Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Plot Summary

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Part 1, Zarathustra's Prologue

At age 30, and after 10 years of solitude in his cave, Zarathustra has become tired of his wisdom and is determined to "go under," or reenter the world of men. Having declared "God is dead," Zarathustra enters a town but his first speech to the people is interrupted when a tightrope walker falls to his death. Zarathustra carries the corpse to bury it and is joined by his animals—an eagle and a serpent—as he continues his journey.

Part 1, Chapters 1–10

This grouping of speeches made by Zarathustra begins with a description of how the spirit makes three distinct transformations to generate its own mastery. Zarathustra arrives in the town of The Motley Cow and listens to the lectures of a sage before beginning his own discourses to a group of young men he addresses as his "brothers." Zarathustra first talks about the body, guilt, and justice, then about states of mind before hailing his listeners as warriors.

Part 1, Chapters 11–22

Zarathustra tells his listeners opposition to self-mastery lies before them and outlines the characteristics and tactics of each form of opposition. Some distractors, such as pity or friendship, arise from within. Others, such as the political state or women, come from external sources to play upon a desire for survival, comfort, or relief from loneliness.

Part 2, Chapters 23–32

Zarathustra withdraws from the world of men to his mountain cave, expressing a wish that his "wild" wisdom could be delivered more gently. He nevertheless continues to speak to his disciples on the topic of covert evils resident in what appear to be virtues like pity for "the all-too-human," religious faith, education, or the revenge of justice. Zarathustra acknowledges that removing these habits is painful in the extreme, although he promises new and better ones leading to the creation of the future "overman" will take their places.

Part 2, Chapters 33–44

This section continues the line of reasoning Zarathustra has established in his talks with his disciples in the previous chapters. He notes that looking back into the past has made him physically sick, but the remedy can't be found in worldly fame, power, knowledge, or the arts. He describes the process of overcoming the self as a continuous one, and how its crippling discomfort leads to a palliative redemption from within.

Part 3, Chapters 45–52

Zarathustra takes a hike over mountains on his way to the sea and contemplates how the height of a mountain is manifest only by the abyss below. From this concept of physical opposites, he recognizes a reversal of direction in his internal journey. He boards a ship but answers none of the questions posed by the seamen.

Part 3, Chapters 53–60

After an unspecified period of time, Zarathustra returns home and continues his discourses to his disciples on oppositions such as lightness and gravity. One morning, he leaps up as if an unknown evil has slept with him, before falling as if dead for seven days. His animals bring him food, and he is refreshed enough to explain an experience of rebirth—which he terms "eternal recurrence."

Part 4, Chapters 61–70

Many years have passed, and Zarathustra is confronted by his animals, who ask him to climb up a mountain so he can see with clarity. The next day, the soothsayer arrives to tell Zarathustra someone is calling for him, and Zarathustra sets out to find who it is.

Part 4, Chapters 71–80

When he returns to his cave in the evening, Zarathustra finds everyone he met that day waiting for him, and they become his guests. They share a meal together and Zarathustra takes an evening stroll. When he returns to his cave, he finds everyone worshipping the ass in a festival. The next morning, Zarathustra leaves his sleeping guests and realizes he has felt pity for them. Shaking off this last test, he looks forward to the last transformation of his spirit into the child.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Zarathustra leaves his cave.

Rising Action

2 Zarathustra arrives at The Motley Cow.

3 Zarathustra gathers disciples.

4 Zarathustra walks to the sea.

5 Zarathustra returns home.

6 The higher men arrive as guests.


7 The higher men worship the Ass.

Falling Action

8 Zarathustra recognizes his last weakness.


9 Zarathustra anticipates his third spiritual transformation.

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