Study Guide

Alligator Bayou Plot Analysis

By Donna Jo Napoli

Plot Analysis


New Kid on the Block

It's 1899, and Calogero is new to Tallulah, Louisiana. He is staying with some men he calls his uncles who run a grocery in town. He sees one of his uncles, Francesco, get into an argument with a white man and then take out a gun to try to scare that man into being nice to them. Carlo, his brother, thinks this is stupid and dangerous. The scene for our story is officially set: we're in the Jim Crow-era South, a time and place where being Italian means being not white, and where being not white brings a lot of danger with it.

Rising Action

Death of a Goat

Fear and power struggles between white men and Calo's Sicilian family are the norm. The white men want to be treated like they're the most important dudes around, but Francesco refuses to treat them any differently from the way he treats his black customers. Francesco also keeps ignoring Dr. Hodge's requests to keep his goats tied up at night.

The goat problem escalates, and as it does, it isn't just Dr. Hodge who gets angrier—it's the white townsfolk in general. They don't like that Calo's family treats black people like, well, people, and they don't like that Calo's family refuses to defer to the white folks all the time.

The conflict comes to a head when Dr. Hodge loses his temper and kills Francesco's goats. Francesco is too sad to do much about it, but Carlo—usually the pacifist in the family—yells at the doctor, who responds by beating him up and then trying to shoot Giuseppe. He misses, but then Giuseppe shoots the doc in the leg in order to get him to stop beating his brother. Things are officially beyond tense now, and the white townsfolk are out for Sicilian blood.


The Ugliest Word

The worst part is when Calo watches as an angry mob decides to murder his uncles and Cirone in the slaughterhouse. Calo feels guilty and desperate to save his family, but he can't; he's completely helpless.

Although he really doesn't want to, Calo has to run away. With dogs after him and the white men hot on his trail, Calo runs through a swamp and jumps into the river just as the mob reaches the bank.

Falling Action

Down Time

Joseph finds Calo and things slow way down. At Joseph's house, Calo mourns his dead family and his life as he knows it, and he takes a day to rest and eat and bum out while Joseph takes care of him. Then Joseph sends Calo off with supplies, a canoe, and a plan for what to do next. Calo might be emotionally gutted at this point, but the threats to his safety are fading away.


Rollin', Rollin', Rollin' Down the River

Calo floats down the river, thinking about how he will see his brother again and about how someday, he'll return to Tallulah. The end.

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