Essay Topics/Writing Assignments
These 20 essay questions can be used as essay questions on a test, or as stand-alone essay topics for a take-home or in-class writing assignment. Students should have a full understanding of the text in order to answer these questions. They ask for a thorough analysis of the text.
1. The santuri instrument is an important symbol throughout the novel. It is one of many modes of expression between the two main characters.
Part 1) What does the santuri symbolize in terms of language?
Part 2) What is the significance of the fact that Zorba brags about his talent on the instrument yet will only play it when he's in the mood?
Part 3) Why do you think the santuri is the object left to the narrator when Zorba dies?
2. One theme throughout the story is that God and the devil may be one and the same creature.
Part 1) How does the narrator's writing of the Buddha Manuscript exhibit this theme?
Part 2) How does the atheist Zorba's description of both God and the devil support this theme?
Part 3) What does this mean in the narrator's search for ultimate "freedom"?
3. In the beginning of the story, the narrator is reading a book called The Dialogue of Buddha and the Shepherd, which encourages the virtue of possessing nothing. By the end of the story, he has exorcised the Buddha as an inhabitant of the Void where abstract and unhelpful thinking occurs.
Part 1) How does the appearance of his reading material foreshadow the narrator's experience?
Part 2) Describe the asset that the narrator discovers to be most essential to life. Is this asset truly a possession?
Part 3) Describe Zorba's relationship with possessions. Would he consider his experiences to be his possessions?
4. Zorba describes sex as the essence of paradise and not at all an impediment to gaining "freedom." Simultaneously, he describes man as a servant sent to please women sexually.
Part 1) Is Zorba's description of Zeus, a creature beaten to sexual exhaustion in his service to women, mutually exclusive to his claims of manly freedom or are they indeed one and the same?
Part 2) The narrator uses less aggression when approaching women, yet he's able to use some of Zorba's advice to good result. Do you think the teacher or the student better masters Zorba's twofold theory on sexuality?
5. Zorba offers a range of religious thought. At times, he calls himself an atheist. Later, he describes God and the devil to be exactly like himself. Still later, he rewrites Christianity, claiming that Jesus is an heir to Zeus.
Part 1) Describe Zorba's relationship to the religion of the villagers. How does he react to it?
Part 2) Based on dialogue and actions, Is Zorba truly an atheist? Why?
Part 3) How does the irony of Zorba's religious talk instruct the narrator on his path to exorcising his own philosophical thought?
6. Kazantzakis seems to use destruction, as opposed to creation, as a central theme which moves both main characters away from their original states and toward something new.
Part 1) What things, ideas, and people are destroyed in the novel? Which of these seem most symbolic to you?
Part 2) What two major destructions, which also happen to be the two great "works" of the narrator and Zorba, occur almost simultaneously near the end of the book?
* Are these parallel losses?
* Is one greater than the other?
* How do these two losses make the two characters more similar to one another?
* How do they make them more different?
Part 3) Do the human deaths in the story seem to add or take away from the overall circumstances of the two main characters? Why?
7. Zorba has a complex relationship with the female sex. The narrator regards him as misogynistic, but he, at times, seems to afford women more freedoms than the average villager.
Part 1) Under what category of his "marriages" would Zorba's relationship with Madame Hortense fall under? Why?
* How does Zorba treat her differently than the other villagers do?
* Does his treatment of her fall in line with his claim that women have less moral strength than men?
Part 2) Zorba tells a story of his brother threatening to kill his daughter for becoming pregnant out of wedlock upon which he offers no opinion. He also reveals that to his greatest love he was only "half-honestly" married.
* Do you think Zorba is a misogynist?
* How does his behavior with women deviate from traditional values?
* Does this make him less of a misogynist?
* Do any of his behaviors make him more "free"?
Part 3) How does Zorba's description of Zeus, the overworked love slave, contradict his misogyny? Does it support it?
8. There are several parallel calamities/destructions that occur in the novel:
1) the lignite mine and the monastery
2) the Buddha and the timber rail
3) the death of Madame Hortense and the death of the widow
Pick one set to compare and contrast both literally and symbolically.
9. Being present in the moment is a major theme in Zorba the Greek. Kazantzakis utilizes Zorba to literally reinforce this to the narrator but provides him with an array of symbolic messages as well.
Part 1) Describe the narrator's memory of destroying the butterfly cocoon. How did this impact him?
* How does this make him more receptive to Zorba's advice?
* How does it make him less so?
Part 2) Zorba says that the act of celebrating is more important than the object of celebration.
* How is this a message of presence?
* Could Zorba's atheism be a similar symbol of presence? How so?
Part 3) The narrator believes that he can channel his sexual energy for the widow into the Buddha manuscript.
* Do you agree that such an act is possible?
* Is it possible for him to stay present in his physical body as he attempts this?
10. The narrator's intention in the Buddha Manuscript shifts throughout the course of the novel.
Part 1) What does the manuscript begin as, and what does it become? What instigates the change in the narrator's intention?
Part 2) Do you think the narrator achieves his revised goal or his original goal with the finished product?
Part 3) Zorba constantly reinforces that living in the physical world is living in the mystery.
* Do you think that language is physical?
* Could the narrator have created a physical change in his life simply by writing the Buddha Manuscript?
11. Kazantzakis injects the epistolary into the trajectory of the novel. Some of the characters express more emotion with this mode of communication, while it is simply different for others.
Part 1) The reader gets to know the narrator's soldier friend only by way of the narrator's memories and letters between the men.
* How is their relationship different in letters than it would be in person?
* What other forms of communication do the two men practice?
* Which do you think is the strongest between them?
Part 2) Zorba writes to the narrator from Candia.
* Is his expression altered, impaired, or improved upon by letter writing?
* Do the two characters grow closer through the exchange?
Part 3) Letter writing could be classified under what Zorba calls pen-pushing.
* Do you think the letter writing between the men is a less physical form of interaction than speaking?
* Why or why not?
12. A constant struggle in the novel exists between what is fated and what is the result of enacted will.
Part 1) How do the narrator and Zorba differ on the topic of fate? Does either one think that fate can be altered?
Part 2) How does his opinion on fate impact the way the narrator handles his relationship with the widow? What is Zorba's opinion on this?
Part 3) Zorba indicates that he believes all men fall into the marriage "trap" eventually. He also speaks of men and women's particular and inborn flaws. Would these opinions be relegations to fate, or would they, by Zorba's law, be things that an active will could prevent?
13. The narrator's intuition is a powerful asset which returns to him over and over as a sort of interface between the mind, body, and soul.
Part 1) Describe how the narrator's intuition works when he fabricates a letter from Zorba to Madame Hortense.
* How is he able to come up with Zorba's private terms of endearment?
* Do you think this level of intuition is more an act of the mind, the body, the soul, or some combination of the three?
Part 2) Do you think Zorba or the narrator is the more intuitive man?
* Taking into account their respective histories, what elements might have developed intuition more in one character or the other?
* Is intuition a product of being physically present or might it have developed as compensation for indulgence in a life of books?
Part 3) The narrator also exercises his intuition when he foresees Stavridaki's peril. Look for other instances in which the narrator seems to sense reality.
* How are these different from the way that Zorba considers reality?
* Does the narrator become more or less intuitive as the novel progresses?
* Does Zorba impact this characteristic in him?
14. The notion of "eternity" plays a consistent though seldom-mentioned role in Zorba the Greek.
Part 1) How would Zorba describe "eternity" on the boat at the beginning of the story?
* How would he describe it after Madame Hortense's death?
* What has brought him to this point?
* Is there any way in which Zorba can reconciliate living presently in the mystery with attempting to solve the question of an eternity that may be marked by a lack of physicality?
* Does he come close to solving this problem for himself?
Part 2) The narrator has a conversation with Mother Superior at the convent in which "eternity" is discussed?
* What is the narrator's response to the conversation?
* What does he mean when he refers to Buddha as the terrible "Last Man"?
* Is eternity a part of the "Void" for the narrator, or is it a notion he is able to reconcile with his quest for the ever-present physical world?
Part 3) How do the deaths of Madame Hortense and the widow alter Zorba and the narrator's convictions about eternity?
15. After Zorba's return from Candia, the narrator attempts to convince him that the power of a mind concentrated on one thing is the singular path to great accomplishment.
Part 1) How does Zorba respond to this attempted lesson?
* Is the narrator's lesson on meditation received and practiced or do both file it with the "Void"?
* Do you agree with the narrator?
Part 2) How might concentration on a single thing threaten Zorba's way of life and very existence?
Part 3) Zorba has returned from Candia with an appearance altered to look younger. This is a strange juxtaposition to the narrator's focus on meditation.
* Are there parallels in the two men's behaviors?
* Or are the simply at odds with one another?
16. Human management of the desire for material things and other people is a central crux of the characters' experiences.
Part 1) How does Zorba suggest that intense desire be sated?
* How is this similar to the narrator's act of writing the Buddha Manuscript?
* Do you think there is more value in lust for abstract philosophizing than in lust for the material world? Or vice versa?
* Are they equally gluttonous attitudes?
Part 2) Zorba notes that all of the monks strongly desire some material thing.
* How does he encourage them to handle their desires?
* Does he encourage Demetrios and Gavrili to handle their lusts similarly?
* Does Zorba's attempt at getting a deal on the land support his theories on desire and satisfaction or contradict them?
Part 3) How do the men at the monastery symbolize the struggle between Zorba and the narrator? Do the bishop's great theories on religion and the abbot's business ventures make the men more like Zorba or more like the narrator?
17. Zorba's relationship with Madame Hortense challenges everything he believes about women and relationships.
Part 1) How is Madame Hortense similar to Zorba's generalization of all women? How is she different?
Part 2) Zorba waffles between insisting that men are in service to women and that women are inferior to men.
* In what way does Madame Hortense situate him strictly as a service person?
* How does Zorba respond to this?
Part 3) Do you think Madame Hortense is settling for Zorba?
* Is Zorba settling for her?
* Why does he agree to marry her?
18. Zorba seems to conclude the thematic strand of the categories of men by retelling stories of war, both his own and others.
Part 1) Describe the way in which Zorba moved from patriotism, a man for his nation, to being a man of self. How might the story of the True Cross have encouraged this shift?
Part 2) Zorba admits to some heinous murders while acting as a man of patriotism. He also acknowledges extreme selfishness as a man who lives for the self.
* Do you think that one of the categorizations represented in the book might be more prone to wrongdoing? Which one and why?
* Might a man of God be just as likely to commit horrible crimes if he believed he was doing it for God?
Part 3) Zorba says he is no longer concerned with a man's nationality, only whether he is "good" or "bad."
* What would qualify as "good" to Zorba?
* Do you agree with Zorba's definition of "good"?
19. Several occurrences dovetail into the final exorcism of the Buddha.
Part 1) The death of Madame Hortense coincides with the narrator's affair with the widow and his completion of the manuscript.
* How might Hortense's death symbolize the death of the Buddha? Was Hortense physically present in life?
* Could her fantasies about past lovers and her role as a siren be categorized as a part of the "Void"?
* What kind of symbolic import does the looting of her belongings have on the theme of the Buddha?
* Part 2) Zorba ultimately encourages the narrator to pursue the widow. Describe the outcome of the physical intimacy.
* Do you believe that physical intimacy could free the narrator from his philosophizing?
* Does the narrator adopt Zorba's ideas about physical intimacy? Should he?
* Part 3) Do you think the narrator is completely finished with the Buddha when he finishes the manuscript? Provide evidence to support your answer.
20. Dualism is an important part of Zorba the Greek. Wherever one theory or way of being is presented, a counter theory exists.
Part 1) When the villagers kill the widow, how are they subverting Zorba's definition of women?
* Which of the two ways of thinking is more accurate?
* How might these extremes support the author's overall intention?
Part 2) How do Zorba and Hortense view their relationship to one another?
* Does Hortense's view of her own past match the way Zorba recounts her history?
* Does Zorba see himself as the partner to her that she sees in him?
* How do their opposing views ultimately affect their relationship?
* Why is she so fixated on marrying Zorba?
Part 3) Do you think that the Buddha has been completed or destroyed for the narrator at the end of the story?
This section contains 2,596 words|
(approx. 9 pages at 300 words per page)