Ideas for Group Discussions
Like most of Kazantzakis's novels, Zorba the Greek is dominated by a single character whose story dramatizes the struggle of "the existential hero" trying to create meaning in his life in defiance of evidence that life itself is meaningless. Zorba's exuberance is contrasted with that of the narrator, who practices a studied detachment from the hustle and bustle of ordinary life. It is easy for readers to be captivated by the title character, but Kazantzakis seems as interested in the narrator as he is in Zorba. Hence, the true starting point for discussion of this complex novel lies in understanding the contrast between men who, despite their widely disparate views of life, become fast friends.
1. The narrator of Zorba the Greek rarely engages others or participates in what might be called zany activities. In what ways is he symbolic of modern humanity? What is Kazantzakis saying about the contemporary world through his portrait of the narrator?
2. Instead of falling into despair when his scheme for making his fortune through the sale of lumber falls apart, Zorba responds with an attitude so gleeful that the narrator becomes extremely annoyed with him. What is Kazantzakis trying to illustrate through his title character's behavior? Is Zorba really as optimistic as he appears?
3. The woman with whom the narrator falls in love is brutally murdered. Why does Kazantzakis include this violent episode? What is its effect on the narrator? On readers?
4. In Freedom or Death, Kazantzakis tells the story of Captain Michales, a hero whose great zest for life parallels that of Zorba. In what ways are these figures different? By comparing and contrasting Michales and Zorba, what might readers learn about the ways humans respond to spiritual and political crises?
5. The narrator is well read, especially in philosophy; Zorba, on the other hand, does not seem to be familiar with sophisticated intellectual systems. How does Kazantzakis use this contrast to illustrate his own belief in an existential view of life?