Study Guide

The Female Man Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

By Joanna Russ

Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Anticipation Stage and "Fall" into the Other World

If you've already taken a look at our other plot analyses for The Female Man, you'll know that it's not easy to match this novel up with conventional forms. Not only is it all over the place, its subject matter depends on it being hard to follow.

That said, there are enough distinguishing features of Booker's basic Voyage and Return plot to let us draw some comparisons. First off, we have three different characters who suddenly find themselves in strange new worlds, whether by choice or by accident. As in our classic plot analysis, where there are no clear distinctions between the Exposition and the Rising Action throughout much of the novel, Booker's Anticipation Stage continues (or begins and ends multiple times) until the very last chapter of the novel.

Initial Fascination or Dream Stage

The Female Man throws a wrench into Booker's Initial Fascination and Frustration stages, too. Just as the Anticipation Stage is ongoing (in ups and downs) over the course of the novel, so too do characters' feelings of fascination, interest, frustration, and fear get mixed up together as they're pulled back and forth between worlds.

Frustration Stage

Janet, Jeannine, and Joanna are shuttled back and forth between worlds in such confusing and unexpected ways that they rarely have time to go through gradual processes of exploration, frustration, and concern. Janet's visit to Joanna's world is the only one that lasts long enough for her to slowly recognize that things in this world aren't so pleasant after all. For her, the party on Riverside Drive is an important turning point. When she heads in, she's giddy with the excitement of interacting with men and women together for the first time; by the time she leaves, she's been patronized, condescended to, and assaulted, and she's had to break the Host's arm—bad times.

Nightmare Stage

In the Nightmare Stage, our heroine usually discovers that there's something about this strange new world that seriously threatens her safety. Janet experiences a moment like this at the party on Riverside Drive, but it's not nightmarish enough to make her want to leave. The Female Man turns the conventional Nightmare Stage on its head by having characters like Joanna and Jeannine realize that their own worlds pose serious threats to their wellbeing. For Joanna, the events at the party on Riverside Drive make this clear; for Jeannine, it's her visit to the Poconos (where she is pressured into marriage) that clinches it.

Thrilling Escape and Return

There are no thrilling escapes in The Female Man, and even the concept of "return" doesn't quite apply. In the novel's final chapter, the omniscient narrator/Joanna makes it clear once and for all that the other protagonists are aspects of herself as much as characters in their own right, and so it doesn't really matter whether they return to their own homeworlds or not. In fact, it seems likely that they will continue to move between one another's worlds, as the omniscient narrator/Joanna learns to call on them when she needs them. As they part ways, each woman is a small seed of feminist revolution scattered on the wind.