Study Guide

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party Plot Analysis

By M.T. Anderson

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Plot Analysis


The College of Lucidity, or the Garden of Eden, Boston-style

An 18th-century, old school, philosophical think tank called the College of Lucidity takes in a teenaged, pregnant slave girl, who goes on to bear the College the perfect scientific subject: Octavian.

Everything's more or less hunky-dory. The tutors and head of the College, Mr. Gitney, raise Octavian with an intense classical education, while his mom, Cassiopeia, gets treated like royalty (which she claims she is).

Sure, Octavian figures out that he and his mom are still slaves, but at least he gets to read anything he wants and play his violin.

Rising Action

Enter Lord Cheldthorpe, a.k.a. Mr. Moneybags

The College is in danger of losing its funding, so Mr. Gitney does what he can to court the new Lord Cheldthorpe (the old one died) into backing the College.

But what Lord Cheldthorpe really wants is Cassiopeia, and she seems to want him back too. It looks like a match made in heaven… until Lord Cheldthorpe asks Cassiopeia to be his mistress. No way is Cassiopeia selling herself out for a position as mistress, though—she wants marriage, and throws LC's offer back in his face.

This is a high stakes move when you're a slave though, and Lord Cheldthorpe orders Cassiopeia and Octavian to get whipped, and then he withdraws all support for the College.

But that's not the only curveball: Mr. Sharpe steps in as a representative of a bunch of College investors and saves the College. Only thing is, his idea of "saving" is more like changing the entire purpose of the College, including the College's experiment with Octavian…


The Death of the Mother

Life under Mr. Sharpe's rule completely sucks. Octavian isn't allowed to read stories or anything remotely interesting; he also isn't allowed to play freely.

But then Octavian's mom dies from the smallpox vaccine (which, by the way, they had no choice about getting) at the pox party. This isn't good in its own right, but what really makes this part of the book a major turning point is that Octavian barges in on Mr. Gitney and Mr. Sharpe dissecting his mother's corpse. And while this would be enough to drive anyone mad, for Octavian, it compels him to escape.

After all, when you have friends like these, who needs enemies?

Octavian's life is so exciting though, that his story ends up with another climax. (Hey, who says you can only have one? Be rebels and live a little, we say.)

After escaping, he joins a company of Patriots, who he ends up befriending. Everything's great until Mr. Sharpe catches up to his company and finds out—through Octavian's naive friend Private Goring—where Octavian is.

A true crisis because you know what that means for Octavian…

Falling Action

Return of the Prodigal Son (Sort Of)

Yep—Octavian's back with the College men, only this time he's shackled and has an iron mask over his face. He can't move or talk, and they leave him like this for a pretty long while.

His imprisonment gives him a lot of time to curse out Mr. Sharpe and all the other white men he's met in his life so far. It also gives him time to prepare for the final interview…


To be Continued…

Dr. Trefusis frees Octavian by drugging Mr. Sharpe and Mr. Gitney at Octavian's final interview (which doesn't go well). They escape the house and decide to flee to Boston. How? By swimming across the Channel, straight into British territory… which is what they're about to do at the book's end.

It isn't a total resolution by a long shot, and instead offers just enough for you to put down Volume 1 and move on to Volume 2...

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party Plot Analysis Study Group

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