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.
Exposition (Initial Situation)
Well, That's One Way to Get Noticed
It's the first day of school in Taering, and Class 7A is gathered in Mr. Eskildsen's class at Taering School for another year of learning. But Pierre Anthon isn't down with pretending to care about algebra or diagramming sentences this year. Instead, he stands up, tells everyone that while he's known for a long time that nothing matters, he's just now realized that means that nothing is worth doing.
This is the moment. Pierre's peace-out sets everything in motion in the novel. He's left his classmates reeling with the notion of their own meaninglessness, and now they know what they've got to fight for. Or over.
Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)
I Don't Need You—I've Got My Tree
Having declared that it's all about the nothing, Pierre Anthon heads back home to the hippie commune and climbs a plum tree. When his classmates come to see exactly what his deal is, he throws plums at them and starts spouting nihilism: nothing matters, nothing's worth doing, you might as well just die, etc. He basically says everything but, "Guess I'll just eat worms," which you probably wouldn't say either if you had the option of eating plums.
That's when the rest of 7A decides to teach him that something does indeed matter, and they set about building the heap of meaning. Each kid gives up one thing of importance, then chooses the next person and tells them what they have to give up. Not only do we see the conflict between the person demanding the sacrifice and the one who has to make it, we see the characters' internal conflict (Agnes's fear that her mother will be angry if she gives up her shoes) and their conflict with others in their lives (the beating Hussain gets from his father for being a "bad Muslim" who would give up his prayer mat).
Each additional sacrifice raises the stakes heading into the final showdown, when Jon-Johan pulls the plug.
Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)
Jonna-Johanna Blows the Whistle
It's all fun and games until somebody—in this case, Jon-Johan—loses a finger. When he has to give up the pointer of his right hand, he tells the adults, who deal with the situation in different ways: the cops rope off the sawmill like a crime scene, the media either demonizes Class 7A or hails them as artists, and the MOMA offers to buy the heap of meaning as a piece of art. You know it's the turning point because something happens that hasn't yet: the grownups finally get involved, even though it's much too late. Ain't no getting that finger back.
Reality Shows, Pay Attention Here
When the media starts to lose interest in the heap of meaning, Taering gets boring again. And, like so many D-list celebrities before them, Class 7A falls apart. If nobody's interested anymore, did the heap of meaning ever really mean anything? Because there's no VH1 studio in Taering, Class 7A can't exactly go on Celebrity Rehab or Couples Therapy, so they have to settle for attacking each other in the sawmill without the aid of clip-on mics or handheld cameras. Agnes breaks free and brings Pierre Anthon back, so there's at least one spectator, but he quickly becomes part of the brawl himself when he starts up with the "nothing matters" bit again. As you can imagine, it's all downhill from here, and then some.
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Denied a Hamster
When Pierre Anthon turns his back on his classmates, they kill him, and that night the sawmill conveniently burns to the ground. You might not normally think of a murder as a resolution, but it's been clear all along that Pierre Anthon was doomed. He's the last member of Class 7A to have to sacrifice something, and after animal slaughter, rape, and dismemberment, what's left but murder?
Plus, he's been spouting all that stuff about how the best thing you can do for the world is die, and when a character says something like that, you can guess that they're not long for this Earth. The resolution the other characters gain from his death is iffy at best; Agnes points out that Pierre Anthon's death proves that meaning isn't something you fool around with, but she ends the book by asking, "Is it?" Good grief, don't ask us.