Frank O’Connor’s 1931 short story “Guests of the Nation” follows the basic structure of a linear narrative, which has five building blocks:
Exposition: background information (the characters, past action, setting, descriptions, etc.) that provides context to the reader
Rising action: events in the plot (e.g., events and characters dialogue, physical actions, thoughts) that evoke interest and generate tension and suspense
Climax: the point to where the action and tension build ups to a head conflict between two sides (character versus character, idea versus idea, reason versus emotion, etc.)
Falling action: events that happen right after the climax where the author is trying to solve or “tie up loose ends”
Resolution/Denouement: the story’s final conclusion or ending; basically, “where things land” in terms of characters and events.
O’Connor divided “Guests of the Nation” into four sections. Section I provides the exposition. The setting is an Irish country farm. Two British soldiers Belcher and Hawkins are prisoners guarded by two Irish soldiers, Noble and the narrator named Bonaparte. The four men are playing cards and share a friendly camaraderie. Additional background information includes facts like Hawkins and Belcher’s capture during the Irish battle for independence in 1922, Hawkins' knowledge of Irish dances, and Belcher's friendship with the old woman who owns the house where they stay. Another character introduced is Jeremiah, the officer in charge who is not as friendly with Belcher and Hawkins.
Section II provides the rising action. Hawkins and Noble argue about capitalism and religion. Bonaparte walks away with Jeremiah who tells him that the British soldiers, Belcher and Hawkins, will need to be executed because the British army (“the enemy”) has captured and is threatening to shoot Irish soldiers. Having developed a friendship with Belcher and Hawkins, Bonaparte is miserable at this news, stating, “I cannot explain it even now, how sad I felt.” After Bonaparte and Noble lock up Belcher and Hawkins for the night, Bonaparte tells Noble the execution order from Jeremiah.
Section II ends with a conflict introduced in this rising action: whether or not to execute the British soliders. Bonaparte “lay there half the night, and thought and thought, and pic-turing myself and young Noble trying to prevent the Brigade from shooting 'Awkins and Belcher sent a cold sweat out through me.” The next morning, Bonaparte and Noble stay silent and have hard time facing Belcher and Hawkins.
Section III continues the rising action with Jeremiah ordering the execution of the British soldiers in retaliation for four Irish soldiers being shot. Bonaparte and Noble round up Belcher and Hawkins.
Section IV provides the climax, where Bonaparte confirms to a disbelieving Hawkins that yes, even though they are “chums,” he has to shoot him. Bonaparte shoots Hawkins while Hawkins tries to talk Jeremiah into letting him live. Because Hawkins did not die with the first shot, Bonaparte shoots him again at Belcher’s request, this time fatally. Jeremiah shoots Belcher. Both of these executions are carried out in the name of duty.
Section IV finishes with the falling action with Bonaparte and Noble burying Hawkins and Belcher. After Bonaparte and Noble return to the farm house, the old woman falls to her knees in grief to pray for the fallen British soldiers. Noble joins her.
The story’s resolution is the final paragraph where the narrator Bonaparte expresses his sadness and remorse for shooting their British friends: “I was somehow very small and very lonely” and that “anything that ever happened me after I never felt the same about again.”