Study Guide

The Red and the Black Plot Analysis

By Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle)

Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Laissez Affair

The young peasant Julien Sorel has grand ambitions for his life. His first step toward realizing these ambitions is becoming a tutor in the household of his town's mayor, Monsieur de Rênal. Julien quickly realizes that he doesn't like this dude, so he has an affair with his wife, Madame de Rênal. Word about the affair eventually gets out and Julien runs off to enroll in seminary school to become a priest.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Rênal Failure

Julien gets a job with the wealthy de La Mole family in Paris. The Marquis de La Mole takes a special interest in Julien and sets about to make him a gentleman. Julien even assumes a phony background to convince people he comes from a wealthy family. The Marquis plays along and even sends him on a secret government mission.

Meanwhile, Julien has a sexual relationship with the Marquis' daughter Mathilde. Mathilde gets pregnant and she and Julien plan to marry. At the last second, Madame de Rênal (Julien's old flame) writes a letter to the Marquis saying that Julien is a no-good scoundrel who's only marrying Mathilde to rise in society. Julien loses the Marquis' approval and he travels to his hometown of Verrières to shoot Madame de Rênal for being so blabby. The shot isn't fatal, but Julien is put on trial for attempted murder.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Trial and Error

While standing trial for attempted murder, Julien makes the mistake of standing up in front of France's upper-class people and telling them they're a bunch of boring, superficial hypocrites. His rant basically earns him a death sentence, though he doesn't seem to care.

Falling Action

Where Will You Be-Heading?

Julien's lover Mathilde and his ex-lover Madame de Rênal try to get him to appeal his death sentence, even though Madame de Rênal is the woman he tried to kill. But he's fed up with living in such a terrible world. He accepts his fate and gets himself beheaded a few days later.

Resolution (Denouement)

Severed Head and a Weird Death

After Julien is executed, Mathilde de La Mole steals his head and buries it herself after kissing it and hugging it for a while. A few days later, Madame de Rênal also drops dead while hugging her kids. We don't really get any explanation for that one.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...