Narrative codes and the 3 levels of signification.
He describes text as: ‘a galaxy of signifiers, not a
structure of signifiers; it has no beginning; it is
reversible; we gain access to it by several
What he means:
The text is a like a tangled ball of threads.
The thread needs to be unravelled.
Once unravelled, we encounter an absolute
wide range of potential meanings.
We can start by looking at a narrative in one
way, from one viewpoint, one set of previous
experience, and create one meaning for that
You can continue by unravelling the narrative
from a different angle and create an entirely
Barthes says that texts may be open or closed.
The Hermeneutic Code (HER)
The Enigma/Proairetic Code (ACT)
The Symbolic Code (SYM)
The Cultural Code (REF)
The Semantic Code (SEM)
Levi-Strauss looked at narrative structure in terms
of binary oppositions. Binary oppositions are sets
of opposite values which reveal the structure of
An example would be GOOD and EVIL. We
understand he concepts of GOOD as being the
opposite of EVIL. Levi-Strauss was not so
interested in looking at the order in which events
were arranged in the plot. He looked instead for
deeper arrangements of themes. For example, if
we look at Science Fiction films we can identify a
series of binary oppositions which are created by
Earth: Good, Humans, Past, Known, Normal.
Space: Bad, Aliens, Present, Unknown, Strange.
Todorov’s narrative theory is that all stories start
with a state of equilibrium, which is then
disrupted, setting in motion a chain of events. The
resolution of the story is the restoration of the
equilibrium or the creation of a new one.
Equilibrium – A happy start
A disruption – A problem occurs
A realisation that a disruption has happened.
An attempt to repair the damage of the
disruption – the problem is solved
A restoration of the equilibrium – A happy
Theory of Narrative
Propp’s theory is based in the narrative of
traditional folk tales. He theorised that such tales
were about the same basic struggles with ‘stock’
characters. His theory sees characters and actions
as having narrative functions and providing a
structure for that text. Propp’s theories appear in
many mainstream Hollywood films.
The Hero – a character that seeks something.
The Villain – who opposes or actively blocks
the hero’s quest.
The Donor – who provides an object with
The Dispatcher – who sends the hero on
his/her quest via a message.
The False Hero – who disrupts the hero’s
success by making false claims.
The Helper – who aids the hero.
The Princess – acts as the reward for the hero
and the object of the villains plots.
The Princess’ Father – who acts to reward the
hero for his effort.
These characters appear in many mainstream