Study Guide

A Canticle for Leibowitz Plot Analysis

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Plot Analysis

A Canticle for Leibowitz is one big novel, but also three distinct stories. Cool, huh? This means that we could analyze the plot structure of the novel as a whole, or we could analyze each individual story's separately. Here, we've chosen to look at how Fiat Voluntas Tua fits the classic plot structure, but hey. Feel free to follow our lead and analyze the other two stories on your own.

Exposition (Initial Situation)

A Future without Dippin' Dots

…or even a computer. Weird to think of a science fiction story that doesn't have a single computer in it, huh?

Anyway, Fiat Voluntas Tua begins with Zerchi's quest to get the Quo Peregrinatur program up and running. During this time, we learn about the war-torn status of the world, we discover Zerchi's personal stake in the whole space mission, and we receive information on how the abbey and its mission have changed.

Brother Joshua's decision to lead the Order into space mostly signals the end of the exposition. Backstory over. Onward toward the rising action, friends.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News

The introduction of Doctor Cors signifies the rising action. Before, the government served as a type of abstract antagonist (down with The Man, you know), but Doctor Cors gives Zerchi an actual person to be in conflict with.

Though to be fair to Cors, he's more Zerchi's foil than an antagonist.

Their disagreement on euthanasia sees the return of the conflict between religion and secular knowledge from Fiat Lux. The conflict's tension rises as steadily as the temperature on a hot day.

Eventually, Dr. Cors breaks the agreement by advising a woman to accept government-sponsored euthanasia for her child. That's when we're reached the boiling point, which can only mean: the climax. Dun dun dun.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

A Woman and Her Child

Zerchi attempts to convince a woman to not commit suicide or have her child euthanized. The tension builds and builds, and the turn comes when the woman accepts the invitation into the Green Star Camp.

The church's power over the individuals has been lost in this new age, signifying a conclusion to a conflict started 600 years in the past with Dom Paulo and Thon Taddeo. The secular has won out over the religious.

Falling Action

Boom-Shaka-Laka

Zerchi is devastated over his inability to save the woman and her child. Then, when the nuclear blast hits, he gets trapped in the rubble. While wasting away there, he has a bunch of time to think about the relationship between Church and State, and his own beliefs.

This internal dialogue begins resolving—well, potentially resolving—many of the deep philosophical issues raised by the story so far. When Rachel comes around and presents the communion for Zerchi, this stage ends.

Resolution (Denoument)

The Resolution Band-Aid

Ah, the Resolution, the place where all the conflict is resolved and everyone lives happily ever after. Right? Wrong. This resolution basically amounts to the complete destruction of Earth.

Well, it's been burned to a nuclear crisp, in any case.

But there is room for mystery here. The monks are heading into space, away from the destruction on Earth. So the question remains: will the sins of mankind follow the monks into space?