What is the plot of The Devil's Arithmetic?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In speaking about the plot of The Devil’s Arithmetic (or any other literary work), we should speak about six specific things:  exposition, inciting incident/conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.   

The exposition is the part of the story where we are introduced to the setting, the characters, the time period, etc.  In the case of The Devil’s Arithmetic, this involves the beginning of the novel where we learn about the character of Hannah, her family, and their Jewish traditions during Passover. 

The inciting incident (that some people call the conflict) of the novel is the point where the tension begins to rise.  In the case of this novel, the inciting incident happens when Hannah’s family opens the door for Elijah to come in to the Seder meal (a common practice on Passover).  Instead of seeing the hall outside, Hannah sees a field.  After turning around, Hannah sees her home has changed as well.  Hannah has been transported back to the time of the Holocaust, and she decides this must be some type of dream. 

The rising action of the plot is always the time when the tension rises.  Hannah learns about her new situation.  It is 1942, the people taking care of her are Gitl and Shmuel.  Soon they are forced to board a train to a concentration camp and Hannah, along with the rest of them, has her head shaved and is tattooed with a number.  Hannah lives within the concentration camp until her friend, Rivka, is sent to the gas chamber. 

At this point, the story reaches its climax (the height of the tension).  Hannah sacrifices herself for Rivka.  Hannah walks into the gas chamber in Rivka’s place. 

During the falling action of the plot, Hannah finds herself back in her apartment with her own family and continues the Seder meal.  The resolution happens when Hannah realizes her Aunt Eva is Rivka and becomes appreciative of her Jewish heritage.