Study Guide

A Canticle for Leibowitz Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

To re-repeat ourselves: A Canticle for Leibowitz can be read as one whole, or as three different stories. In this section, we'll be analyzing how the whole novel fits into Booker's "Tragedy" plot structure.

But each story could also be considered its own little tragedy… or perhaps even another of Booker's classic seven basic plots. We'll leave that snoopin' up to you, dear Shmooper.

Anticipation Stage

Holy Diver

Basically the entirety of Fiat Homo is anticipation. We learn that the world is an awful place, with some serious Early Middle Ages vibes going on. The monks of the Leibowitz Abbey hope to one day return the world to its former, more civilized ways.

To help this process, they protect the Memorabilia: a collection of writings from the previous civilization. Brother Francis's discovery of the Fallout Shelter, and the question as to whether or not Leibowitz (the founder of their abbey) is really a saint, help the abbey find focus on this quest.

Dream Stage

Got to Believe It's Getting Better

The first half of Fiat Lux provides the Dream Stage. Civilization begins to experience a kind of Renaissance. Secular scholar Thon Taddeo wants to study the abbey's Memorabilia to verify its authenticity, and learn from it if it proves to be authentic.

Dom Paulo is reluctant, but accepts Taddeo's offer, believing "[m]ore communication, not less, [is] probably the best therapy for easing any tension" between secular and church scholars (19.65).

Things get even dreamier when Brother Kornhoer's arc lamp works, returning lost technology to the world. The arc lamp even makes the pompous Taddeo think twice about his views on monks. We're impressed.

Frustration Stage

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Then things go south. Thon Taddeo's contempt for the church brings that whole communication angle to a halt right quick. Hannegan also makes his bid for power, as he deems the Pope a heretic and any member of the Church who sides with him a traitor (22.51).

Frustration builds until Dom Paulo finally confronts Taddeo over whether or not he'll be loyal to Hannegan's war-mongering state. Believing he has no choice, and hating the very idea of working for the Church, Taddeo stays loyal to Hannegan.

At the end of Fiat Lux, Dom Paulo extends an invitation to Thon Taddeo and other secular scholars to come and study at the abbey whenever they'd like, hoping to keep those communication doors open. We're given some small hope that things will turn out all right.

But then…

Nightmare Stage

Suicide Is(n't) Painless

Then things really go south. In Fiat Voluntas Tua, we see that the State has seized the power of nuclear weapons but seems no more willing to listen to scholars or wise men than it did in Hannegan's day.

Things get out of control, and the return of nuclear holocaust becomes more of a promise than a threat. Zerchi and the Church prepare the Quo Peregrinatur to keep the Church and Memorabilia safe in space.

After that, Zerchi tries to save a woman and her child from accepting State-sponsored euthanasia after both are horribly injured in a nuclear strike. He tries to convince her that such an act is an unforgivable sin, but the woman decides to accept the offer anyway.

Powerless to stop her, Zerchi despairs over the future of the world.

Destruction or Death Wish Stage

Weapon of Choice

The Destruction Stage occurs when the Earth becomes a crispy, lifeless husk—thanks to a nuclear war. Done and done. Kind of obvious, are we right?

The abbey is blown to bits, and Zerchi is buried to death beneath its stones. The current battle between Church and State, as well as between peace and violence, has been lost.

But the outcome of future battles is unknown, and we're very timidly optimistic about having Brother Joshua and Rachel survive. But chances are slim that things will get any better in Mr. Miller's imaginary world.

Ah, tragedy. How wonderfully depressing you are.