In the Greek literature
that I read, I have identified the informing symbol for this culture is
“finding the meaning of life.” The Atwood theory, discussed in class, is that
at the heart of any country or culture is “a single unifying and informing
symbol.” Atwood’s theory gives the country or culture its identity and strength.
The literature of the country or culture probably is what shows this symbol the
best. The stories that I read are “and dreams are dreams”, “stories of taxi
drivers”, and “the white bear” from the book “….and dreams are dreams” by Vassilis
Vassilikos. I also read Zorba the
Greek, a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis.
They were a useful source for finding the Greek symbol of life.

Each story does a decent
job in showing the meaning of life for the country for Greece. Zorba the Greek
explores where and how to find meaning in life in a world where the author
emphasizes we are all fated to die. The novel tells us how we should live and
knowing that we will die soon. In Zorba the Greek, the narrator, the
thirty-five-year-old Boss, goes to Greece to reopen a mine he owns in Crete,
and to learn to understand the life of the common, working class person. He
meets an older man named Zorba, who lives largely unthinkingly in the world.
Zorba is a lower class than the narrator, has worked with his hands and has
been a lover. The narrator hires him as a foreman for the mine. Zorba is
hardworking and absorbed in living with enjoyment in the moment while the
narrator tries to attain a Buddhist detachment (Enotes).

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There are
three short stories that I chose in “And
Dreams are Dreams,” by Vassilis
Vassilikos. The first story “and
dreams are dreams” tells about five friends who
starts a newspaper consisting of nothing but of people’s dreams, but they end
up contributing to the politics of their country. The second story “stories of taxi drivers”
is about one of the newspapermen recounts the stories of taxi drivers. The third
story is “The White Bear”. It is
about the appearance
of a white bear in downtown Athens. This creates fear and problems. However,
since the bear represents the history of the Greeks, the ending shows there is
hope for the bear, and thus for the country. The characters in these stories
find life’s meaning in separate ways.

The first author I met through the books had his roots in the country of
Greece. Nikos Kazantzakis was a Greek writer, and his works included essays,
novels, poems, tragedies, travel books, and translations of classics. He was important in modern Greek literature
and was nominated in nine different years for the Nobel prize.  During the period of revolt of Crete against
rule by the Ottoman Empire,
Kazantzakis was born. His
family fled to a Greek island of Náxos. Because of this tough start to his life,
he often struggled to create a meaning of life. This was the true starting point of this
novel. He became well known across the world due to adaptations of Zorba the Greek especially as a movie.  Kazantzakis studied philosophy and law at the University
of Athens ( Kazantzakis studied under Henri Bergson, at
the Sorbonne, who researched
the relationship between mind and body. He said the mind and memory are
independent of the body. This was a brand-new idea. Bergson also accepted
evolution as fact. He said there was “elan vita” – a vital impulse that create
new forms. These were revolutionary ideas. In Kazantzakis’ 1909
doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne, he reworked a version of the thesis under the
title of “Friedrich Nietzsche on the Philosophy of Right and the
State”. Nietzsche
discussed “the demise of God,” and predicted the disintegration of
conventional religion and power. Nietzsche was a doubter, he rejected
philosophical thinking, and he gave an interesting point of view of the human
condition. The author’s difficult situations made it hard for him to find a
purpose in life, but these two philosophers certainly influenced his writing.

The second
author Vassilis Vassilikos is a writer and a diplomat born in Northern Greece
in 1934. Vassilis Vassilikos spent almost seven years in exile after the
military coup in 1965. His experiances in exile led him to become an author. He
has published over 100 books; some are translated into 32 languages and have
won some writing awards. He has been published in the United States by “Seven Stories
Press”. His strong political opinion running Greek state television and running
a local election in 2014 allowed him to write books with strong feelings. Vassilikos
writes about the art within life, the spirit in existence, and the reality in
dreams. There are two well known authors who had the same philosophy: Gabriel García Marqúez and Luigi
Pirandello ( Gabriel García Márquez “is the
best-known Latin American writer in history.” ( He is a journalist and is good at
writing short stories. Garcia Marquez has been able to help the common reader look
at life ( Luigi Pirandello “is an Italian
playwright, novelist, and short-story writer, winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize
for Literature. He became an important innovator in modern drama
with his
invention of the “theatre within the theatre” in the play Six Characters in Search of an Author” ( He
has written many books and all under one title “Novel for a year” which has 15 volumes. He wrote the books from 1922 to 1937. These
two writers, Gabriel García Marqúez and
Luigi Pirandello, influenced Vassilikos,
in his ablitiy to show the explore life. Vassilis
Vassilikos and Nikos Kazantzakis
have presented a worthwhile look at the Greek way of life.

It is a worthwhile to
take a close look at each book. Firstly, Zorba
the Greek, written by Nikos
Kazantzakis in 1968, is a novel of
the adventures of the unnamed narrator and his new friend, Alexis Zorba in a small
island of Crete. It gives a wonderful of picture of the Greek way of finding
the meaning of life. George Zorba helps the narrator to reopen an abandoned mine in
Greece. In the novel, Zorba gives the narrator a name known as “The boss.” The
boss goes to Crete in Greece to mine the coal. Zorba is fascinated by the boss
since the moment they meet. Zorba urging his employer to live life fully and
give up agreement. Zorba shows us by playing his guitarlike santuri, dancing
and giving opinions about how to live a good life and the nature of god. They
are usually said as jokes and riddles. “For example, Zorba explains the chaos
of the physical world by pointing out that fishers pray to God to make fish
blind so that they will swim into the nets; the fish pray to God to make the
fishers blind so that they will cast their nets in the wrong places. Since God
is the God of both fishers and fish, sometimes God listens to the prayers of
the fish and sometimes to the prayers of the fishers, so sometimes fish are caught
and sometimes they are not. Zorba is also a confidence man, but a good-hearted
one” ( In the novel, he has many romance with women in life and
sometimes is fooled loses most of the boss’s money. Madam Hortense is
caring, as a sexual role, but she does not fit in Greek society. In the end, the boss learns about Zorba’s death. He also realised that their mine
has failed. The women that they had loved are dead. The two characters learned,
together, to live a good life.

 Many of
the words spoken by the characters in Zorba
the Greek, demonstrate the theme “finding the meaning of life”. While Zorba
is drunk, he thinks, “Do you
understand anything, Boss? I’m at a loss. Everything has a soul, even wood and
stones and the wine we drink and the ground we tread. Everything, everything,
Boss” (pg. 42). Zorba is very different from the
boss because Zorba wants to have pleasure in life while living in the world. He
says to the boss, “To live – do you know what that means? To undo your belt and
look for trouble!” As Zorba ages and grow closer to death, Zorba throws himself
ever more fully into living. Unlike the boss, he does not look for answers in
religion or God, but in this world. “Boss,” he says, “everything’s
simple in this world. How many times must I tell you? So, don’t go and
complicate things!” He has no use for philosophy since it can’t solve the only
mystery that really matters — death. “All those damned books you read — what
good are they? Why do you read them? If they don’t tell you that, what do they
tell you?” He has an interesting way of finding the meaning of life.

The short stories written by Vassilis Vassilikos, Greece’s
most acclaimed living novelist, give us a clear picture of modern Greece. The
three stories tell us about the old world facing recent problems. The first story “and Dreams are Dreams” is about five
friends starting a newspaper consisting of nothing more than people’s dreams.
It is powerful that they end up affecting the politics of their country. The outcome of the narrative was to have
dreams and to have a dream to become life and life to become a dream. The second story is “stories
of taxi drivers” is about the challenges of being a taxi driver, a common
occupation in Greece. It recounts
the stories of taxi drivers and their problems. It leads to the newspaperman
solving some of their problems. There is good social interaction shown in this
symbol of Greek life. The
third story is “the white Bear” is about the appearance of a bear in downtown
Athens, presenting a challenge to the outlook of the citizens of that city.
The bear symbolizes the history of Greek people bound with the chains of
slavery and not wanting to dance according to the beat of the tambourine played
by the master (foreword). The
author has referred to difficult past politics and shown the modern outlook in
Greek citizens. Vassilis Vassilikos writes vividly of the realities of life.

The conversation in “…and dreams are dreams” often presents
the theme of life. In the story “and Dreams are dreams” there is a quote that
explains how dreams help people to live. “”Dreaming is the only thing that
helps me to live,” said a taxi driver. “dreaming of going back to my village.”
In the second story, “stories of taxi drivers” is about stories of taxi drivers
and how they try to handle their lives, but their lives are hard. “But he was
suffering, I could see that. The blow had been mortal, and what was worse, he
couldn’t get it out of his system. The important thing in life is having an
escape value for all poisonous gases. That’s all matters.” In the “white bear”,
the bear represents the all Greek people in the poem “The Scared Road” by
Anghelos Sikelianos. “…. But I remember that in his poem about the bear (a
species faced, sadly, with extinction, like the spinning wheel), the poet of
“The lyric Life” gives symbolic extensions.” The speakers in these stories describe
searches for life’s definition.

It has been profitable to read both authors, and to find the symbol
of living in Greek culture and community. Kazantzakis excellently shows two
opposite the ways of living, how they differ, and how they can come together
and enjoy life. Vassilikos writes about several levels of Greek
society and presents their outlook on life. In the Greek culture, the people
always looks for meaning of life with excitement, boldness, and pleasure. 

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