Age of Iron
by J.M. Coetzee
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Tragedy
Mrs. Curren finds out that her cancer is terminal. That very same day, she discovers that a homeless man (Vercueil) is camped out on her property.
Things are definitely out of whack for Mrs. Curren. She just found out she's going to die soon, and to make matters totally worse, some guy is camping out in her yard. Great. Things look pretty dire, and yet this strange combination of events also seems to suggest that something big is about to happen.
Mrs. Curren eventually lets Vercueil, the homeless man, come into her house. He starts helping her out, although he comes and goes as it suits him.
After the horrible news she received, things seem to be calming down for the moment. Mrs. Curren still longs for her daughter, feels deep pain, and worries about her death, but things seem to be going all right for the time being. If anything, Mrs. Curren at least has a few new distractions to take her mind off of her own problems.
Bheki and his friend get into a bike accident on account of the police.
When the police start scoping out her house, Mrs. Curren can tell something's up. When they force Bheki and his friend into having a bike accident that sends Bheki's friend to the emergency room, things really start to take a turn for the worse. Mrs. Curren starts to see firsthand the horrible things that the police are capable of doing. Though she used to feel safely removed from all of the terrible stories she'd hear about, she's now witnessing the atrocities of Apartheid firsthand. It's not just the police who are to blame; even the hospitals don't take good care of Bheki's friend.
Bheki and John are both killed.
When Mrs. Curren goes to Gugulethu, she witnesses a scene of total chaos and suffering. Buildings burn; people scream and run in fear. The worst part is that she sees Bheki's dead body laid out with several others for everyone to see. It seems as though the world around her is worse than she ever imagined it could be. Soon thereafter, John (Bheki's friend) comes to stay with her. Things really get out of control when the police raid Mrs. Curren's house and kill John. For Mrs. Curren, the world has become a terrible place that she couldn't even have dreamed up in her worst nightmares.
Destruction or Death Wish Stage
One morning, Mrs. Curren wakes up and asks Vercueil if it's "time."
Mrs. Curren's illness progressively gets worse. When she wakes up one morning and asks Vercueil if it's "time," we can't help but guess that she thinks it's her time to die. The ending leaves a door open – we don't read anything about her explicitly dying. Yet, the breath goes out of her and she feels cold. The end of the novel is at least the end of Mrs. Curren as we know it, though we assume that she actually does die right then.