After seeing Morrie on television, Mitch realizes he is running out of time to keep up on his promise of staying in touch with the professor. He flies to Massachusetts and rents a car for the drive to Morrie's house. However, being a busy man, Mitch is not focused on Morrie during the drive. He is on the phone with a producer about a piece they were working on together. As he approached the house, he spots Morrie on the porch. However, he does not get off the phone, instead finishing his conversation before his sixteen-year reunion. This is a conflict for Mitch. Does he finish his job or spend every precious second re-uniting? Both are important to him.
When he finally gets out of the car, the teacher and student embrace in a long hug. Mitch recalls Morrie smelling sour, as people on medication tend to do. He is overcome with guilt, believing he is no longer the good person he was when he was a student of Morrie, saying he would stay in touch. He hoped to fool Morrie over the next few hours. Morrie sits down and takes his pills, then tells Mitch he is dying. Then he asks Mitch if he would like to know what it's like to die. Mitch says yes, and the first class begins.
Morrie tells Mitch he has become more interesting to people now that he is dying. He uses the metaphor of a bridge to describe where he stands in life: somewhere between being very alive and being dead. He says he is on his last great journey. Mitch faces an internal struggle at this point. He had been giving a warm welcome by Morrie, despite his lack of contact for sixteen years. Mitch constantly asks himself, “What happened to me?” He realizes he was too busy chasing a paycheck over the last decade and a half. This guilt will be a theme throughout the book for Mitch.
The biggest theme though, is about the student-teacher relationship from Morrie, and about how it continues. While teaching him about death in that initial visit, Morrie also teaches Mitch about culture, saying our culture doesn't make people feel good about themselves. We are teaching the wrong things. He says we need to create our own culture. He says this is a reason perfectly healthy people are unhappier than a dying Morrie: they feel they don't fit in with the culture dictated by society. This is a great characterization of Morrie, that even in death, he feels lucky. His character is developed by his statement: “I may be dying, but I am surrounded by loving, caring souls. How many people can say that?”
Morrie uses a breathing test to show Mitch how much time he has left. He compares each second of being able to exhale and speak a number to one month of being alive. Morrie is able to get very few numbers out, saying his tank is almost empty. He is using "tank" as a symbol for lungs and life. Mitch promises Morrie he will be back to visit and hopes he will keep true to his word this time.
The book is full of allegories, short flashbacks to their college relationship or poems that represent stages of Morrie's life. These appear in between a multitude of chapters in the book. These allegories help the reader to understand the spectrum of the relationship between Mitch and Morrie or to show how Morrie might be feeling in his final months.
After their initial reunion, Mitch flies to London to cover Wimbledon. While on the other side of the pond, he is full of thoughts of Morrie. Seeing tabloids makes him think of how irrelevant this all is, while Morrie sits at home, deteriorating. He realizes what Morrie meant while talking about culture. Reading these tabloids will not make people feel good. Yet, this is how they immerse themselves. If people don't buy these things, they'll stop being printed and our culture will change.
Morrie had developed his own culture. He loved discussion groups, walks with his friends, dancing to music, reading, and writing. He loved to look at nature, not watch sitcoms on television. Mitch had also developed a culture or work, juggling multiple freelance jobs, along with his newspaper job. Seeing reporters chasing down celebrities reminded him of Morrie's saying that people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important.
After Wimbledon, Mitch returns home to Detroit. Upon his return, he learns his newspaper union is on strike and his job was on hold. He was out of a job, out of his "culture." Mitch turns a corner and chooses not to see this as a negative. Instead, he realizes that there is an opportunity to change his culture and spend his time doing something worthwhile. He calls Morrie and they make plans to get together the following Tuesday.
Analysis of The Orientation - Taking Attendance
A foil is when a character has a contrast with another character, but in this story, Mitch has a foil situation with himself. He contrasts with his decisions, with his past self. He is ridden with guilt for not visiting his professor and for allowing himself to be so consumed in his work that he neglected his promise to visit his professor. The first time he truly feels this guilt is when he sees his professor on the porch prior to his first visit.
This also poses a dramatic irony. The reader knows that Morrie is going to be sick while reading about Mitch out covering sports stories around the world. Obviously a young Mitch doesn't know his professor will face this disease, but the reader does. One wonders what Mitch would have done if he would have had a crystal ball into the future. Would he continue his workaholic ways or would he have carved out a day a year to pop in on his college mentor?
Earlier in the story, the metaphor is of comparing a dying hibiscus plant to a sick and dying Morrie. At this point, the reader gets another metaphor, this time from Morrie himself. Comparing life to a bridge, he remarks that he is standing at the end of his bridge, aka his life. This paints a mental picture for the reader of Morrie walking across the bridge, almost deteriorating as he gets to the end. We know he will finally crosses over out of this life.
Morrie uses his lungs as a symbol for his life. When he and Mitch do their breathing test, Mitch can count many numbers out on a single exhale of air. Morrie can get out much less numbers and those numbers continue to dwindle by the day. As the lungs start to let him do less, he knows he has less time to live. To Morrie, his lungs represent an hourglass with the sand nearly completely drained to the bottom half.
In this section, Morrie teaches Mitch about culture and how people develop their own. The example of this is Mitch in London seeing the tabloid magazines and realizing people have made this our culture. There is an allegory to this culture lesson as it can be applied further to Mitch's life. Mitch has developed his own culture of making work his life. Because of this, it has caused him to miss out on other things (such as having children).