Zorba the Greek Analysis
by Nikos Kazantzakis

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Piraeus tavern

Piraeus tavern. Place on Crete where the Boss meets Zorba. A chance encounter throws together the two protagonists, and readers immediately see the difference in their outlooks on life. Zorba is a reckless adventurer who travels where his heart takes him; the Boss is a sensitive thinker, afraid to strike out on his own. The location is important because it establishes a motif that is thematically central to the novel: the lure of the sea, a metaphor for the unknown that awaits every traveler through life.

The Boss’s hut

The Boss’s hut. Seaside shack in which the Boss and Zorba live as they work at mining lignite. While Zorba supervises the miners and works beside them, the Boss frequently remains at the hut writing a book about Buddha. At the end of each day, the two frequently converse about issues such as God, human immortality, the wisdom of activity versus contemplation, the place of women and family in men’s lives, and other philosophical and moral issues.

Significantly, the hut is set beside the sea, a central symbol in the novel. Both Zorba and the Boss recognize the mystery posed by the sea, on which hundreds of generations of men have gone to seek adventure, fortune, and happiness. The warm breezes that blow north across the sea from Africa suggest both the source of human life and the life-giving forces of nature—concepts that the Boss struggles to understand.

Madame Hortense’s hotel

Madame Hortense’s hotel. Located in the village, Madame Hortense’s hotel is a pivotal locale in the novel. Through the character of Madame Hortense, Kazantzakis displays the fate of women in the world, and her home is emblematic of the transient nature of male-female relationships. Once the mistress of men from many nations, she is now reduced to keeping house for travelers who pass through the village. At her death, the house is scavenged by other women who take away the mementos that signified her worth as a human being.


Village. Locale for the majority of the action in the novel. Here Zorba carries on a love affair with Madame Hortense, and the Boss meets the widow whose death at the hands of angry villagers causes him personal pain and leads him to question further the purpose of life. Like the inhabitants of Megalokastro, the village in Kazantzakis’s Freedom or Death (1953), the citizens of this village display the values that characterize Crete itself: a proud sense of self-reliance based on isolation from other centers of civilization, a keen sense of family loyalty, and a zest for life that Zorba admires but the Boss mistrusts.


Monastery. Religious community that the Boss and Zorba visit at the invitation of Zacharias, a monk who has become disillusioned with life there. Within the walls of the monastery, they discover that monks ostensibly devoted to the service of God carry on lives characterized by petty jealousies, scandalous sexual behavior, acquisitiveness, and preferment based on favoritism rather than merit. With Zorba’s help, Zacharias gains revenge on the monks by burning down the monastery.

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As a rule, Kazantzakis is more concerned with exploring questions of philosophy in his novels than he is with specific social issues. Nevertheless, in Zorba the Greek he takes several opportunities to comment on contemporary situations. Of greatest significance is the political background against which the story of the narrator and Zorba is set. While the two men engage in what some may consider escapist adventures on Crete, the narrator's friend Stavridaki is helping Greek partisans in the Balkans evacuate endangered countrymen from that region, where they face almost certain massacre. The uneasiness the narrator feels at times about his abandonment of his friend stems from his recognition that men have a social responsibility — and that he is avoiding his.

Kazantzakis also uses the novel to lambaste organized religion. The monks with whom Zorba and the narrator negotiate for logging rights near...

(The entire section is 1,538 words.)