Study Guide

Common Sense Plot Analysis

By Thomas Paine

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Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Toss the Brits

Thomas Paine opens the pamphlet by laying out the central conflict America is facing: whether or not to grab a gun (or, like, a few hundred guns) and free itself from British rule.

In Paine's mind, this conflict isn't just about America become free, though, because freedom is something that's quashed by dictatorial governments all over the world. Paine hopes that a free and independent United States will become an inspiration to anyone in the world yearning to be free. So kicking the British to the curb is both good for America and good, by proxy, for the world.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Paine-Staking Details

As he gets into the beating heart of his argument, Paine goes beyond his moral reasons for American independence and starts laying out the practical reasons. He argues that America will never reach its economic potential while it's still under British rule, because Britain keeps shipping all of the country's profits and resources back to England. Paine doesn't think that's cool at all.

On top of that, Paine wants his readers to know that it would be perfectly possible for America to raise an army that was capable of defeating the British. His practical details include exactly why, and exactly how, America can get its revolution on.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Now Now Now

Once he feels like he's laid out his argument, Paine hits us with a flurry of reasons why America has to act immediately in freeing itself instead of waiting for some magical right moment in the future. The longer America continues under British rule, the more its resources and strength will be siphoned back to the mother country. Also, Paine is the kind of guy who believes firmly in carpe-ing the dang diem.

Falling Action

Down With the King

In the Appendix to Common Sense, Thomas Paine talks about a speech by the King of England. This speech contains threats to crush any American resistance to British rule. Paine uses this threat as further evidence of the need for America to stand up to Britain and throw off its tyrannical power right away.

He also addresses an anti-war pamphlet written by a Quaker. This pamphlet argues that Americans must trust in God to let history figure itself out instead of fighting the British. Paine insists that this argument makes no sense: history is written by the victors, after all.

Resolution (Denouement)

People Who Disagree With Me Should Shut Up

Paine concludes his Appendix (and the pamphlet as a whole) by saying that the people who condemn fighting against the British (and fighting of any kind) are misguided and shouldn't be listened to. Not only that, but Paine calls upon all Americans to shun these people's arguments and to condemn them as cowards at best and traitors at worst.

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