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Narrative Theory

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A brief outline of the 4 main narrative theorists; Propp, Todorov, Barthes and Levi-Strauss.

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Narrative Theory

  1. 1. Narrative Theory Media Studies AS
  2. 2. Narrative: the way in which a story is told in both fictional and non-fictional media texts.
  3. 3. Vladimir Propp <ul><li>Russian critic and literary theorist. </li></ul><ul><li>Analysed over 100 Russian fairytales in the 1920s. </li></ul><ul><li>He proposed that it was possible to classify the characters and their actions into clearly defined roles and functions. </li></ul><ul><li>Films such as Star Wars fit Propp’s model precisely, but a a significant number of more recent films such as Pulp Fiction do not. </li></ul><ul><li>The model is useful, however as it highlights the similarities between seemingly quite different stories. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Propp’s Character Roles <ul><li>The hero (seeks something) </li></ul><ul><li>The villain (opposes the hero) </li></ul><ul><li>The donor (helps the hero by providing a magic object) </li></ul><ul><li>The dispatcher (sends the hero on his way) </li></ul><ul><li>The false hero (falsely assuming the role of hero) </li></ul><ul><li>The helper (gives support to the hero) </li></ul><ul><li>The princess (the reward for the hero, but also needs protection from the villain) </li></ul><ul><li>Her father </li></ul>
  5. 5. Tzvetan Todorov <ul><li>Bulgarian literary theorist </li></ul><ul><li>Suggests most narratives start with a state of equilibrium in which life is ‘normal’ and protagonists happy. </li></ul><ul><li>This state of normality is disrupted by an outside force, which has to be fought against in order to return to a state of equilibrium. </li></ul><ul><li>This model can easily be applied to a wide range of films. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Equilibrium Disequilibrium New Equilibrium
  7. 7. Roland Barthes <ul><li>French semiologist. </li></ul><ul><li>Suggested that narrative works with five different codes which activate the reader to make sense of it. </li></ul><ul><li>(also used the terms denotation and connotation to analyse images) </li></ul>
  8. 8. Barthes’ Codes <ul><li>Action – a narrative device by which a resolution is produced through action, e.g. a shoot-out. </li></ul><ul><li>Enigma – a narrative device that teases the audience by presenting a puzzle or riddle to be solved. Works to delay the story’s ending pleasurably. </li></ul><ul><li>Symbolic – (connotation) </li></ul><ul><li>Semic – (denotation) </li></ul><ul><li>Cultural – a narrative device which the audience can recognise as being part of a culture e.g. a “made man” in a gangster film is part of the mafia culture. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Claude Levi-Strauss <ul><li>Social Anthropologist. </li></ul><ul><li>Studied myths of tribal cultures. </li></ul><ul><li>Examined how stories unconsciously reflect the values, beliefs and myths of a culture. </li></ul><ul><li>These are usually expressed in the form of binary oppositions . </li></ul><ul><li>His research has been adapted by media theorists to reveal underlying themes and symbolic oppositions in media texts. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Binary Oppositions <ul><li>A conflict between two qualities or terms. </li></ul><ul><li>For example 1970’s Western films: </li></ul><ul><li> Homesteaders Native Americans </li></ul><ul><li>christian pagan </li></ul><ul><li>domestic savage </li></ul><ul><li>weak strong </li></ul><ul><li>garden wilderness </li></ul><ul><li>inside society outside society </li></ul>
  11. 11. Task: <ul><li>Apply the key narrative theorists to the ending of ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. </li></ul><ul><li>Propp Todorov </li></ul><ul><li>Barthes Levi-Strauss </li></ul>

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