Tuesdays with Morrie Themes
The main themes in Tuesdays with Morrie are death, living well, and the importance of relationships.
- Death: As Morrie confronts his impending death from ALS, Albom chronicles the disease’s effects on his former professor, who insists that death is a natural part of life.
- Living well: As he faces death, Morrie imparts lessons to Albom about what gives life meaning, stressing the value of love and friendship over material success.
- The importance of relationships: Relationships are key to Morrie’s conception of what makes life worthwhile, and he inspires Mitch to focus more deeply on his own.
The central theme in Tuesdays With Morrie is, of course, death. In recounting his meetings with Morrie Schwartz during the final weeks of his life, the author chronicles the inexorable and merciless destruction of a human body with unflinching honesty. Morrie, who sixteen years earlier had been a vibrant doctor of sociology, the man who would dance with idiosyncratic abandon at a church in Harvard Square, has been stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable disease which insidiously destroys the neurological system, leaving the body a useless shell. Morrie’s decline begins with asthma, which he contracts in his sixties; when he reaches his seventies, the formerly vigorous man is having trouble walking. By the time of his first interview with Ted Koppel and his reunion with Mitch Albom, Morrie is confined to a wheelchair and must be lifted from chair to bed and bed to chair. During the fourteen Tuesdays of their last “class” together, Mitch notes with sadness the progression of his professor’s decline—the point at which he can no longer eat, no longer use the commode, no longer speak for any length of time, no longer get out of bed. Even though the author, with Morrie’s guidance, learns to accept death as a natural thing not to be feared, he makes it clear that though death which is met with dignity and serenity is endowed with an aura of nobility, there is no way around the fact that the ultimate demise of the physical body is a messy and unpleasant process.
Although Tuesdays With Morrie is the story of the death of a human being, its focus is paradoxically less on death than it is on a call to life. For Morrie, accepting the fact that one might die at any time is the key to living well. Facing death, one sees things differently and is able to focus on what is essential in life. Instead of blindly trying to amass the material things which are purported to bring happiness, one is drawn instead to appreciate and nurture those elements in life that bring true satisfaction—nature, giving, and loving other people. Morrie stresses that modern culture, with its emphasis on youth and acquisitiveness, actually devalues life, in the worst-case scenario making it a kind of living death. Instead of seeing the passing of youth as a calamity, Morrie looks upon it as an opportunity for growth, and he counsels that while preoccupation with material rewards brings only frustration and emptiness, it is its opposite, giving freely of one’s self, which bestows life with meaning. In his final days, Morrie celebrates life with an intensity made possible through the heightened awareness that comes only when one is completely at peace with the undeniable inevitability of death. It is significant that when Mitch asks him what he would do if he could be healthy again for twenty-four hours, Morrie describes an ordinary day spent fellowshipping and relaxing with friends. The fact that he could find such perfection in the simple acts of daily living gives testimony to a life fulfilled.
The Importance of Relationships
In its exploration of life and death, Tuesdays With Morrie becomes most of all a celebration of relationships. From the very first class Mitch takes as a college student with Morrie, he is impressed with the value his professor places upon human interaction. Morrie takes a genuine interest in his students as individuals, giving of his time to listen to and encourage them, to get to know them and call them friends. Determined not to emulate his own father, who chose to isolate himself in life and who died alone, Morrie...
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intentionally fosters close relationships throughout his life, entertaining a steady stream of beloved acquaintances even when his final illness leaves him housebound and immobile. Morrie loves people, and through this love he finds ultimate meaning in life. It is true that to love others with such complete abandon is a dangerous thing, opening one up to the possibility of being hurt. In the final analysis, the hardest part of dying for Morrie is the direct result of the relationships he so nurtures; he dreads saying good-bye to the ones he loves so deeply. Even so, to dare to love, and to give of one’s self unreservedly, is the only road to fulfillment in Morrie’s approach to living, and his message derives validity from the very fact that, in life and death, he would have it no other way.