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Comparing Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie and Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych

Love and Death in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie and Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych

One story is distinctively American in its optimism and characteristic of the 1990’s in its tone; the other shows the unmistakable disposition of nineteenth century Russia. The more recent book follows the actual life of a sociology professor at Brandeis University while the other explores a product of Leo Tolstoy’s imagination. Tuesdays with Morrie and “The Death of Ivan Ilych” portray two characters who sit on opposite ends of the literary spectrum but who share the dark bond of terminal illness and advance knowledge of their deaths. One views the knowledge as a blessing and as an opportunity to make his final good-byes, the other writhes in pain and begs for an end to his vicious sentence of suffering. In the face of identical fates these two men show stark contrasts, all for the simple reason that only one of them found a way to love.

Though illness stripped both Morrie Schwartz and Ivan Ilych of their hope for survival, their dissimilar lifestyles led each to a much different end. Morrie found himself in an overflow of compassion while surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. Ivan, on the other hand, found only the obligatory company of his wife and the painful awareness that no one really cared. Both characters ended their lives the way they lived them, as Ivan acknowledges: “In them he saw himself” (Ivn, 149). While Morrie poured himself into every moment of life and every relationship he pursued, Ivan skirted the dangers of emotion to live “easily, pleasantly, and decorously” (Ivn, 115). In the spirit of such an opposition, the two stories become somewhat like responses to each other. Morrie Schwatrz, proclaimed…

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… such books?

All things considered, the answer is a confident “Yes.” No law of literary comparison mandates that the works in question hold the same level of scholarly repute. These two stories focus on death, the great equalizer, one of the most terrifying facts of human existence and one that we will all someday face. Though the paths vary, both characters meet the same epiphany in the end. Morrie savors most of his life with an understanding of “the secret” while Ivan receives it only hours before dying. What really matters, however, is that they both find it.

Works Cited

Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Tolstoy, Leo. “The Death of Ivan Ilych” and Other Stories. Afterword by David Magarshack. Trans. J. D. Duff and Aylmer Maude. New York: NAL/Signet Classic, 1990.

Dionysus and the Unraveling of Ideologies in The Bacchae

Dionysus and the Unraveling of Ideologies in The Bacchae

Some evaluations claim that the Dionysus appearing in The Bacchae is fairly true embodiment of the ideals of ancient Athens. He demands only worship and proper reverence for his name, two matters of honor that pervaded both the Greek tragedies and the pious society that viewed them. In other plays, Oedipus’ consultations with Apollo and the many Choral appeals to Zeus reveal the Athenian respect for their gods, while Electra’s need for revenge and Antigone’s obligation to bury Polyneices both epitomize the themes of respect and dignity. Yet although Dionysus personifies these two motifs, his clashes with the rest of Athenian tradition seem to make him its true adversary. Dionysius distinctly opposes the usual views on gender, age, rationality and divinity, leaving the reader to wonder whether these contrasts were Euripidean attempts to illuminate specific facets of the culture itself.

Examination of Dionysus’s challenges should begin with The Bacchae’s most obvious perversion of custom, the question of gender. As Dionysus indicates early in the play, the enraptured band of Bacchant followers is comprised only of females: “Every woman in Thebes-but the women only- / I drove from home” (35-36). Though Cadmus further illuminates the matter by raising the question, “Are we the only men / who will dance for Bacchus?” (195-196), the text offers no definitive explanation for why Dionysus calls solely upon the women. A superficial reading might suggest that Euripides attempted to portray the stereotypical “weaker sex” as the one “more susceptible to invasive passions than men, especially eros and daemonic possession,” but more is probably at stake.

As Edith Hall …

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…ty since “things could happen in the real life of Athens which were virtually unthinkable in tragedy, and vice versa.” Perhaps the safest assessment of Dionysus is that while not a direct opponent of the traditional ways, his presence, and especially his effect on other characters, serves to highlight many social norms. According to Bernad Knox, “From start to finish, Euripides was ‘attempting to show citizens bred in the traditional views…that such conceptions of the gods should offend them.'” Perhaps we as readers will never fully understand the Dionysus that appears in this play, but a closing look at a remark of the Chorus may bring us a step closer to this understanding:

–What is wisdom? What gift of the gods

is held in honor like this:

to hold your hand victorious

over the heads of those you hate?

Honor is precious forever. (877-881)

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