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Structuralist narratology




1. STORY the chronological sequence of events; an abstract construct that the reader has to derive from the concrete text. 1.1 Events and ActionsEvents are actions by abstract actants such as fate, death, old age or social class. An action derives from an actant, while an event happens to the actant. 1.1.1 Functions elements whose interrelatedness is responsible for the horizontal progress of events; that is, their linear development. Forms: Temporality, Causality, and Opposition. Ex.: „X

buys a gun‟ is a function that leads to „X uses the gun to kill Y.‟ The tension between the functions

brings about a development in the story. A cardinal function implies a risk, which means a choice or a possibility. An assassination attempt is a cardinal function because it includes the possibility of failure. A catalyzer is a function that merely assures the continuation of what the cardinal function has started. In the case of the assassination attempt, driving the car andloading the gun are catalyzers. Sequences are the combination of cardinal functions. „Seduction‟ is a sequence. It starts with certain tactical moves and then results in success of failure. 1.1.2 Indexes elements that work vertically by offering referential information for characterization. A pure index must be interpreted: James Bond‟s clothes, his taste, and his preference for certain drinks are all interpreted by the reader as symbols of his sophistication and virility. An informative index is mainly important for spatio-temporal description and does not

require symbolic interpretation: „It was seven o‟clock and it was raining.‟

*Possible Methodology: start with minimal components such as functions and indexes, proceed to create minimal relationships between these components to arrive at larger units in the story such as sequences and their combinations. 1.2 ActantsA specific role a character plays as an abstract agent in a network of roles. A subject carries out the action and strives for a specific object. This quest is inspired and provoked by a sender. The agent who benefits from the quest is the receiver. The agent who assists in the quest is the helper, while the agent who thwarts it is the opponent. Just as on character can play many roles, one role can be played by many characters. Bond can get help from people such as the beautiful girl or the man from intelligence, but his helpers can also be state-of-the-art weapons or even more abstract things such as his courage and resourcefulness. 1.3 Setting the spatio-temporal setting constitutes the narrative and ideological center of the text because it gives form to figures and actions. Abstract themes like love and betrayal acquire a concrete form within and thanks to such a chronotope. The setting offers an index for the action. In James Bond‟s stories the good westerners live in the civilized city space, whereas bad Russians live in the natural habitat of the forest(terror, barbarian, unknown). One could investigate space relying on pairs such as inside versus outside, high versus low, and far versus close. The central aspects of

space and time characterization are the drawing of a borderline and its potential transgression. Actions and actants who transgress these borders often play a central role in the story. A burglar or a spy is unthinkable without the violation of the border between private and public, open and closed. Murderers and rapists do not respect these borders either. In the bourgeois novel, the hero often repairs borders, while in the adventure novel he is likely to overturn the bourgeois system.


2 NARRATIVE the way in which event are presented to the reader.

2.1 Time A central event in the story may well remain untold in the narrative, or an event that takes very long in the story might be mentioned briefly and casually in the narrative. 2.1.1 Five possible relations between narrative time and story time:

  • - Ellipsis - an event that does happen in the story is absent from narrative. A crime novel, for instance, will effect more suspense when the execution of a planned murder or assault does not appear in the narrative. In a psychological novel, things that remain unsaid can be essential because they may point to repressed or dismissed traumas.

  • - Acceleration or Summary An event that takes a long time can be summarized in one

sentence, so that the time of narration is shorter than story time.

  • - Scene an almost perfect match of the duration of an event with that of its representation or


  • - Deceleration occurs when the time necessary to read the description of an event turns out to

be longer than the event itself. A text can halt, for instance, at the moment a killer points his gun at his victim. This would take merely a second in the story, but it can be described in dozens of pages. Deceleration, therefore, is very useful to create or decrease suspense.

  • - Pause represents an extreme form of deceleration. The story comes to a standstill.

*Narrative texts with continuous acceleration or deceleration create a much more dynamic impression than texts that always opt for the same type of duration. 2.1.2 Order the relation between the linear chronology in the story (one, two, three, four) and the order of events in the narrative (four, one, two, three).A) Directionforwards or backwards. If the primary narrative, for instance, shows the last three weeks in the life of the protagonist, all memories of his youth (flashback) and all anticipations of life after death (flash-forward) would fall outside this narrative. If the flashback and flash-forward concern something that is related to the life of a major character, they are called homodiegetic. If it refers to a minor character or somebody else, they are called heterodiegetic.B) Distance the temporal gap between primary narrative on the one hand and flashback and flash-forward on the other. The dying man of a story may remember an event that took place two days ago, which therefore falls within the primary narrative (internal flashback); or he may remember something that happened fifty years ago, which clearly remains outside the primary narrative (external flashback), or he may remember something that happened fifty years ago, which clearly remains outside the primary narrative. A mixed flashback or mixed flash-forward starts before the primary narrative but ends within it, or begins within the primary narrative and ends outside it.C) Reach the stretch of time covered by the flashback or flash-forward. If the memory concerns one particular event, then the flashback is punctual. If it comprises an entire period, the flashback is durative.D) Frequency the relation between the number of times an event occurs in the story and the number of times I occurs in the narrative. When the events occurs just as often in the story as it does in the narrative it is called singulative. For story events that happen repeatedly but are only presented once in the text it is called iteration. When there is a repeated description in the text of an event that takes place only once on the level of the story it is called repetition. 2.2 Characterization the way in which a character is represented in narrative. A) Direct

introduce a character with an enumeration of character psychological traits and/or outward appearance. The reader must check the reliability of such characterization because they might be

purposely misleading.B) Indirect it is based on metonymy, that is, it works with elements that are contiguous with the character. Actions, for instance, often follow naturally from a character‟s

identity. Discourse too says a lot, literally or figuratively. The words and style used by a character

may betray his social position, his ideology, and his psychology. The character‟s physical appearance and his environment can be telling too. C) Through analogy a character‟s can be described with the help of analogy, which leads to metaphor instead of metonymy. Kafka, for example, often


compares his characters to animals and objects, and this metaphorical typification shows how unhuman humankind has become. 2.3 Focalization refers to the relation between that which is focalized the characters, actions, and objects offer to the reader and the focalizer, the agent who perceives and who therefore determines what is presented to the reader. A) External the narrating I considers something the experiencing I did. B) Internal the scene is perceived by the experiencing I (character). C) Space and Time Properties in terms of i) space, the focalizer can impose a panoramic view (shows the entire space of the narrative), simultaneous view (shows what happens in different locations at the same time), or a limited view (typical of a character since his perceptions are restricted to where he is). In terms of ii) time, a panchronicfocalizer surveys all time periods. He can look back and forward. Flashforward is a prediction of the future, and flashback corresponds to retrospective focalization. Synchronic focalization is when perception takes place simultaneously with events. D) Psychological properties are divided in i) cognitive (knows everything or has limited knowledge. Sometimes the omniscient focalizer will limit his knowledge to create suspense); ii) on the emotional level focalization can be detached (only the outside of the focalized object is perceived) or empathic (constant speculation about the thoughts and feelings); iii) the ideology of a perception can either be given explicitly or be implied. The focalizer can say people are bad, or he can imply it by saying “Their eyes are cold and their language is incomprehensible.” It becomes difficult to realize ideology if the text is long and there are many focalizers (polyphonic ideology). Irony also complicates the identification of an ideological formation. E) Textual indications i)descriptions of focalized objects or people may indicate between an internal and external focalizer. Suppose the wife of Judge Jack Jones enter her husband office. If the text reads, “Judge Jack Jones looked moody,” one can attribute this perception to an external focalizer. If, however, the text reads, “Jack seemed moody again,” it is probably the woman who is responsible for this perception; ii) style too can provide indications of the focalizer. Childhood memories with many complicated and technical observations are probably externally focalized because a child would not achieve such intricacy; iii) type of language: if a story is told in a neutral version of standard language, and suddenly dialect and swear words appear, this can mean that the events are no longer perceived by a neutral (external) narrator but by an (internal) character.


3 NARRATION it deals with the way in which events are worded. Attention goes to the narrating voice, to speech instead of perception. 3.1 Narrating Similar to focalization, narration also expresses a relationship between an active subject and a passive object. In this case the relationship is between the narrator and that which is narrated.

  • 3.1.1 Narrator types A) Extradiegetic does not belong to the fictional universe. If a character

is presented by a narrator with no other narrating agent above him, this narrator is extradiegetic. B) Intradiegetic belongs to the narrated world and is therefore narrated by an agency above him. If a

given character of the story starts to tell a story, he becomes an intradiegetic narrator. *The extradiegetic narrator occupies the highest place in the hierarchy of narrators, while the intradiegetic narrator sits one step below. This hierarchy does not mean the level of importance. The narrator who occupies most of the narrating voice is the most important.

  • 3.1.2 Narrator involvement A) Homodiegetic the narrator has personal experience of what he

is narrating. If he is the protagonist of the story he tells, he is an autodiegetic. If he only witnessed

it personally, he is allodiegetic.B) Heterodiegeticthe narrator has not experienced that which he is narrating. - Six types of combination 1) Extradiegetic and heterodiegetic narrator: he hovers above the story and deals with things he did not experience. He usually uses the third person, but can occasionally appear in the first person. 2) Extradiegetic and autodiegetic narrator: He stands above the events he narrates, but he has experience them. More precisely, he was their central character.3) Extradiegetic and allodiegetic narrator: he tells a story in which he was not the main character, but a witness. 4) Intradiegetic and heterodiegetic narrator: a character who relates things he has not experienced. 5) Intradiegetic and allodiegetic narrator: a character telling about events he witnessed. 6) Intradiegetic and autodiegetic narrator: a character telling about events in which he played a central role. 3.1.3Properties of narration 1) Temporal properties: the temporal relation between the moment of narration and the moment at which the narrated events take place. The most traditional

one is a) Subsequent narration: narration after the events. The past tense of the verb is most common. There is also b) Prior narration: it involves the prediction of the future, and the verb may

go in the present of future tense. Next, there is

c) Simultaneous narration: it is the perfect

coincidence of action and narration. The last one is d) Interpolated narration: it is the case when action is alternated with a letter that provides a comment on it. 2) Narrator visibility a) Covert narrator:he quotes a lot, does not present himself in the first person, and tries to avoid evaluative descriptions as much as possible. b) Overt narrator: resorts to paraphrase instead of quotation, he will definitely talk about himself and therefore use the first person, and he will often showcase his own opinion. *Visibility must not be confused with presence. An invisible narrator remains present, and a visible narrator does not have to play a role in the story he tells. In other words, he does not have to be homodiegetic. 3.2 Consciousness Representation the grammatical means by which the narrator represents what is said or thought by the characters. 1) Quoted monologue: also called direct mimetic

representation, uses direct discourse to establish the „scenes‟.2) Psycho-narration: also called indirect diegetic representation, it uses indirect discourse and does not represent the character‟s thoughts word for word, but paraphrases them. 3) Narrated monologue: it uses free indirect discourse (It holds on to the word order of the quotation, keeps exclamations and interjections, but it changes the verb tense and switches the personal pronoun. Direct discourse: He asked her, “Can you leave tomorrow?” Indirect Discourse: He asked her whether she could leave the next day. Free Indirect discourse: Could she leave tomorrow?