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A presentation of the life and works of Russian narrative theorist Vladimir Propp, outlining his ideas on basic narrative structure and character profiling in narrative.

A presentation of the life and works of Russian narrative theorist Vladimir Propp, outlining his ideas on basic narrative structure and character profiling in narrative.

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  • 1. Vladimir Propp and his study into narrative structure Presentation by Jack Wentworth- Weedon
  • 2. Who was he?
    • Vladimir Propp (born April 1895) was a Russian born scholar who theorized the plots of narrative and even basic folk tales to find similarities and to simplify all text and media into the same elements. In his 75 years of life he saw an astonishing amount of change happen to the ways in which narrative could feature, from the first moving pictures all the way up to his death in August of 1970. Yet still today his ideas on the way character roles were constructed and plotlines were told are still relevant in any Hollywood blockbuster today.
  • 3. Character Roles
    • Propp analyzed hundreds of folk tales which defined all the main characters of any narrative into 8 broad character types.
    • Yet these were only in folk tales these ideas on character roles still apply to film and media today.
  • 4. The Hero/Victim: Reacts to the donor, weds the princess.
  • 5. The Villain: Struggles against the hero.
  • 6. The Donor: Prepares the hero or gives some magical object.
  • 7. The (Magical) Helper- Helps the hero in his quest.
  • 8. The Princess or Prize: The hero deserves her throughout the story, but due to unfair evil must overcome a task to get her.
  • 9. Her Father: The father of the prize gives the task to the hero, identifies the false hero, marries the hero . The Dispatcher: character who makes the lack known and sends the hero off. The False Hero: takes credit for the hero’s actions or tries to marry the princess.
  • 10. Plot Functions
    • Propp reduced all narrative to conform to 31 separate sequences of events.
    (p.s it may become a bit Lord Of The Rings/ Star Wars heavy in a sec but you try… its really hard…)
  • 11.
    • ABSENTATION: Family member leaves home or security of environment, hero may be introduced.
    • VIOLATION of INTERDICTION: Interdiction is violated and the villain is introduced (may not confront hero).
    • INTERDICTION: Hero is warned against an action (don’t do this/ don’t go there).
  • 12.
    • RECONNAISSANCE: Villain attempts at reconnaissance, seeking information or something valuable or a hostage. The family member may divulge information. The villain may wish to meet the hero, knowing he is special in some way.
    • TRICKERY: The villain attempts to deceive the victim to take possession of victim or the victim's belongings. May include disguises and a trade from the object of desire and the victim.
    • DELIVERY: Villain gains info about the victim. Or gains something e.g. Map/ Guiding element.
  • 13.
    • COMPLICITY: Victim taken in by deception, unwillingly helping the enemy, hero naively helps the villain into getting map etc.
    • MEDITATION: Misfortune or lack is known by hero, he is dispatched to give aid.
    • VILLAINY or LACK: Villain may cause harm to victim or family member. (by abduction, theft of magical agent, spoiling crops, plunders in other forms, causes a disappearance, expels someone, casts spell on someone, substitutes child etc., commits murder, imprisons/detains someone, threatens forced marriage) Or may take away something needed.
  • 14.
    • BEGINNING COUNTER-ACTION: Seeker agrees to, or decides upon counter-action. The hero now decides to act in a way that will resolve the lack, for example finding a needed magical item, rescuing those who are captured or otherwise defeating the villain.
    • FIRST FUNCTION OF THE DONOR: Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc., preparing the way for his/her receiving magical agent or helper (donor).
    • DEPARTURE: Hero leaves home.
  • 15.
    • HERO'S REACTION: Hero reacts to actions of future donor (withstands/fails the test, frees captive, performs service).
    • GUIDANCE: Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search.
    • RECEIPT OF A MAGICAL AGENT: Hero acquires use of a magical agent (directly transferred, located, purchased, prepared, spontaneously appears, eaten/drunk, help offered by other characters).
  • 16.
    • STRUGGLE: Hero and villain join in direct combat.
    • VICTORY: Villain is defeated (killed in combat, defeated in contest, killed while asleep, banished).
    • BRANDING: Hero is branded (wounded/marked).
  • 17.
    • LIQUIDATION: Initial misfortune or lack is resolved (object of search distributed, spell broken, slain person revived, captive freed).
    • PURSUIT: Hero is pursued (pursuer tries to kill, eat, undermine the hero).
    • RETURN: Hero returns
  • 18.
    • RESCUE: Hero is rescued from pursuit (obstacles delay pursuer, hero hides or is hidden, hero transforms unrecognizably, hero saved from attempt on his/her life).
    • UNFOUNDED CLAIMS: False hero presents unfounded claims.
    • UNRECOGNIZED ARRIVAL: Hero unrecognized, arrives home or in another country.
  • 19.
    • DIFFICULT TASK: Difficult task proposed to the hero (trial by ordeal, riddles, test of strength/endurance, other tasks).
    • RECOGNITION: Hero is recognized (by mark, brand, or thing given to him/her).
    • SOLUTION: Task is resolved.
  • 20.
    • EXPOSURE: False hero or villain is exposed.
    • PUNISHMENT: Villain is punished.
    • TRANSFIGURATION: Hero is given a new appearance (is made whole, handsome, new garments etc).
  • 21.
    • WEDDING: Hero marries and ascends the throne (is rewarded/promoted).
  • 22. Biography
    • Vladimir Propp was born on April 17, 1895 in St. Petersburg to a German family. He attended St. Petersburg University in the 1920’s taking Russian and German philosophy . Upon graduation he taught Russian and German at a secondary school and then became a college teacher of German.
    • His most famous text ‘ Morphology of the Folk Tale’ was published in Russian in 1928. Although it represented a breakthrough in both ‘ folkloristics’ (the study of folklore) and morphology (analysis of structure of language) and influenced Claude Levi-Strauss and Roland Barthes , it was generally unnoticed in the west until it was translated in the 1950s. His character types are still used in media education and can be applied to any type of narrative, be it in literature, theatre, film, television series, games, etc. He then became a teacher, rather than focusing on linguistics he researched folklore. Propp remained a professor until his death in 1970.
  • 23. My perspective
    • Propp has appealed to me ever since I heard his studies 2 years ago. The way that he surmised the narrative structure into many compatible areas. The research that he did into folklore is still accepted in film today. I believe that the study could be updated and generalized to suit more aspects of narrative of today (My personal idea being the ‘WTF’ ending e.g. ROTLA, Inception and The Sixth Sense among others…).
    • His work is important for media students today because he defined the way any narrative was constructed. We can use parts of a film in a way to compare with texts hundreds of years old. Using his guidelines of character constructs we can unravel the intentions and emotions of the most complex characters. When they conform to these guidelines the plotlines can be seen (e.g. Gandalf/Obi Wan’s sacrifice). When plot structure is difficult students can use his work to create their own intricate but conformist plot lines, without taking inspiration from one single source. Using the plot and characterization types, students can assess the theory of the newest media in a way that is relevant yet still timeless.