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The setting of the story is in Morrie's home in West Newton, Massachusetts.
The two main characters of the book are Mitch Albom and Morrie Schwartz. Mitch Albom earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where met and studied under his beloved professor, Morrie Schwartz. In 1982, Albom was awarded a Masters degree from Columbia University in New York. After failed stints as an amateur boxer and nightclub musician, Albom began his career as a sports journalist, writing articles for newspapers such as the The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Detroit Free Press where he was employed from 1985 until his reunion with Morrie in 1995. Albom also has his own nationally syndicated radio show, Monday Sports Albom. In 1995, Albom began gathering notes for his book, Tuesdays With Morrie, which documents his and Morrie's discussions on the meaning of life which they hold each Tuesday of every week in Morrie's home. On the other hand, Morrie Schwartz began teaching sociology in 1959 at Brandeis. It was not until 1995, when he was dying from ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, that Morrie ended his career as a professor. A fatal neuromuscular disease, ALS is characterized by progressive muscle debilitation that ultimately results in paralysis. ALS is commonly known as Lou Gherig's disease, after the famous baseball player who died of the disease in 1941 at the age of forty.
Mitch Albom recalls his graduation from Brandeis University in the spring of 1979. After he has received his diploma, Mitch approaches his favorite professor, Morrie Schwartz, and presents him with a monogrammed briefcase. He promises Morrie, who is crying, that he will keep in touch, though he does not fulfill his promise. Years after Mitch's graduation from Brandeis, Morrie is forced to give up dancing, his favorite hobby, because he has been diagnosed with ALS and his wife, Charlotte, cares for him, though at his insistence, keeps her job as a professor at M.I.T.
Sixteen years after his graduation from Brandeis, Mitch is feeling frustrated with the life he has chosen to live. He abandons his failing career as a musician to become a well-payed journalist for a Detroit newspaper.
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Following their first Tuesday together, Mitch returns regularly every Tuesday to listen to Morrie's lessons on "The Meaning of Life." Each week, Mitch brings Morrie food to eat, though as Morrie's condition worsens he is no longer able to enjoy solid food. In his first of three interviews with Koppel for "Nightline," Morrie admits that the thing he dreads most about his worsening condition is that someday, he will not be able to wipe himself after using the bathroom. Eventually, this fear comes true.
In his lessons, Morrie advises Mitch to reject the popular culture in favor of creating his own. The individualistic culture Morrie encourages Mitch to create for himself is a culture founded on love, acceptance, and human goodness, a culture that upholds a set of ethical values unlike the mores that popular culture endorses. Popular culture, Morrie says, is founded on greed, selfishness, and superficiality, which he urges Mitch to overcome. Morrie also stresses that he and Mitch must accept death and aging, as both
On one Tuesday, Janine travels with Mitch to visit Morrie. Janine is a professional singer, and Morrie asks her to sing for him. Though she does not usually sing upon request, Janine concedes, and her voice moves Morrie to tears. Morrie cries freely and often, and continually encourages Mitch to do so also. As Morrie's condition deteriorates, so does that of the pink hibiscus plant that sits on the window ledge in his study. Mitch becomes increasingly aware of the evil in media, as it drenches the country with stories of murder and hatred. One such story is the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the verdict of which causes major racial division between whites and blacks.
Mitch tape records his discussions with Morrie so that he may compile notes with which to write a book, Tuesdays With Morrie, a project which he and Morrie refer to as their "last thesis together." Morrie continually tells Mitch that he wants to share his stories with the world, a the book will allow him to do just that.
One of the important symbols used in the book is the pink hibiscus plant. As Morrie's body weakens, so does the condition of the hibiscus plant. The plant's pink petals wither and fall as Morrie grows increasingly dependent on his aides and on oxygen. As his death approaches, so does the death of the plant. It is continually used as a metaphor for Morrie's life and for life itself. Like the plant, humans, Morrie in particular, experience a natural life cycle, which inevitably ends in death.
There are three moral themes in the book. The first one is a quote by W. H. Auden, Morrie's favorite poet, which is one of his most important lessons to Mitch: in the absence of love, there is a void that can be filled only by loving human relationships. According to Morrie, when love succeeds, a person can experience no higher sense of fulfillment. Throughout his fourteen Tuesday lessons with Mitch, Morrie reveals that love is the essence of every person, and every relationship, and that to live without it, is to live with nothing. The second moral is the rejection of popular cultural mores in favor of self-created values. Morrie tells Mitch that he should reject popular cultural values, and instead develop his own. As Morrie sees it, popular culture is a dictator under which the human community must suffer. In his own life, Morrie has fled this cultural dictatorship in favor of creating his own culture founded on love, acceptance, and open communication. He develops his own culture as a revolt against the media-driven greed, violence and superficiality which has marked the mores promoted by popular culture. Morrie encourages Mitch to free himself of this corrupt, dictatorial culture in favor of his own, and it is only when he does that he begins to reassess his life and rediscover fulfillment. Lastly, acceptance through detachment. In his quest to accept his approaching death, Morrie consciously "detaches himself from the experience" when he suffers his violent coughing spells, all of which come loaded with the possibility of his last breath. Morrie gets his method of detachment from the Buddhist philosophy that one should not cling to things, as everything that exists is impermanent. In detaching, Morrie is able to step out of his tangible surroundings and into his own state of consciousness, namely for the sake of gaining perspective and composure in a stressful situation.
Tuesdays with Morrie is a must-read for people of all ages. The book is also about the life lessons that Morrie passed down to Mitch Albom, and Mitch was kind enough to share them with the world. Morrie, once again, teaches his former student, this time inspiring Mitch with life's final lesson.