Study Guide

Goodbye, Columbus Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

By Philip Roth

Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Anticipation Stage and Fall into the Other World 

Stage Identification: Brenda's dive into the pool of the other world.
Explanation/Discussion: Goodbye, Columbus is very deliberately a voyage and return plot. As we discuss in "What's Up With the Title?," city-boy Neil Klugman's voyage to suburbia is a wry allegory for the voyages of Christopher Columbus and other explorer-conquers. When we meet him he's just getting his toes wet in suburbia, literally. It's his annual visit to Green Lane Country Club with cousin Doris. His fall begins when Brenda Patimkin asks him to hold her glasses and dives into the pool. Swoon.

Initial Fascination or Dream Stage

Stage Identification: The fruity fridge and the sporting-goods trees.
Explanation/Discussion: Booker says that in this stage the hero (that would be Neil) finds the "new world […] exhilarating because it is so puzzling and unfamiliar. But, it is never a place where they can feel at home." Sounds exactly like Neil. His fascination with this strange, new world is symbolized by the abundance of fruit (like in a tropical paradise) and the abundance of sporting goods (part of the American dream). But, his heart seems to remain in the crowded streets of Newark, to which he feels a bit disloyal the whole time he's at the Patimkins. The period where Brenda has Neil eating grapefruit for breakfast and then jogging is included in this stage.

Frustration Stage

Stage Identification: The diaphragm and the insecurity. 
Explanation/Discussion: Booker says that in this stage the "the mood of adventure changes to one of frustration, difficulty, and oppression. A shadow begins to intrude, which becomes increasingly alarming." Harriet's arrival for the wedding signals Neil to the nearness of Brenda's return to college in Boston. His fear that Brenda doesn't see him as an equal and that he'll lose her for good when she leaves is one shadow. The diaphragm he pressures her into buying is another, as we shall see.

Nightmare Stage

Stage Identification: The fight in the hotel room.
Explanation/Discussion: In this stage "the shadow becomes so dominating as to present a threat to the hero's survival." Neil's shadows are the diaphragm and the insecurity he feels over his economic and social class as compared with Brenda's. Her Boston hotel room is an extension of the "new world" Neil's been emerged in. Physically, Neil has already returned to Newark. But, his mind and heart are with Brenda, and she's still in the new world. When Brenda's mother discovers the diaphragm Brenda left behind in a drawer, he becomes public enemy number one with both parents. Perhaps all is not lost—until he accuses Brenda of orchestrating the whole matter to have an excuse to get rid of him. 

Thrilling Escape and Return

Stage Identification: Self-reflection and the Jewish New Year.
Explanation/Discussion: After leaving Brenda's hotel room, Neil looks at his reflection in the library window and is unable to see past his own surface, though he yearns to deeply. He was on the verge, possibly, of getting out of books and into Patimkin Sinks. His looking into a library window could be seen as a moment of return to the literary world, as we discuss in the "What's Up With the Ending?" section. Booker asks if the hero has learned anything from his travels. Neil seems to have learned that his heart is in the library, among the books.

The story ends with Neil arriving back in Newark as the sun rises on Rosh Hashana, the first day of the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashana is the first day of The Ten Days of Repentance, a period of intense self-reflection and a time to repent for harms done toward others, the self, and God, and ask forgiveness for such harms from the harmed individuals. Neil chooses to spend this holiday doing what he's probably come to view as good and important work—taking care of the library.