Zorba the Greek

Zorba the Greek Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Zorba define freedom? Does this definition ultimately serve him? Why or why not?

    Zorba sees freedom in the visceral experiences of life: singing, dancing, and romance. For him, freedom is something beyond words; to construct a definition would be to remove himself from the present moment, the only place where it is possible to truly be free. This philosophy does serve him in the sense that he is far happier and more carefree than most of the other characters in the novel, especially the narrator. Yet there are also hints of an uncertainty that plagues Zorba in his more vulnerable moments; he fears his own death, for example, and tries to distract himself from the inevitability of his aging through constant love affairs with younger women. His rejection of all commitments to relationships and ideas allows him to enjoy, but does not necessarily leave him any more wise about the purpose of human life. This lack of knowledge can be viewed as liberating—or it can be seen as incompatible with a more lasting and fulfilling type of happiness.

  2. 2

    Why do you think the author chooses to leave the narrator unnamed?

    The reader never discovers the name of the narrator, besides Zorba's affectionate pet name for him, "boss." It could be argued that this is a purposeful decision by Nikos Kazantzakis, especially as the book is titled after the name of the other main protagonist, Zorba. This choice illustrates, first of all, that the story is meant to elaborate on the wild life of this older man, and that the narrator is more the witness to the main act of Zorba.

    Missing a name can also be a way for the author to drive home the sense of the narrator being cold and lacking in earthly identity. Throughout the book, he struggles to fully embrace his humanness, his place in real life as opposed to his imagined spiritual destiny of transcending and disappearing from the world.

  3. 3

    What is the view of women in the novel? Does this view contribute to or detract from its message?

    Many readers will take notice of the derogatory view of women that is espoused by a majority of its characters. Neither Zorba nor the narrator, as well as the more peripheral figures in the village, are shy about their attitude that women are not only inferior to men, but pose a threat to the law and order of society. This is also evident more obviously in the scene where the widow is cornered and decapitated for her promiscuity. At this moment, the narrator and Zorba try to intervene and thus we can conclude that their sexism is not equivalent with the savage misogyny of certain members of the village; they still have a sense of moral outrage and compassion. Though it may be shocking to some, this vision of women is important in the story, as it not only portrays a very real phenomenon of sexism but it furthers the book's message of how fear and hatred can make even the most religious people act in very irrational ways.

  4. 4

    In Chapter 24, the narrator visits Bouboulina's house after her passing and is entranced by the image of her "tattered slipper" on the floor. Why does this moment touches the narrator deeply?

    The narrator notices, first of all, how this slipper is among the very few things left after her hotel has been ransacked by the greedy villagers. It is an object that has little financial value; it is more of a personal item that is imbued with emotional significance. The shoe is also bent into the shape of her foot, still possessing an imprint of the living Madame. This seemingly worthless slipper preserves the memory of its owner and the narrator contemplates how it is thus "more compassionate" than the humans who have shamelessly stolen her things as soon as she died. The narrator is at once moved by this emblem of the Madame's life and appalled by the crudeness of people.

  5. 5

    How is nature imagery used to elaborate on the main themes of the book?

    The rich imagery of the Cretan landscape is a prominent feature of the story. There are frequent passages where the narrator walks through the village or sits by the sea, taking in the beauty of his surroundings; this helps him enter a meditative state. At one point, while taking a walk, the narrator contemplates the turn of seasons, thinking about how this cycle formerly made him feel oppressed. Nature represents the constant of change that occurs in our lives, and as the narrator more and more embraces the philosophy lived by Zorba—that of visceral experience over intellectualism—he can appreciate the beauty of the temporal rather than constantly reaching for the promise of the eternal.