A narrative is some kind of retelling, often in words (though it is possible to mime a story), of something that happened (a story). The narrative is not the story itself but rather the telling of the story - which is why it is so often used in phrases such as "written narrative," "oral narrative," etc. While a story just is a sequence of events, a narrative recounts those events, perhaps leaving some occurrences out because they are from some perspective insignificant, and perhaps emphasizing others. In a series of events, a car crash takes a split second. A narrative account, however, might be almost entirely about the crash itself and the few seconds leading up to it. Narratives thus shape history.
"a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can read, they are indeterminable...the systems of meaning can take over this absolutely plural text, but their number is never closed, based as it is on the infinity of language..." ( S/Z - 1974 translation)
Essentially, Barthes is saying is that a text is like a tangled ball of threads which needs unraveling so we can separate out the colours. Once we start to unravel a text, we encounter an absolute plurality of potential meanings. We can start by looking at a narrative in one way, from one viewpoint, bringing to bear one set of previous experience, and create one meaning for that text. You can continue by unraveling the narrative from a different angle, by pulling a different thread if you like, and create an entirely different meaning. And so on. An infinite number of times.
Texts may be ´ open ´ (i.e. unravelled in a lot of different ways) or ´ closed ´ (there is only one obvious thread to pull on).
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, had a primitive idea on narrative. He observed that all narratives had:
And an end.
Todorov suggested that each narrative passed 5 stages:
Equilibrium – State of normality
Disruption of equilibrium – a character or an action causes an effect which disturbs the state of normality.
The main protagonist recognises that the equilibrium has been disrupted.
Restoration of equilibrium – The protagonist attempts to restore equilibrium
New equilibrium – Equilibrium is restored, but transformations & changes (good, bad, or neutral) have occurred from the original equilibrium.
Vladimir Propp studied Russian folk & fairytales, and drew the conclusion that all narratives ham a common structure.
He observed that narratives are shaped and directed by certain types of characters, and different type of actions.
He believed that there are 8 type of characters in all narratives, and 31 situations revolving around these characters.
Propps 8 character types
1. The hero (seeks something)
2. The villain (opposes the hero)
3. The donor (helps the hero by providing a magic object)
4. The dispatcher (sends the hero on his way)
5. The false hero (falsely assuming the role of hero)
6. The helper (gives support to the hero)
7. The princess (the reward for the hero but also needs to be protected from the villain
8. Her father
He did not state these characters were all separate people e.g. the provider could also be the helper.
After studying hundreds of myths & legends, Levi-Strauss observed that we make sense of the world, people and events by seeing and using binary opposites everywhere.
He observed that all narratives are organised around the conflict between such binary opposites.
Examples of binary oppositions Good and evil Old and young Black and white Masculine and feminine Wealthy and poor Heterosexual and homosexual