Tender is the Night
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 : Overcoming the Monster
Anticipation Stage and "The Call"
To fit Tender is the Night into a Christopher Booker model, we must do what Walter Cowley did to the novel after its author’s death – put it in chronological order (See "The Book" for the skinny on that). Otherwise it will just be too confusing.
So if Dick Diver is the hero, the monster is his wife Nicole’s insanity. The book argues strongly that this is not a hereditary condition, but the result of being raped by her father when she was eleven or twelve or thirteen years old, just after her mother’s death. In this stage, our hero receives a call from a distance to confront the monster. After meeting Nicole in a Swiss psychiatric clinic when she is 17 and he is 26, Dick a brilliant psychiatrist begins receiving letters from her, from which he suspects the roots of her madness. He "confronts" the monster of her illness by writing her back.
Going to the chapel…
What better way to "prepare for the battle" with Nicole’s insanity than by marrying her? She has a pretty bad breakdown when her daughter Topsy is born. But she seems to be pretty stable six years into their marriage – except for two seemingly minor breakdowns over the span of two weeks. But things are starting to look rather grim.
Switzerland, Part Deux.
Dick goes in partners with his old buddy Fritz Gregorovius on the psychiatric clinic where he met Nicole. Their already stressed relationship threatens is pushed to the breaking point when Nicole gets a letter from a female patient of Dick’s accusing him of "seducing" her teenage daughter. That day, Dick does "come face to face with the monster" of Nicole’s insanity "in all its awesome power." That is, a nice family outing to the fair turns monstrous when Nicole grabs the wheel while Dick is driving, and but for a tree in the way, would have plunged herself, Dick, and their preteens, Lanier and Topsy, over a cliff.
Help! The Monster is inside me!
Shaken by Nicole’s illness, and torn up from his growing heartsickness over both Nicole and the young starlet, Rosemary Hoyt, Dick needs to sort out his feelings. On his way to do that, he learns that his father has died, and he goes to the U.S. for the funeral. Before heading home he stops in Rome, runs into Rosemary, has sex with her, quarrels with her, and then gets really drunk, disparages the Roman people, and then ends up punching a cop, and getting severely beaten. The monster of insanity is now inside him and "all seems lost," things can only get worse from here.
The Thrilling Escape from Death, and the Death of the Monster
Dick and Nicole live on, but is the monster really dead?
If Dick were a proper Booker hero, he would miraculously cure Nicole, dealing her insanity a "fateful blow, and "liberating" the "community" of people surrounding the Divers. Then Dick and Nicole would live happily ever after.
It’s doesn’t quite work that way in Tender is the Night. Dick agrees to move out, and let Nicole enjoy life with her new lover, Tommy Barban. There is the suggestion that separating herself from Dick and taking a lover has freed Nicole from her insanity, but the novel doesn’t give us the details of her future mental health. Apparently Nicole still loves Dick, and they keep in touch through letters, from which she learns that after struggling to stay employed as a general practitioner in the US, Dick has settled down in some small town in the state of New York.