Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis: The Quest
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 :
"'Come on,' McLendon said " (1.45).
Booker says that in this stage, "Life in some 'City of Destruction' has become oppressive and intolerable." The hero of the story must make a "long, difficult journey" to save the city, or in this case, the town, by making things right. McLendon and many of the other men in the barbershop, believe that Will represents the city's problem. McLendon's call, quoted above, is a call to inflict violence, and probably death, on Will. But, for Hawkshaw, McLendon's call is a call to save Will, and to fight for truth. So, we can look at Hawkshaw as the story's hero, at least in the context of Booker's Quest plot.
"They drove on out of town" (3.9).
In this stage, "the hero and his companions" face a series of perilous encounters with monsters, temptations, and sometimes visit the underworld. Of course, each such escapade ends in escape and triumph for the hero. At some point, in between escapades, the hero receives guidance, often supernatural, that helps lead to the ultimate goal.
In "Dry September" Hawkshaw's companions are the monsters themselves, and, when he hits the handcuffed Will, in the "underworld" of the dark night outside the ice plant, he also becomes the monster. He is not powerful enough to sway the angry mob. He escapes when he jumps from the moving car, but without making the men listen to reason, and without saving Will. At most he stops himself from participating further in the crime. Needless to say, he receives no guidance from higher powers, or anyone else.
Arrival and Frustration
"McLendon's car came last now. There were four people in it, and Butch was not on the running board" (3.33).
The bad guys have won. What this line basically tells us is that Will is no longer in the car. There is one man missing, and it has to be Will. We can assume that Will is probably dead. (If not dead, he is surely severely injured, and left for dead.) Booker says that in this stage "the hero arrives within sight of his goal" but must face even more dangerous trials before such goal can be realized, resulting in the hero's frustration. Here the goal has already been pulled out from under Hawkshaw's feet – there is no arrival, only frustration. Hawkshaw walks back to town, and disappears from the story.
The Final Ordeals
Faulkner has already veered widely from the traditional quest plot by letting his hero be defeated, and abruptly halting his journey. Yet, a kind of quest continues for the reader. The reader hopes that the rest of the story will reveal some kind of justice, or at least some basic facts, like what happened to Will after Hawkshaw jumps out of the car, and what's the deal with Minnie and the rumor.
In this stage the hero is faced with "a last series of tests" before he can reach his goal. Since Hawkshaw is out of the question, we can look at the reader as his stand in. The scene of Minnie's breakdown seems to confirm Hawkshaw's initial contention that Minnie started the rumor in a misguided attempt to make herself seem sexy in the eyes of the town's men. But, it also allows for the possibility that she couldn't have done it without her friends. In order to pass through this stage successfully we have to resist the temptation to oversimplify Minnie's situation.
"Dry September" makes a mockery of this stage, wherein the hero is supposed to escape from death, get the girl, and the money. What we get instead in McLendon abusing his wife. The real goals of the story are to help demolish irrational prejudices and violence, and to help break apart the rumor machine. This quest is left to the readers, who hopefully will apply it to their own lives and communities.