personal hygiene?
Being dependent on others to take such intimate care of him is very difficult for Morrie. He says “someone wiping your bottom” is “the ultimate sign of dependency.” He tries to look at his situation in a positive way: “I get to be a baby one more time.”
2. Why does Morrie continue to follow the newspapers?
Now that he is...
(The entire section is 339 words.)
The Second Tuesday: We Talk About Feeling Sorry for Yourself
commode: a toilet; a chamber pot
1. Why does Morrie limit self-pity each day? Why does he allow himself to feel some self-pity?
Morrie attempts to be positive, and he recognizes that self-pity in too large a dose would get in the way of seeing the best in life. However, sometimes he needs to mourn and cry, and it would not be consistent with his character to deny it. He allows room for self-pity, just not too much of it.
2. How is Mitch becoming physically closer to Morrie?
At the end of their first Tuesday together, Mitch kissed Morrie, which he acknowledged was not characteristic of himself. At the end...
(The entire section is 282 words.)
The Third Tuesday: We Talk About Regrets
imminent: something that is about to happen (often associated with something threatening or unpleasant)
lament: to express sorrow or loss
masses: large groups of people
nostalgia: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for some period in the past
opiate: (derived from the drug opium) something making people quiet and easily controlled
ritualistic: ceremonial in accordance with social custom or normal protocol
1. What reasons does Mitch offer for why he wants to record Morrie?
Everyone who loves Morrie, including Mitch, is losing him; to record Morrie is “a...
(The entire section is 262 words.)
The Audiovisual, Part Two
1. Contrast the second Nightline interview with Morrie’s first. What has changed?
Morrie can no longer wave his hands as expressively, and he has trouble making certain sounds. Ted Koppel, too, has changed; he has loosened up in Morrie’s presence and even dressed down for the interview.
2. Why does Morrie dread losing the use of his voice and hands but not his ability to swallow?
Morrie says he can always be fed with a tube, but his voice and hands are the way he expresses himself, and he dreads losing them.
3. How does silence reappear as a theme in this segment?
Morrie will lose his ability to...
(The entire section is 178 words.)
antidote: something that stops or improves the bad effects of a negative force
boccie: a game of Italian origin in which players roll a ball across an area of ground in an effort to get each ball to stop as near as possible to a smaller ball
default: a process of elimination; something that happens because nothing else has been done or can be done
exploited: to have made use of something meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage
hawked: offered for sale by calling out in the streets
murky: very dark or unclear; foggy
pelts: pieces of animal hide with hair, wool, or fur still attached
tenement: a large building with apartments for rent, often located...
(The entire section is 385 words.)
The Fourth Tuesday: We Talk About Marriage
agnostic: a person who does not hold a definite belief about whether God exists
deficient: lacking something that is important or necessary
exuberance: extreme enthusiasm or joy
Gehrig, Lou: a famous baseball player who played for the New York Yankees in the 1920s and ‘30s. He came down with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a rare degenerative disease that is now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and died at the age of 38.
indecipherable: impossible to read or to understand
Pride of the Yankees: an allusion to a speech made by Lou Gehrig when he was leaving the Yankees and that was later featured in a movie about Gehrig called Pride of the Yankees...
(The entire section is 497 words.)
The Fifth Tuesday: We Talk About Family
lavaliere: a small microphone that is clipped to the clothing, typically close to the neck of the user
1. How does a family offer “spiritual security,” whereas other people and achievements do not?
Spiritual security is the knowledge that someone is looking out for you, someone who will not leave. According to Morrie, this is what he lost when his mother died, and it is something that fame, money, and work can never replace.
2. According to Morrie, what is the difficult price to pay for having children?
He feels having to say good-bye to them is the price one must pay, and it is very difficult....
(The entire section is 351 words.)
The Sixth Tuesday: We Talk About Emotions
laurels: evergreen bushes or trees with shiny pointed leaves
lilting: characterized by a rhythmic swing or cadence; cheerful and buoyant
1. What happens to the food Mitch brings to Morrie each week?
Morrie does not eat it because its form is too solid for him to ingest. As a result, the food from Mitch is stacked up inside the refrigerator and freezer.
2. What does the gift of food represent to Mitch? To Morrie? What does Mitch fear it represents to Charlotte?
Mitch brings the food in order to be helpful; it’s something he feels he can do for Morrie. To Morrie, the food is...
(The entire section is 350 words.)
The Professor, Part Two
Davis, Angela: a prominent political activist, scholar, and radical from the 1960s who became a leader of activist groups such as the Communist Party USA and the Black Panther Party
Hoffman, Abbie: a prominent political and social activist from the 1960s and 1970s who became a symbol of youth rebellion
Rubin, Jerry: a social activist who was prominent in the 1960s and 1970s
1. Explain two of Morrie’s views that developed from his time working at the mental hospital and what inspired them.
Morrie believes that people need to be noticed, and they need compassion. Many of the people in the hospital had been neglected or had...
(The entire section is 381 words.)
The Seventh Tuesday: We Talk About the Fear of Aging
oblivion: the condition of forgetting or being forgotten; the state of being unaware
revel: to take great pleasure or satisfaction
sultry: attractive in a way that causes sexual desire
1. How does Morrie come to embrace losing his independence?
Morrie recognizes that it is the culture of society that tells people to be ashamed of dependence, and he has long been proud of forging his own culture. Babies are wholly dependent and love being cared for, he reasons, so it makes sense that he should return to that place and love it, too.
2. Why doesn’t Mitch like revealing his age anymore?...
(The entire section is 252 words.)
The Eighth Tuesday: We Talk About Money
comradeship: companionship or friendship
Ink Spots: a music group popular in the 1930s and 1940s that contributed to the development of the rhythm-and-blues and the rock-and-roll genres
mogul: a well-known person with rank, power, and influence in a certain area (often used in reference to great success in business)
1. A paradox is a statement that seems self-contradictory but actually expresses a truth. Mitch creates a paradox when he writes, “It had become, in a very real way, a wealthy home, even though Morrie’s bank account was rapidly depleting.” How can both parts of his statement be true?
(The entire section is 331 words.)
The Ninth Tuesday: We Talk About How Love Goes On
stagnated: to have become nonactive; no longer changing or moving forward
1. Describe Morrie’s physical decline.
A catheter now empties Morrie’s bladder. If his feet are not dangling “just the right number of inches off the foam pads,” it feels as if someone’s poking him with a fork. He cannot move his head, and seems to be melting into his chair.
2. How does Morrie think love goes on after death?
According to Morrie, when a person touches someone else’s life, that person will be remembered after death. If Mitch hears Morrie’s voice when Morrie is not physically present, that suggests Mitch...
(The entire section is 382 words.)
The Tenth Tuesday: We Talk About Marriage
crescent: a curved shape that is wide at its center and pointed at its two ends, similar to a moon that is partially full
1930s standard: a reference to widely known jazz music pieces from the 1930s
1. How are Mitch and his wife different? How are Morrie and his wife different?
Mitch feels he is much less emotionally intuitive than his wife, Janine. He also describes her as being “shy about her talent,” whereas Mitch enjoys seeing his name in print and is not shy about having his talent recognized. Morrie is open and expressive, whereas his wife, Charlotte, is quieter and more reserved.
2. Describe Morrie...
(The entire section is 289 words.)
The Eleventh Tuesday: We Talk About Our Culture
alabaster: very white or translucent, looking similar to an alabaster stone
calisthenics: gymnastic exercises to achieve bodily fitness and grace of movement
1. Mitch reflects about his interest in watching caregivers do private, intimate work with Morrie’s body: “This was not like me, but then, neither were a lot of things that had happened these last few months in Morrie’s house.” How has Mitch changed?
Mitch previously shied away from moments of intimacy or unpleasant thoughts about death. Now he is able to talk more openly; he is able to touch Morrie without awkwardness, and reminders of Morrie’s physical decline,...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
The Audiovisual, Part Three
listing: tilting to one side
stoic: a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing his or her feelings
1. What is the mood of Morrie’s final interview with Ted Koppel?
The final interview is more like a sad good-bye than a television event. Morrie does not change his shirt from the previous day or his position in the chair. He has a much harder time moving.
2. Why wouldn’t Morrie want to live with ALS the way Stephen Hawking does?
Stephen Hawking is not able to be responsive to people in the way that Morrie feels he himself needs to be in order to feel alive.
(The entire section is 227 words.)
The Twelfth Tuesday: We Talk About Forgiveness
callused: marked by hardened, thickened areas on the skin resulting from pressure on the skin
prideful: arrogant, thinking very highly of oneself
reconcile: to resolve a dispute or argument; to restore a relationship
tuft: a small bunch of hair, grass, or feathers
vengeance: the act of doing something to hurt someone who has done something to hurt you or someone else
whimsical: in a playful or amusing manner
1. What regret does Morrie share with Mitch?
Morrie fell out of touch with a good friend, Norman. Norman and his wife didn’t call Morrie and Charlotte after Charlotte...
(The entire section is 295 words.)
The Thirteenth Tuesday: We Talk About the Perfect Day
1. What suggests that Morrie will be able to find detachment—and thus serenity—when he dies?
Morrie has had a difficult night; he thought he might die, but he had felt peace and a sense of comfort about death. He had achieved this sense of peace despite the fact that he had been coughing and in pain.
2. Morrie asks to see the hibiscus plant. What might be his reason for making this request?
Morrie may want to be reminded—and to remind Mitch—that like the plant, he is a part of nature, and that it’s natural for all living things to die.
3. According to Morrie, how are people different in death from other...
(The entire section is 365 words.)
The Fourteenth Tuesday: We Say Good-bye
buoyant: cheerful, happy
contorting: twisting in a violent or unpleasant way
pachysandra: a type of perennial evergreen plant
till: container for money
1. How does Mitch set the scene for his final meeting with Morrie? How is it different from previous scenes?
Mitch is hyperobservant of details like the cut of the hill and the low shrubs while approaching Morrie’s home, knowing this meeting will probably be their last. He has not noticed these details to such an extent before. Connie is uncharacteristically withdrawn when she greets Mitch, a hospice worker is present, and Morrie is in...
(The entire section is 255 words.)
Graduation / Conclusion
1. Why does Mitch think Morrie died in the brief moment no one was present? What does that theory suggest about control over death?
Mitch thinks that Morrie did not want anyone to be haunted by memories of his last breath. Though Morrie had very little control of his body at the end of his life, the fact that he died during the only small break in company suggests that he had some control over when to let go.
2. How does Mitch feel at the grave site, when he talks to Morrie silently? Why does he posit he feels this way?
The one-sided conversation (Morrie had earlier said, “You talk, I’ll listen”) feels comfortable to Mitch, almost natural....
(The entire section is 300 words.)
Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key
1. When Mitch graduates from Brandeis, he gives Morrie
A. a fountain pen.
B. a photograph of them together.
C. a briefcase.
D. a napkin.
E. a journal.
2. Before he becomes ill, one of Morrie’s favorite activities is to
D. play piano.
3. When Mitch’s uncle speaks of his impending death, Mitch
A. tells him not to talk that way.
B. begins to cry....
(The entire section is 1088 words.)
Essay Exam Questions With Answers
1. What are Morrie’s most important critiques about culture? What proof supports his beliefs? In what ways does he forge his own culture, and what is the result?
Morrie believes that people are surrounded by cultural messages that encourage them to want more, and to want more of the wrong things. “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things,” he says. He thinks through the repetition of such cultural messages, such as those found in commercials, people are brainwashed until they don’t think critically about what they want or why they want it. “The average person is so fogged up by all this,” he says, “he has no perspective on what’s really...
(The entire section is 3542 words.)