Critical Analysis of Tuesdays with Morrie:
A Transfer of Consciousness
I used to spend my summers as a kid at my family’s shore house in Avalon, New Jersey. I liked to read. A lot. I still do, but then I had a lot more time for it. I taught myself to read in Kindergarten and tried to gain a new personal record every summer for the amount of books I read. My personal record currently rests at 105 books in one summer. I was ten.
Tuesdays With Morrie was one of those books. It changed my life forever. It was the end of the summer and it was about to be my 105th book. I had finished my list of books the school had given me so I asked my Mimi if she had a book I could read, she pulled Tuesdays With Morrie off her shelf. She explained that this book was one of her favorites and teaches you the meaning of life. I looked at her like she was insane because no one knows the meaning of life, right? I devoured the text and came to her early the next morning to thank her. I ran up to her and gave her the biggest hug I had ever given someone and she asked me what the big hug was for. I told her she had given me the key to the meaning of life.
I never thought that there could be a piece of literature that could take such strong hold on my heart, especially for this length of time. Tuesdays with Morrie is my favorite class I ever audited. Mitch Albom writes the true account of the teachings of his favorite professor, Morrie Schwartz. Mitch was a student of Dr. Schwartz at Brandeis University and lost touch after graduating. Unbeknownst to Mitch, Morrie continued teaching social psychology until he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mitch, watching TV in his home, flipping through the channels, and stopped when he recognized the voice of his old beloved Professor. That episode of Nightline was how Mitch and Morrie reunited. The last class Morrie will have taught “met on Tuesdays. It began after breakfast. The subject was The Meaning of Life. It was taught from experience” (Albom, 2002). The text develops as the weeks pass on, as Morrie’s body withers away, as the reader learns about the beautiful and unique relationship between teacher and student, and as we find ourselves inspired by the process. This text is not only a memorial to a great man in the author’s life, but also a guide on how to be a better person, how to live with love, and how to follow your dreams. The topics discussed include the world, feeling sorry for yourself, regrets, death, family, emotions, fear of aging, money, about how love goes on, marriage, culture, forgiveness, and the perfect day.
Of the millions of copies sold, I can assure you that there are people whose lives changed very little from the motivational call to action to live a better life. However, mine was changed forever, but not in ways I could have ever imagined. Alain De Botton from the New York Times wrote about Tuesdays With Morrie back in 1997 after its first publishing. He stated:
Unfortunately, such true and sometimes touching pieces of advice don’t add up to a very wise book. Though Albom insists that Schwartz’s words have transformed him, it’s hard to see why, to judge from the evidence in ‘’Tuesdays With Morrie.’’ To be told that we should think more of love and less of money is no doubt correct, but it’s hard to put such advice into practice unless it is accompanied by some understanding of why we ever did otherwise (Botton, 1997).
For Botton, Tuesdays With Morrie did not reach the level of enlightenment that the text was praised for. Botton believed that the text held big statements on how to live life, how to love, how to grow old, and how to give to others, but that those ideas are commonplace and generally well understood. The part where I disagree with him is when he says that it is hard to put such advice into practice. If it seems that we have forgotten to live in ways that Morrie poses, such as loving our spouses more, spending more time with family, being honest, being accepting, and being in constant search of your true self; then wouldn’t this book be a good starting place to put into one text the things we should all be striving to remember? Couldn’t Botton have seen this text as a reminder and a motivator to change the ways we have found ourselves in for the better? That this text itself — although lacking a to-do list or a step by step guide on how to be a better person — does just that? That Tuesdays With Morrie gives us just the right amount of motivation to get us out of our seats and to go hug our grandparents. Life is challenging and very rarely does it come easily to any of us, but I think when we are able to look at it from a view of how do I affect everyone around me, we get a better idea of who we are and what we value.
I also disagree with the rest of Botton’s statement. The only reason he could have been able to understand Albom would be if he had told us why we lived otherwise. I think that comes across very strongly in Morrie’s teachings. He tells us:
So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning (Albom, 2002).
This is not the only example. Simple calls to action are placed throughout the pages of the book and are nestled in between conversation and Mitch’s own descriptions of Morrie’s effect on others. Morrie focuses a lot on how we have become so focused on the end point. So focused on getting the promotion, on receiving an A, on being approved by others that we lose sight of the path to those destinations. We disregard relationships because we have shifted our priorities to success instead of community and we have diminished relationships based on the loss of gratitude. We use people more like tools and resources than we treat them as friends and family. This book became the textbook on how I was going to live the rest of my life. My morals, my values, and my outlook on life, are due in part, to this book.
Botton wrote this review after the initial publishing of Tuesdays With Morrie, however, the re-release of the book was in 2002 with an afterword by Mitch Albom. I would be interested to hear Botton’s response to Albom’s afterword where he starts by saying:
It has been ten years since this book was published, and on the occasion of that anniversary, I have been asked to add a few reflections. That is no small task. The book changed my life and, if I am to believe readers around the world, changed the lives of others as well. Where do I begin? (Albom, 2002).
I know that Albom stating that the book changed his life says nothing to the extent that it did, but I find it hard to believe that we do not experience Albom’s growth and understanding of Morrie’s lessons throughout the text. After losing touch with Morrie when he graduated, Albom hopped on a plane the second he heard Morrie was ill. He then proceeded to visit him, every Tuesday until his passing. That seems like a serious commitment to me. The book was written because Mitch Albom felt that the world needed a piece of Morrie Schwartz and he originally wanted to help alleviate the stress of medical bills. Mitch Albom himself disproves Botton’s harsher statement of Albom’s life being “less-than-exemplary” because Albom speaks to the extent that he has been influenced and changed by Morrie (Botton, 1997). The greatest growth can be felt when we think about where we would be, had the change happened sooner. Mitch begins his conclusion with a letter to his younger self:
I want to tell him what to look out for, what mistakes to avoid, I want to tell him to be more open, to ignore the lure of advertised values, to pay attention when your loved ones are speaking, as if it were the last time you might hear them…I know I cannot do this. None of us can undo what we’ve done, or relive a life already recorded. But if Professor Morris Schwartz taught me anything at all, it was this: there is no such thing as “too late” in life (Albom, 2002).
I am so grateful that Morrie felt that way because I wonder how I would view the world if it were not for this book. I wonder when I would have learned this lesson. I could see how as an adult, that the lessons in Tuesdays With Morrie could be harder to implement in a life that is already set in its way; but reading it from the perspective of a ten year old, a kid just beginning to become a person on their own, someone who is beginning to develop meaningful relationships and figure out how parts of the world operate, it could be crucial in shaping their view and understanding.
Kirkus Reviews stated in their critique of the text that the points and lessons Morrie highlights are “unassailable”, meaning they cannot be attacked. They are pretty fool proof aphorisms, but he mentions that even with “the subject: The Meaning of Life. Unfortunately, but surely not surprisingly, those relying on this text will not actually learn The Meaning of Life here” (Kirkus Reviews, 2010). I don’t believe that Albom was necessarily trying to answer the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’ But that he was more so simply trying to discuss the potentiality of an answer to the meaning of life, or to portray a window of a way to look at the meaning of life. I think Mitch touches on this in his afterword as well. In preparation for writing the afterword, he came upon the subject: “Life after Death” in his notes (Albom, 2002). Here is discusses with Morrie what his beliefs are when we die. Morrie has always felt that death was nothing of importance, “you go in the ground and that’s it” (Albom, 2002). However, ALS and going through death slowly has given Morrie more time to think about it and when Mitch asked, this time, Morrie says, “this is too harmonious, grand, and overwhelming a universe to believe that it’s all an accident” (Albom, 2002). This stood out to me then and resonates with me now. That a man, going through the most difficult, the most painful time of his life, could see that life and the universe mean something more than he ever previously understood.
His ability to relate and understand this transition in his life is why I told my grandmother that she had given me the key. By reading this text at such a young age, I have been able to go through life with Morrie’s lessons in the back of my head. Mitch asked Morrie before he passed what his perfect afterlife scenario would be, his response, “That my consciousness goes on…that I’m part of the universe” (Albom, 2002). Mitch and I agree that it feels like Morrie’s wish came true. I have been able to re-experience a man I have never known every time I read this text. It is almost as if Morrie transfers his consciousness through empathy and makes unreliable scenarios relatable and full of humility. In a way, Morrie helped me form the beliefs I hold today. They might have developed over the years without the text in front of me, but over time the more I read this text the more I realize where I got these ideas in the first place. My belief that we live on after we die and the concept of leaving a mark, maybe not on the world, but on the lives of the people closest to you.
I recall Morrie telling me that to find a meaningful life I have to, “devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning” (Albom, 2002). I have been able to think about the lessons he portrays across this text and I truly think that I saw Morrie as an elder that shared upon my life a mountain of wisdom before he passed on that last page. Because of Tuesdays With Morrie, I have challenged myself to be unique and to follow my dreams and to be who I am no matter what people think. He taught me most importantly that “love always wins” and for that I will never forget (Albom, 2002).
These lessons have inspired me to love in a way I never imagined to be possible, to build a space in communities that people want to be in, to work towards my career goals of being a community leader, and to focus on my purpose, which is yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. I think that both of the critiques make some parts for a valid argument, but I disagree on the points discussed above. I agree that the text makes many “unassailable” arguments that highlight points that are “no doubt correct,” but that it also helped enlighten people to a way to live more openly, more honestly, with more love, kindness, and gratitude than they had before. Morrie Schwartz is a role model and a wise professor. May he rest in peace.
When beginning my analysis of the Tuesday’s With Morrie I approached it with the sense that this book is amazing and it made everyone who read it’s life better. When developing the essay and working with the critiques I realized that this was not always the case and that the argument I was trying to make was very weak. To say that it had much of an impact on everyone else’s life, like it had my own, was too far-reaching. Instead I took a path to help share with you in the ways that it helped me and changed my life for the better. I was able to focus on the parts of the book that drew me into a better understanding of myself. Morrie and I developed a relationship I could never have had without the text. Now when I read back on what I wrote I am satisfied with who the essay shows that I am and have become. It helped me look back on the foundation that makes up my morals and my values and this analysis of the book gave me an even greater understanding of Morrie’s relevancy in my everyday life. I hope that this inspires you to pick up a copy of Tuesday’s With Morrie and to have Morrie’s consciousness flow from page to page for your own journey on the path to discovering the meaning of life.
I would like to acknowledge the people who have helped me in the process of writing this essay. I would like to thank my professor Dr. Harris, and my classmates Lindsey Cohen, Caili Scarpitta, and Shannon Brown for their help and feedback on drafts of my essay. They helped me see how my essay was being read by my audience, helped me develop parts of my essay, as well as, cutting parts that were not necessary. Dr. Harris’ responses to my drafts encouraged me to keep thinking critically about this text and helped me delve deeper into my understanding and relationship with the text. Lastly, this essay would not be possible if it had not been for Mitch Albom’s devotion to Morrie and his commitment to help him and to share his story. Morrie has in a way affected my life further than most people who have walked into my life. His ability to share his thoughts, feelings, and final moments enabled me to gain a greater sense of myself in this very busy world. This essay highlights the importance that Morrie Schwartz and Mitch Albom hold in my life. May Morrie Rest in Peace.
Albom, Mitch. “Afterword.” Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson. New York, NY: Broadway, 2002. 193-. Print.
Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson. New York, NY: Broadway, 2002. Print.
Botton, Alain De. “Continuing Ed.” The New York Times. NY Times, 23 Nov. 1997. Web. 12 Apr 2016.
“Tuesday’s With Morrie Kirkus Review.” Kirkus Reviews. Doubleday, 20 May 2010. Web. 12 Apr 2016.