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 : The Quest
The Call (something has gone wrong)
Milkman learns about his mother.
Explanation/Discussion: Milkman feels pretty dang triumphant after he defends his mom from his dad’s abusive hand. But then he hears the story of Ruth’s shady past. He goes in search of Guitar, seems to be walking in the opposite direction of everyone else, and finds the barbershop entranced by a story of a black man who was murdered for whistling at a white woman. Milkman can trust no one in his family, and he’s losing his best friend to politics.
The Hero’s Companions
A bag of bones and a ghost too
When Milkman enlists his best friend in the plot to steal Pilate’s gold, he’s delighted to see Guitar back to his normal, playful ways. The quest for the gold unites the friends, reminding them of the good old days and bringing to light the promise of better lives ahead. They are the perfect companions, and their burglary goes without a hitch. It’s only when the boys are pulled over by the police for no good reason that everything goes wrong. Pilate never travels with Milkman, but she sends him down memory lane with her and she continually and repeatedly tells and retells the story of the bones, stirring in Milkman a desire to explore.
Milkman searches for gold and family.
Milkman’s journey takes him through Danville, PA and throughout Virginia as he tries to locate Shalimar. His journey’s focus first is gold, but even when the gold is not found, the journey continues. Milkman goes in search of his family and, ultimately, his self.
Circe, dogs, peacocks, and bobcats
Along the way, Milkman encounters some pretty strange sights. Circe is impossibly old and is likened to a witch, and, like the goddess Circe who keeps Odysseus on her island for a year, this Circe is also protected by a pack of dogs, beasts with human eyes but wild ways. While the bobcat is not a monster, its symbolic force in the novel as the hunted being tells us that there is a humanity to it, heightened also by the ferocity that lives in its eyes, even after being killed. The peacock arrives out of nowhere to distract the characters and to tempt them into dwelling on wealth and personal gain. Each monster has a human quality, as though it were once a person.
Sweet and the Peacock
Sweet and the Peacock both represent strong temptations: sex and money. However, the Peacock only tempts with the dream of money, and the comfort Sweet offers when Milkman meets her pales in comparison to the comfort his family tree provides.
Omar, the Shalimar children, and Susan Byrd
Once Milkman proves he’s not such a city boy snob, the Shalimar hunting party warms up to him. After the bobcat is skinned, Omar refers him to a woman who might be able to help him find out more about his heritage. Susan Byrd, while at first very unhelpful, gives Milkman the valuable information about Jake and Sing, and also about the legend of Solomon’s leap. Finally, the Shalimar children complete the puzzle for Milkman through the song that they sing, incorporating the names of all of his ancestors.
The Final Ordeals
Hagar dies, Guitar believes Milkman has betrayed him, and Pilate is shot.
Like a wrecking ball, death rolls through the final chapters of this novel. Hagar is killed by her madness for Milkman, a madness Guitar tries to heal. Guitar follows Milkman, sees him help a man with a crate, and believes Milkman has betrayed him and is hoarding the money for himself. Guitar shoots Pilate on Solomon’s Leap, killing her before she has time to love all of the people she wants to love.
The Life-Renewing Goal (the Holy Grail, Paradise, Home)
Milkman learns how to fly.
In the final moment, we see Milkman surrender to the air, learning how to ride it in the way his great-grandfather did. This marks the culmination of his journey to know himself through his history, but it ushers the onset of a new life and a new identity.