Mitch is a main character just as much he's a narrator in Tuesdays with Morrie. But he's not an attention hog, and instead he's quiet, honest, and reserved. After all, he wrote this book to pay for his beloved professor's medical bills, not to have us write these nice things about him years later.
Mitch's personality is exemplified during an incident during one of Morrie's college classes. To shake things up, Morrie walks into the classroom and sits quietly for fifteen minutes. While everyone else in the classroom starts squirming, Mitch does not. He explains:
I am not bothered by the silence. For all the noise I make with my friends, I am still not comfortable talking about my feelings in front of others. I could sit in quiet for hours if that is what the class demanded. (8.47)
Mitch is a bit shy and not necessarily the most confident dude around, but he also possesses a willingness to learn, to sit back and accept what Morrie wants to teach. This is only part of the picture when it comes to Mitch, though, and we're thinking the best way to describe him is to do a kind of before-and-after breakdown. So let's dig deeper, shall we?
We get snippets of what Mitch was like in his college and post-college years throughout the book, thanks to flashbacks and Morrie's inquisitive ways. In the excerpt above, we can recognize Mitch is your average college student. He's smart, but he could also totally care more—note that though he doesn't mind the silence, he also doesn't question it. And when Morrie suggest that he go on to grad school, Mitch's thought is simply, "Yeah, right" (10.41). As a young graduate, then, Mitch isn't particularly concerned about his future.
Instead, Mitch walks into his twenties entertaining ideas about being a "famous musician" (3.4), revealing a little idealist streak in him. But then two things happen: (1) He doesn't become a famous musician—instead he spends his days "paying rent and reading classifieds and wondering why the lights were not turning green for me" (3.4)—and (2) his favorite uncle dies, making him panic a bit as he realizes life isn't a guarantee.
Mitch feels like "time were suddenly precious, water going down an open drain" (3.9). Instead of wallowing or giving up, though, Mitch starts to hustle. And we do mean, hustle. He gets his master's degree and starts working twenty-five hours a day (don't check our math) until he gets a super successful job as a sports journalist. He buys houses, cars, stocks, starts exercising, makes a ton of money, and even gets married to a woman who he says "loved me despite my schedule and the constant absences" (3.11). Goodbye lazy Mitch, hello Mr. Manic.
He's trying to collect the most out of life before he dies, like his uncle did, though he seems to be on autopilot, following the social script that equates making money with getting the most out of life. Does he ever think about Morrie? Yeah, occasionally, but he thinks of his past as something really far away and irrelevant.
Mitch's life changes in a cunning twist of fate. After seeing Morrie on television, he gets up and flies to Boston to visit his old professor. And things start to turn. He's kind of hesitant at first: Is he doing the right thing by going to visit an old professor that he hasn't seen in twenty-ish year? It's totally out of his comfort zone.
But, duh: We all know it was the right thing to do.
It isn't so much that Mitch's personality changes drastically during his meetings with Morrie, but that he has a change of heart. He admits right away that he "likes himself better" (9.1) while he's on these visits. He starts helping the nurse take care of Morrie, and gets outside of his personal bubble, even holding Morrie's hand while they chat.
Think of Mitch as a slowly melting iceberg. Or a plant that is coming up from the ground after a long winter. The change isn't sudden, but it is undeniable. To continue our iceberg/plant metaphors, he begins to warm up and to bloom.
Despite Mitch's progress thanks to Morrie's influence, his personality remains in stark contrast to Morrie's. A prime example of this is the fact that Mitch doesn't cry. He just doesn't. Morrie, however, cries over opera music and the nightly news. While Morrie wears his heart on his sleeve, in other words, Mitch remains much more emotionally reserved.
Morrie makes it his mission to break Mitch down, and is determined to get him to shed even just a tear. But it's not until they say goodbye that Mitch finally breaks down a little. Mitch says that he "likes to think it was a fleeting moment of satisfaction for my dear old professor: he had finally made me cry" (25.52). As they part ways, then, the student may not have become the master exactly, but he's certainly learned his lesson.
We get a really good look at Mitch's personality when we contrast him to his brother. Mitch is the quiet, brunette good boy, whereas his brother is the blonde, dreamy-eyed bad boy. Mitch says that growing up "in his wild and funny presence, I often felt stiff and conservative" (14.45). While Morrie slowly inspires Mitch to loosen up, though, his brother decidedly does not.
Sadly, Mitch's brother also had a substance abuse problem at one point, and the family kind of lost him to a carefree life in Europe after he graduated high school. Mitch, of course, went on to get a degree. Good boy, Mitch.
When Mitch's brother got cancer—the same cancer that their uncle got—their relationship dropped off the map. His brother refused to keep in touch, leaving Mitch with a guilt complex. He writes:
I was ripped with guilt for what I felt I should be doing for him and fueled with anger for his denying us the right to do it. (14.52)
Terrible though this experience is, the good news is that this sad story points out Mitch's good character. He's caring and concerned, and readily feels responsible for the people he loves. These qualities are all things we see while he's with Morrie, but his strained dynamic with his brother sheds some light on why he's draws to helping Morrie in the first place. As Mitch admits: "He let me be where my brother would not" (14.54). Morrie, in short, is the antidote Mitch has long been waiting for. And though he dies, he leaves Mitch living more fully than ever.