Narrative Theory Digital Media Foundations Arfa Shah K1109528
What is a narrative? A narrative essentially tells a story to the reader. A narrative doesn’t have to be linear where the story is told in chronological order with a beginning, middle and an end. A narrative can also be non-linear where the story isn’t told in a chronological order- a non-linear narrative can take the form of a flashback, flash forward, story told from the perspective of different characters at different points in time. In order to understand different narratives, theorists such as Todorov, Propp and Levi-Strauss detailed a list of common conventions that can be found in narratives.
Tzvetan TodorovTzvetan Todorov is a literary theorist who highlighted that eachstory, whatever the genre, follows the same structure:1. The environment within a story begins with a state of calm (equilibrium).2. The calm is then disrupted (disequilibrium)3. The disequilibrium passes and a new equilibrium is produced towards the end of the narrative.In more the detail, Todorov details that there are 5 stages a narrative can go through:1. The environment is in a state of calm, everything is as it should be.2. The calm is disrupted by an event3. There is then a recognition that a disruption has occurred.4. There is an attempt to repair the damage caused by the disruption.5. Peace is stored and there is a new equilibrium.Todorov states the narrative of the text is usually driven by thecharacters attempts to restore equilibrium to the story and thatthe disruption itself is abrupt and takes place outside the normalsocial and moral framework of society e.g. Someone is kidnapped,murdered and the characters of the story have to solve themystery.
Vladimir ProppVladimir Propp was a Russian critic in the 1920swho was interested in the narratives of Folk Tales.He found that characters in stories acted asnarrative functions and drove the plot of thestory forward. He said that the characters ofnarratives provided structure to the text andidentified 8 character types:
1. Hero- a character who is seeking something2. Villain- aims to block the hero’s journey3. Donor- provides an object with magical qualities4. Dispatcher- sends the hero a message which leads the hero to go on his quest.5. False hero- disrupts the hero’s quest and success by making false claims and tries to win over the princess.6. Helper- aids the hero in his quest.7. Princess- Is the reward for the hero and usually used by the villain in his plots.8. Father- rewards the hero for his effort usually by allowing him to be with the Princess.
Example of Propp’s theory: Shrek 2Shrek- Hero Fairy Godmother- Charming-In Shrek 2, Shrek Villain & Donor False Heroseeks to be reunited Once Shrek drinks The Fairy Godmotherwith Fiona after her the potion and wants her son, becomes human,Father arranges for Charming, to become the he rushes to thehim to be killed to Prince and plots with castle but findsensure the best Fiona’s father to get rid that Charming isfuture for Fiona. of Shrek. She also acts thereShrek believes in impersonating as an unwilling donor asorder to reunite with Shrek. He does thisFiona, he must the potion which Shrek with the aim tobecome human and needs to become human marry Fiona andseeks to find a is produced at Fairy become the Prince.potion. Godmother’s potion factory.
Donkey- Helper Fiona- Princess King Harold-Donkey helps Shrek Shrek wins back Fiona’s Father andby aiding him in Fiona once he unwilling Villainbreaking into the convinces her that King Harold rewardsfactory and stealing Charming is not Shrek with Fiona once he wins the heart of thethe potion and then the human version people. The reason whyhelps him reveal of Shrek. Fiona is King Harold becomesCharming’s true manipulated by the unwilling villain ofidentity to the Fairy Godmother the story is to fulfil hiscitizens of “Far Far and King Harold promise to FairyAway” in order to into believing that Godmother thatwin back Fiona. Charming is Charming will become Shrek. Prince otherwise he will be turned back into a frog.
Claude Levi-Strauss Levi- Strauss was a social anthropologist and studied myths of tribal cultures. He found that stories that are told unconsciously mirror the values and myths of a culture. He argued that these values and myths are expressed in the form of binary oppositions. Levi-Strauss argued that we understand words not solely on their meaning, but in relation to its opposite component, or its “binary opposite”. He argued the words represent society’s values and ideas therefore the meaning of words is a relationship between two different ideas. For example, the only way we can understand the word “villain “ is by looking at its opposite, the “hero”. In modern society, a hero is kind, noble and brave whereas a villain is the complete OPPOSITE- selfish, unkind, evil. Other examples of binary opposites are- light and day, love and hate, masculinity and femininity, young and old, light and dark.
Roland Barthes Barthes was a French literary theorist and along with Todorov, Propp and Levi-Strauss, suggested that there are 5 codes that can describe the meaning of a text. He also said that texts can ‘open’ which means they can be interpreted in many different ways, or, ‘closed’ which suggests the text has one dominant interpretation. The 5 codes are:1. The Hermeneutic Code: This code refers to the ambiguity/mystery in a text. The purpose of the hermeneutic code, also referred to as the enigma code, is to leave the audience wanting to know more and therefore keeps them hooked to the story (seen mostly in horrors, thrillers, mystery e.g. Who is the killer of the text?)2. The Proairetic Code: This code builds tension by referring to incidents in the text which indicates that something else might happen- this keeps the audience guessing. Barthes stated that the Hermeneutic Code and Proairetic Code are “dependent on” one another to increase the suspense within the story and to keep the audience interested.
Roland Barthes continued...3. The Semantic Code: This code relates to the connotations contained within a text which gives additional meaning to the text.4. The Symbolic Code: Is very similar to the code above however it organises semantic meanings into a wider framework of meaning. This is done by creating new meanings, tension and drama out of opposing ideas.5. The Referential Code: This code refers to anything within the text which utilises wider and external framework of knowledge grounded in “truth”- for example scientific, historical knowledge.
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