The narrator wakes up in the morning, mostly forgetting the previous night’s inspiration and feeling uninterested in his manuscript. He enjoys his day, spending it in a relaxed and meditative state. As the days go by, Zorba continues to work on the mine and come home and make them both dinner. One evening, he notices that Zorba seems somewhat upset and he asks him why. Zorba wants encouragement that they are doing the right thing and progressing with the work the way they should be; the narrator reveals that they are, and that it was never about the mine but about their own enjoyment of life and the carrying of “ideas into effect.” This brightens Zorba and inspires him to get up and start dancing maniacally, so much so that the narrator fears he will “disappear in the clouds.”
The next morning, Zorba comes to the narrator with a new plan to set up an overhead cable to transport wood to sell. While Zorba works, the narrator reads a Buddhist manuscript. When Zorba gets home he is happy and excited about their new plan. He tries to play his santuri, but it doesn’t cooperate and he doesn’t want to force it. The men talk and joke about Madame Hortense and Zorba’s women-loving grandfather. The narrator asks his friend how many times he has been married, to which he gives a convoluted response. Zorba talks about his many affairs with women, and how being in a committed relationship is a bore.
Zorba animatedly speaks about affairs he had with two different Russian women. The second one, named Noussa, is recounted with much emotion from Zorba, who describes the 6 months he spent with the young woman as a highlight of his life. Their relationship came to an end when Noussa ran off with a handsome soldier. His heart was broken, but the experience taught him to fear nothing, and he did not hold a grudge towards Noussa. The narrator notices how moved Zorba seems when he speaks.
The next day it is raining and the narrator sits outside his hut, feeling an inexplicable sorrow coming from the earth. He composes a letter to his old friend exiled in the Caucasus; the same friend that called him a “bookworm.” In his letter, he informs his friend about his project in Crete where he is “playing at” the role of capitalist. He admits he was insulted by being called a bookworm and for that reason has decided to live a more earthly, practical life. He explains how, in this new setting, he sees life in a new way. He reminisces about some of the memories he and this friend shared while traveling. He writes that he loves his friend very deeply, and feels he can share this in letter form without seeming “ridiculous.”
After, the narrator talks with Zorba, who suggests to the narrator that he should take all of his books and set them on fire. The narrator says he is right, but that he is unable to do it. The men venture out into the pouring rain to the village cafe, where they encounter Anagnosti and others. A man named Sfakianonikoli is there recounting his recent trip to Candia. A young, wide-eyed boy appears at the door; his name is Mimiko and is described as the village “simpleton.” He brings news that the widow Sourmelina has lost an ewe. They see the widow run by, and as an attractive woman, she catches the attention of both the narrator and Zorba. The rain has stopped and Zorba is antsy to leave.
Zorba and the narrator follow Mimiko to the widow’s house, where he is going to dine. While walking, they ask Mimiko about his life; he spends his days doing odd jobs and has no desire to marry. They make sure that Mimiko has no interest in the widow. Zorba tells the narrator to go after the woman assertively, as she is a blessing from “the god-devil.” The narrator is undeniably attracted to her, yet feels resistance to pursuing a woman, much preferring the idea of reading a love story than falling in love. As they approach the widow’s house, the narrator decides to walk past instead of entering, which frustrates Zorba. At home, Zorba plays the santuri and tells an anecdote about how he did not sleep with a woman when he had the chance, which he says is a greater sin than adultery or robbery.
The days get shorter and Zorba absorbs himself with the mine and planning the cable railway, which he expects to lead to great fortune. He works even at night and comes back late one night in a strange mood, asking the narrator if God is real. He explains how he imagines God to be just like him, but stronger and crazier, holding a sponge rather than a sword and cleaning souls of their sins. Then Zorba reveals that he has been going at night to the widow’s house in order to see if she is sleeping with any men; it is not because he personally desires her, but from a genuine concern that she is lonely.
One day, the narrator shows up at the mine earlier in the morning than usual, sensing something afoot. Zorba is uneasy after feeling that the props leading into the mine are not steady. Zorba is somewhat annoyed at the narrator showing up. He watches Zorba work, admiring the way he becomes absorbed in it. Suddenly, Zorba tells him and the other workers to get out of the gallery as it is about to collapse. Everyone gets out in time just before it falls; they are all grateful to not have died, except Zorba, who is just annoyed that the men left their picks in the gallery.
After the collapse, the narrator becomes preoccupied with the widow, who haunts him each day with her seductive image. He tries to fight off his thoughts of her, who he calls the “Evil One,” by focusing more intently on his Buddhist texts, but it doesn’t do much good. It is Christmas Eve and Zorba, noticing the trouble of the narrator, suggests he go after her, as sleeping alone is “bad for the energy.” The narrator refuses. They go to the church service and afterwards attend dinner at the home of Madame Hortense, which brings comfort to the narrator. Throughout the week of festivities, the narrator feels a melancholy and considers the point of his life and the wrong things he has done. He thinks back to a time when he breathed on a cocoon to help a butterfly hatch, but it was not the right moment and it came out with its wings deformed and died. That moment has weighed on his conscience ever since and made him realize the sin of forcing one’s will on nature.
The theme of friendship and its importance in life is emphasized in the numerous scenes of rich conversation Zorba and the narrator share. This is contrasted with the narrator’s relationship with his old friend, to whom he pens a stiff letter devoid of such spontaneity and intimate expression. We can ascertain that the narrator still feels some sort of subtle competition or necessity to prove himself to his friend, as seen in the way he again brings up his distaste for being seen as a “bookworm.” Yet we can also see how the narrator has been transformed in the past weeks he has spent in Crete with Zorba, opening up more as to be able to voice his emotions; he now feels comfortable enough to end his note to his friend with an admission of brotherly love.
As the narrator and Zorba settle into their new life in Crete, they begin to find a rhythm and happiness within the simple things: their colorful dialogues about the past, the beautiful environment of the island, and the hope that comes with their mining business venture. Neither man takes anything all too seriously; in classic Buddhist non-attachment, the narrator has broken away from any expectations for how his mine will unfold, and rather sees it as a “game.” Though both men are unmarried and without children, they seem to find the adequate intimacy of family life through each other, through the rich surroundings of the island, and through their zest for living.
Yet at the same time, these chapters particularly center on the role of love and romance in life, making us ponder whether or not people can truly find happiness and fulfillment without an intimate relationship. On one end of the spectrum we see the narrator and his philosophy of transcendence, where the worldly pleasures of sex and romance are seen as something lesser, meant to be left behind for spiritual pursuits. On the other hand there is Zorba—a stark foil to the narrator’s ascetic worldview—whose greatest inspiration in life is the love and appreciation of women. For him, the female is not someone to possess but a work of beauty simply to enjoy in the moment. This is driven home in his frequent stories about past lovers that he relates to the narrator with much passion and detail.
Despite the narrator’s noble ideas, we see in these pages that perhaps he has a difficult time in embodying them. Although he believes a celibate lifestyle is most virtuous, we see that he still experiences desire and loneliness just like anyone else. This is made most evident in his brief fixation on the widow, whose beauty haunts him even while he makes a strong effort to resist her and focus on Buddhist literature. It is as if the narrator feels a certain guilt in the more animalistic aspect of humanity; the instinctual nature is seen as something brute that must be controlled through spiritual discipline. Zorba, contrastingly, lacks all pretenses of being anything else than an animal and has developed a fearless quality from his willingness to be embarrassed or have his heart broken—if it means he can relish the raw experiences of life.
This shame of being human is aptly reflected in the anecdote about his accidental crushing of the cocoon, where the narrator felt he tragically inflicted his will on nature and destroyed something precious. His belief that he should “obey the eternal rhythm” of life rather than force himself upon it shows, on one level, a degree of respect for the fragile beauty of the natural world. At the same time, however, the reader will begin to understand how such an awe can also quickly devolve into a hollow worship of some holy other, where the subject feels detached from the object he admires and where the courageous and vivacious love for living seems to pose a threat to the order and rationality of human constructs. More and more as the book unfolds, Nikos Kazantzakis draws this distinction between two modes of being: the rational versus the irrational, or the human intellect versus the animal passion.