Tuesdays with Morrie

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Culture and Religion Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Teaching and Learning Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Culture and Religion Theme Icon
Movement and Change Theme Icon
Love, Family, and Community Theme Icon
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Culture and Religion Theme Icon

Morrie's guiding philosophy of life is that each person must not simply accept the larger modern (mid 1990s) culture, which he consistently critiques. He takes issue with modern culture's overvaluing of materiality, achievement, and superficial things, which he believes is not conducive to living a happy, fulfilled, and successful life. He instead advocates for the creation of personal cultures, or a system of living life that allows someone to be fulfilled through careful questioning of modern culture and religion. Throughout the Tuesday visits, he counsels Mitch to create his own personal culture so he too can live his life to the fullest.

Throughout his life, Morrie created a culture based on discussion groups, long walks, and spending time with friends. It is focused on interpersonal relationships rather than things and achievements. One way to understand Morrie's culture is through the way he interacts with television. Morrie doesn't watch much television himself, but when he is asked to appear on Ted Koppel's Nightline show, he agrees (after grilling Koppel about his own personal culture) and later agrees to two more interviews. He sees the interviews as a way to teach the tenets of his own culture and to engage with people, rather than entertain. While Mitch uses the OJ Simpson murder trial to link the way that other people use television directly to material culture, the following that Morrie amasses through the broadcast of the Nightline interviews further supports Morrie's idea that everyone is searching for more than what the present material culture has to offer.

Morrie is very interested in religion of all sorts. He was raised Jewish and became an agnostic as a young man after the death of his father. Despite turning to synagogue and religious services for comfort in his youth, he couldn't reconcile the tragedy that had befallen his family with the beautiful ideals of religion. As he began to age, however, he became increasingly interested in other religions and begins to borrow bits and pieces that feel right and true as he works on creating his own culture.

The book presents Morrie's personal religion and personal culture as a clear good, and suggests that it was his freedom from a single religion that allows him the ability to then create his own that works for him. Thus, the book questions how culture and religion shape how we live our lives and what we value. While the book doesn't go so far as to suggest that one must give up religion as a whole or completely forsake the given norms of society, it encourages readers to feel free to focus on the aspects of a belief system or culture that offer personal fulfillment. The parts that don't offer fulfillment or some sort of positive gain should get a hard and skeptical look.

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Culture and Religion Quotes in Tuesdays with Morrie

Below you will find the important quotes in Tuesdays with Morrie related to the theme of Culture and Religion.
The Syllabus Quotes

Morrie cried and laughed with them. And all the heartfelt things we never get to say to those we love, Morrie said that day. His "living funeral" was a rousing success.

Related Characters: Mitch Albom (speaker), Morrie Schwartz, Charlotte
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

After attending the funeral of a fellow professor that left him feeling depressed, Morrie organized what he calls a living funeral. While a funeral is also held after his death, holding a funeral before his death allows him to spend time with friends and family and hear the things that are said at funerals, but that the dead never get to hear.

Morrie's personal culture is extremely focused on relationships, building community, and telling loved ones that they're loved and valued. He consistently remarks that he's lucky that he gets so much time to say goodbye, and this event acts as a formal chance for him to do so. While funerals are often community events, the concept of a living funeral allows the event to be one of community building for the dying as well as the living, thereby linking life and death and the living to the dead.

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The Student Quotes

Instead, I buried myself in accomplishments, because with accomplishments, I believed I could control things, I could squeeze in every last piece of happiness before I got sick and died, like my uncle before me, which I figured was my natural fate.

Related Characters: Mitch Albom (speaker), Janine
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Instead of starting a family with Janine, Mitch focuses on work in order to feel in control. Mitch never fully fleshes out why he feels that he will follow in his uncle's footsteps, but Mitch is driven through life by the idea that he too is going to die a horrible death. Rather than look for fulfillment in community or relationships, as Morrie will later suggest he do, Mitch tries to find meaning in his life through accomplishments and accumulating material goods. This early description of Mitch's character gives the reader a baseline for which to then judge Mitch's progress as he transforms through his visits with Morrie.

Seeing Mitch as someone who is successful by the standards of modern culture provides a counterpoint for Morrie's ideas of personal culture. Mitch is a living, breathing example of the kind of “success” that Morrie not only rails against, but believes is not true success. Mitch ultimately supports Morrie's belief, as he shares with the reader on several occasions that he felt unfulfilled despite having so much.

The Classroom Quotes

And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn't work, don't buy it.

Related Characters: Morrie Schwartz (speaker), Mitch Albom
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Mitch is visiting Morrie for the first time, and after a silence that Mitch describes as awkward, Morrie jumps right into a brief discussion of modern culture. Throughout the text, Morrie consistently critiques the modern American culture of the 90s as materialistic and not conducive to a fulfilled and happy life. He is insistent that in order to become fulfilled, people must reject what modern culture holds up as important, such as money and accumulating material goods, in favor of building community and relationships.

Morrie's entire outlook on life and death has its roots in this statement. While death is universally unsettling and scary for many, Morrie chooses to completely accept his death and try to learn as much as possible as his health declines. Essentially, he rejects the overarching cultural narrative of fearing and avoiding death in favor of embracing it. Further, Morrie doesn't buy into the cultural worship of youth. Rather than see aging as decay, Morrie chooses to look at it as growth and development, casting a positive light on a subject so often considered negative.

The Professor, Part Two Quotes

Morrie observed that most of the patients there had been rejected and ignored in their lives, made to feel that they didn't exist. They also missed compassion—something the staff ran out of quickly. And many of these patients were well-off, from rich families, so their wealth did not buy them happiness or contentment.

Related Characters: Mitch Albom (speaker), Morrie Schwartz
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

Morrie's first job after finishing his Ph.D. was conducting research in a mental institution outside of Washington, DC. His job was to observe the patients and their treatments. This is the lesson that Morrie takes away from conducting research in a mental hospital, and it will go on to inform how he structures his personal culture. Most of Morrie's concerns, here as well as later in life, are about how we treat others and what sort of an effect our actions have on them. Morrie will later champion the power of simply paying attention and giving someone your full attention, and this point can be seen as the moment in his life when he fully understands the positive effect of paying attention and the profoundly negative effect of not.

Here we also see the seeds of Morrie's later disdain for modern culture through the mention of wealth not being a good measure for happiness. He will go on to link modern culture to the accumulation of wealth and material goods, which he consistently criticizes. The underlying message that Morrie leaves the hospital with is that love and compassion do the most good in the world, as they make people feel seen, heard, and cared for in a way that wealth cannot.

The Seventh Tuesday Quotes

At seventy-eight, he was giving as an adult and taking as a child.

Related Characters: Mitch Albom (speaker), Morrie Schwartz
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

Mitch has this realization after Morrie tells him that although he can no longer use the toilet unassisted, he's learning to enjoy being completely cared for like a child. The text draws a firm connection between the state of being a child and many of the positive aspects of Morrie's personal culture, such as unconditional love, care, and physical affection. As Morrie's mobility declines and he has to rely completely on others for every aspect of daily living, he in effect returns to childhood. Most importantly, he longs for and fully desires these simple pleasures, and sees them as pleasures rather than embarrassing.

At the same time, Morrie continues to give back to community in a very adult way, by listening to his friends and dispensing words of wisdom that can only be attained with age.

The Eleventh Tuesday Quotes

“In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “But here's the secret: in between, we need others as well.”

Related Characters: Morrie Schwartz (speaker), Mitch Albom
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

Mitch and Morrie are discussing culture, and Morrie has just made the point that if people saw each other as individuals in need of love and care, the world wouldn't have so many problems.

As the book progresses, Morrie develops the idea of community to encompass not just one's own community of friends and family, but expands it further to include the world. Much of Morrie's philosophy centers on caring for others emotionally and physically. The book stresses strongly the need for emotional care as a child through the glimpses we get into Morrie's difficult childhood due to the death of his mother. It's inarguable that he needed more care as a child than he received. As an old man in the present, Morrie continually returns to the idea that he is entirely dependent on others for everything now that he's sick. However, he also tries to make it very clear to Mitch that even as a younger, healthy man, Mitch too is in need of others to be fulfilled. This statement is an explicit acknowledgement that community is not just for the very young and the very old, which further develops Morrie's concept of community as all-inclusive.

The Thirteenth Tuesday Quotes

Then I'd go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven't seen in so long now.
In the evening, we'd all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck—I love duck—and then we'd dance the rest of the night. I'd dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there, until I was exhausted.

Related Characters: Morrie Schwartz (speaker), Mitch Albom
Related Symbols: Food, The Natural World and Morrie's Hibiscus, Dance
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

Morrie is describing his perfect day for Mitch. The fact that what Morrie describes is so ordinary is indicative of the way Morrie lives his life and practices his personal culture, as Morrie doesn't choose to do something flashy or ostentatious. Instead, he wants to do the most normal of things—swimming, spending time with friends, eating, and dancing. While Morrie's personal culture is focused primarily on finding joy in simple things and relationships, the fact that he would choose to spend his last perfect day in this way points to just how invested he is in this way of living.

This speech also is where we see all three positive symbols (dance, eating, and nature) combine, and see how they play into Morrie's culture. Nature is a way to move, slowly and with the purpose of admiring the beauty of the world. Eating is a way to build community and experience joy, as is dancing.

Conclusion Quotes

The last class of my old professor's life took place once a week, in his home, by a window in his study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink flowers. The class met on Tuesdays. No books were required. The subject was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience.
The teaching goes on.

Related Characters: Mitch Albom (speaker), Morrie Schwartz
Related Symbols: The Natural World and Morrie's Hibiscus
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the final passage of the book. The words here are the same as the opening lines of the text, save for the addition of the final line. This repetition serves several purposes. First, repetition in general is used throughout the text to emphasize and remind the reader of important points, such as Auden's "love each other or perish" and Morrie's mantra "when you learn how to die, you learn how to live." This ties back to Morrie's way of teaching. As Mitch notes on page 82, rather than make a student potentially feel dumb by asking them if they understand a point, Morrie prefers simply to repeat a point for emphasis. Here, although the idea is Morrie's, they're Mitch's words, which further reinforces the idea of teaching as a cycle. Mitch is borrowing Morrie's method and repeating himself, adding the final line as a nod to the nature of books and education as something living that continues after a class is over or a book has been finished. This cements Mitch's role as the new teacher, and allows the reader to also step into that role as they apply what they take away from reading the book to their own lives.