Study Guide

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich Plot Analysis

By William L. Shirer

Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

The Measure of a Man

The exposition that Shirer gives us in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich tries to explain two basic things: (1) the ideologies and ambitions that made Adolf Hitler the man he was, and (2) the reasons why the German public and powers-that-were allowed the Nazi Fuehrer to rise as high as he did. The initial situation Shirer presents is the eve of the end of the democratic Weimar Republic of Germany. Adolf Hitler is anxiously waiting to hear if he will be appointed Chancellor. When the old Chancellor caves to pressure to appoint him, the stage is set for the rise of the Nazi party and the birth of the Third Reich.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Sitting On Top of the World

In Shirer's account, the Third Reich's rising action began in January 1933, when Hitler was named Chancellor of the German Reich. From that point on, the way was clear for the would-be Fuehrer to seize more and more power until, finally, every German institution and all aspects of bit of German life were firmly under his control. Hitler was able to begin his quest for world dominance and the subjugation of "inferior" races under the Nazi philosophy of Aryan supremacy.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)


Given that Shirer's narrative is focused on the rise and fall of the Third Reich itself, the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 marks the fatal turning point of the Nazi Empire. Although Hitler would lead his troops to a number of early victories, eventually the war would take a devastating turn for Germany. Until that happened, Hitler occupied a large part of Europe, replaced their governments, and instituted brutal Nazi policies.

Falling Action

The Beginning of the End

Staggering German losses in Russia and Egypt in 1942 marked the turning point of the Second World War. From that point on, his narrative moves more and more quickly as Shirer describes the Third Reich's waning control over Europe. Britain and Russia attacked them on western and eastern fronts, and when the U.S. landed in Normandy, the outlook for the Reich was grim. USA! USA!

Resolution (Denouement)

Death of an Empire

The Third Reich managed to hold on to life a little longer than its founder—but only by one week. In the final pages of TRFTR, Shirer describes the state of Germany after the war, and recounts the arrests, trials, and executions of the men who had helped Hitler to build the Third Reich, and bring it, and much of Europe, crashing down.