Zorba the Greek Themes
by Nikos Kazantzakis

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Zorba the Greek Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As he does in virtually all of his novels, Kazantzakis uses his story as a means of dramatizing philosophical issues. His characters openly explore the existentialist predicament: man, confronting a meaningless universe, must choose to create ends for himself or drift aimlessly toward a meaningless death.

In Zorba the Greek, Kazantzakis examines this situation through a series of contrasts, established primarily in the characters who populate the story. The narrator, known affectionately as "the Boss," is an ascetic who has sought to escape the harshness of the world by retreating to a study of Buddhism. He is linked through strange coincidence in a business partnership with the flamboyant, excessive, earthy, womanizing jack-of-all-trades Alexis Zorba. Their contrasting approaches to almost every crisis that confronts them, and their conversations about man's duty toward himself and others, provide Kazantzakis a forum for discussing conflicts of spirit vs. flesh, involvement vs. withdrawal, and similar themes.

The novel can also be seen in more classical terms as a contrast of the Apollonian and Dionysian world views. The Boss is cerebral; Zorba acts from visceral impulses. While not openly advocating adoption of the Dionysian principle, Kazantzakis does suggest strongly in this novel that asceticism is insufficient as a way for man to achieve a full appreciation of his humanity. To be really human is to embrace one's body as well as one's mind; but one must be in control of both if one is to confront with dignity the terrible truth that life is only what one makes of it.