Tevye the Dairyman
by Sholem Aleichem
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 : Rags to Riches
We start with "wretchedness at home and the 'Call'" to go out into the wider world. Check and check. Tevye begins the story as a hand-to-mouth woodcutter with a large and hungry family that—even worse—is all girls. After a lucky break, he ends up with enough money to start a dairy business. After some rocky business with a bad investment, things are really looking up for the Tevyes.
Dairyman to the Stars
Next comes "initial success out in the world." As a big-time dairy delivery man, Tevye's got a shot at finding some good (as in, respectable) homes for his expanding stable of horses—we mean, daughters.
So obviously Tevye is totally shocked when when his two oldest girls decide to marry for love, and even more surprised when they seem to end up happy and fulfilled despite some little hurdles involving poverty and exile. Modernity. What are you going to do?
Things start to go south with "the central crisis" when "everything suddenly goes wrong." Tevye's third daughter Chava falls in love with a Gentile, and decides to abandon her family entirely in order to be with him. Tevye ups the states by disowning her and forcing the family to act as though she were dead.
And then the stakes get even higher with the fourth daughter Shprintze. She gets engaged to a wealthy young man whose family has moved nearby because of the ongoing anti-Jewish pogrom. His family thinks this is not too cool, so they break the engagement. Shprintze does a game-changer and drowns herself.
Taking One for the Team
And now comes the "independence and the final ordeal." Beilke, the youngest of Tevye's daughters decides no drowning for her, thanks, and chooses a traditional arranged marriage. She marries a rich and basically decent guy expressly for his cold, hard cash.
The final ordeal, meanwhile, is a double whammy: the village mayor and a mob of Gentiles demand to beat up Tevye and destroy his house as a nod to the government-approved pogrom. And then, just as he talks his way out of some of their violence, a government decree turns the village into a town. All the Jews have to get out and, oh yeah, leave all their property behind in the hands of an angry, but richer, mob.
More Like Riches to Rags
At last, "final union, completion, and fulfillment." What's left of Tevye's family is reunited (besides the Siberia-bound daughter). Tzeitl and her children come to live with him after her husband dies. Chava abandons her non-Jewish life to come with them into exile, and Tevye forgives her.
Yeah, not much of a happy ending. The fulfillment is more of the philosophical nature, as Tevye speculates that Jews would be happier if they had a country of their own instead.