The House of Dies Drear
by Virginia Hamilton
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Thomas has a dream.
The story starts in the middle of the Small's drive from North Carolina to their new home somewhere outside of Columbus, Ohio. Actually, it's a scary dream, and it involves Thomas being chased and grabbed by a scary man in a pine forest. But, when Thomas wakes up, he's pleased with the dream because it was so exciting and mysterious. This dreamy opening gives the readers hints that The House of Dies Drear will be a tale of mystery, adventure, and fright. As we discuss in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," the dream also foreshadows and even predicts some of the story's major action.
Thomas feels threatened by Mr. Pluto and wants to solve the mystery of the ghost legend before bedtime.
Thomas is definitely excited about the house of Dies Drear. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The house has all kinds of secret passageways, moving walls, and secret compartments. Plus, there's the matter of the ghost legend. Thomas is sure Dies Drear's house is haunted by the ghost of Dies Drear and two murdered slaves. There's lots here to love (if you love being scared, that is). But, Thomas's excitement and spirit of adventure is dampened by the fact the house of Dies Drear comes with a caretaker, who is known by the name, Mr. Pluto, which means Mr. Lord of the Underworld. He arranged all the Small's furniture before they even got there. Who does he think he is? He's the guy Thomas is in conflict with, or so he thinks in the conflict stage.
Thomas gets chased, and someone (or something) sneaks into the Smalls' house while the Smalls are sleeping.
The situation grows more complicated when Thomas accidentally walks on top of Mr. Pluto's cave-home. Then he gets chased and grabbed by a being with super strength and speed. Now Thomas is sure that Mr. Pluto is a bad guy. He lives on the same land with the Smalls. So, things are complicated. To make things even more complicated, the Smalls find three mysterious triangles made of wood and metal in the house the next morning.
Eww, what's that all over the kitchen floor?
The Smalls are freaked out when they come home from a satisfying day of church and sightseeing to find their kitchen trashed. They feel threatened and very unwelcome.
Will Mr. Small call the police? Did Mr. Pluto wreck the kitchen, or is this the work of ghosts? Why are there two Mr. Plutos?
While Thomas is probably torn between blaming ghosts and blaming Pluto, Mr. Small thinks Pluto is the prime suspect. So, instead of calling the police, he and Thomas goes to confront him. They soon learn that nothing is as it seems, neither ghosts or Mr. Pluto are to blame. Nope, it's those bad news Darrows. What's more, the Mr. Pluto look-alike is actually Mr. Pluto's son, Mayhew Skinner. To top it all off, the immense treasures collected by Dies Drear are revealed to Mr. Small and Thomas.
Scaring the Darrows.
Dénouement (pronounced day-new-ma) is a French word that means "the unraveling of the plot." As you probably guessed, it's the scene where the two fathers, the two sons, and little Pesty put on a creepy play that gives the Darrows a taste of their own scary medicine.
A new cycle begins.
After Mayhew and company scare the Darrows with their scary play, everything in neatly resolved (sort of). Mayhew and Mr. Pluto are beginning to mend their relationship, and everyone is pretty sure the Darrows won't be doing any more ghost impersonations. Thomas and the Smalls can live peacefully in their new house and can now get used to their new town. Finally, the treasure of Dies Drear will remain safely in Mr. Pluto's hands, at least until Mr. Small finishes cataloguing the riches, which could take, as Mr. Small says, "Years!" (19.100). But, what about the Darrows? And others who mistrusted Mr. Pluto, and who probably mistrust the Smalls? We can't get over those hard faces in church when the Smalls walk in for the first time. Even though things are better in the ending, there are still issues.