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The aim of this paper is to apply Grice’s maxims related to the cooperative principal to a literary narrative text. The paper tries to apply the modified maxims as suggested by Richard J. Watts in “The Pragmalinguistic Analysis of Narrative Texts” to a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle. We will first summarise Watt’s reformulation of the Gricean maxims and then try to see its applicability to literary narratives.
Watt says that a literary narrative is a kind of display text in which there is an apparent non-participation of the reader. He reformulates the cooperative principals to suit the special needs of a text in which the addressee has no chance to interfere during the discourse to seek clarifications or express doubts. He reformulation of the Gricean maxims is repeated below.
a. The Maxim of Quantity
1. The narrator should include within his narrative turn at least an orientation section and as many narrative clauses, complicating actions and resolutions as are required to bring his turn adequately to a close. He may also introduce an abstract and a coda.
2. The narrator should include within his narrative turn as much evaluation as is required to make the narrative turn interesting to his audience.
3. The narrator should not include within his narrative turn more evaluation than is required to make the narrative turn interesting to his audience.
b. The Maxim of Quality
1. The narrator should not report narrative events which he believes to be false in terms of the fictional world created.
2. The narrator may report that for which he lacks adequate evidence in anon-fictional world, i.e., he may use filtering and omniscience, but he is constrained to adhere to the terms of the narrative freedom he has been granted.
c. The Maxim of Relation
1. The narrator should only present such events and evaluation as are thematically relevant to the narrative world presented.
d. The Maxim of Manner
1. The narrator should avoid obscurity.
2. The narrator should avoid ambiguity.
3. The narrator should avoid making any part of the narrative so long that it will incur the audience disfavour.
4. The narrator should present his narrative events in an orderly sequence. (Watts, 1981, 89-93)
It is quite clear that no narrative text can adhere to all of these maxims. But the way in which a narrative text breaks these maxims or manipulates them is what we are proposing to study. Such cases of violations of the narrative maxims should be treated as implicatures which reveal authors communicative intentions. Further, it is possible that certain types of literary narrative texts need certain violations of the communicative principals. The maxim d.,4, is always violated in the detective fiction because the communicative intention is to maintain suspense. Thus, every violation may tell us about the priorities that the author has in mind. Let us look at the short story “ The Reigate Squires” keeping in mind the above possibilities.
An analysis of the short story “The Reigate Squires”
When talking about the cooperation in a short story, we have to keep in mind that the author’s purposes and the narrator’s purposes can be
different. In the short story that we have taken for analysis, we have a first person narrator in Dr. Watson. We also have the author of the work. Without going into the questions of implied writer and the implied reader, we can still talk about the author’s narration and Watson’s narration. We will mainly focus on the way in which the narrator Watson cooperates with the readers in the short story.
Let us first look at the maxim of quantity. Quantity here refers more to what is necessary to make a narrative complete than to the actual size of the novel. We can see that the narrator Watson follows the maxim of quantity well. There is no abstract in Watson’s narrative (the title of the story is author’s abstract) and there is also no coda. But maxim a.1. clearly states that abstract and coda are only optional elements. To be cooperative, the narrator of a literary narrative should primarily have adequate orientational, narrative and evaluation clauses to bring the narrative turn to a close. Watson gives all the background information necessary to orient the reader towards the story, gives the complicating actions in a clear and chronological manner from his point of view and ends the story when the resolution has reached. Watson’s narrative
follows the unmarked pattern of labov’s model of coherence and hence can be said to be very cooperative.
Watson’s narrative is also cooperative in terms of maxims a.2 and a.3 respectively. This is one story where the evaluatory clauses are very limited and there is hardly an evaluatory comment that is not related to the narrative action. There is no general comment about life or criminals or women or society. It seems that Watson’s whole point is to tell an interesting story about the extraordinary detective powers of Holmes and the evaluatory comments that he makes are all related to this aspect of the tellabilty of the story. (‘Singular and complex problem’, pg.117; ‘ --it was admirably done’, pg. 137) Thus, we can say that Watson follows the maxim of quantity very well.
As for as maxims of quality are concerned, we should again remember that Watson is the narrator of the story. His narration is necessarily limited by his knowledge and his interpretation of the events. He does not ever consciously mislead us. His interpretation of certain things may be wrong. For example, when Holmes faints, he does not know that Holmes is pretending. He assumes that Holmes is really not well. The
author deliberately uses the first person narrator to mislead us, the readers. Watson also never enters into the mind of other characters and presents their thoughts. He strictly follows the two maxims of quality.
Watson’s narration is also very strictly relevant. If we look at the event sequences in the novel, we can see that all the events are connected to the one theme of the detection. In this regard, both the author and the narrator follow the maxim of narration. There is no event that remains unconnected to the main theme at the end of the novel. Sometimes relevancy is postponed, but the final resolution will show that the event was relevant after all. For example, Holmes fainting seems to be irrelevant at that particular point of time. Nevertheless, we later on know that that event has connections with the detection of the crime.
Watson also follows the maxim of manner within his limitations. When he does not follow the maxim of manner, it is mainly because he himself is not clear about the significance of the events. Obscurity and ambiguity are there because Watson has not been able to decipher the clues. Even then, he tries his best to be cooperative, as when he reproduces the facsimile of the piece of paper which is an important clue. He does not
make the narrative long and he does present the events in an orderly manner from his point of view. That is, he has narrated the events in the order in which he has come to know them.
It is here that we should note that the author’s purpose and the narrator’s purpose are different. Watson, as he has been used in the novel, is a faithful narrator who wants to follow the cooperative principles. But the author, in addition to following the cooperative principles, should also follow the specific demands of the type of narrative text that he is creating. Sometimes, the demands of the ‘script’ may go against the cooperative principals. When such violations occur, we should think of them as deliberate and look for the implicatures. For example, the overriding focus of a detective fiction of the type that was popularized by Doyle and later on by Agatha Christie is the suspense. Any orderly presentation of facts will certainly destroy the ‘ raiso-de-etre’ of detective fiction. Ambiguity and obscurity are also a necessary part of the detective fiction. In other words, to write a detective novel, an author will have to violate the cooperative principles.
It is here that the use of a narrator like Watson becomes very important. This narrator is apparently cooperative, but his cooperation is a mask for the violation of the cooperative principals by the author. Thus, Watson in this short story, as else where becomes a narratorial tool for creating the illusion of cooperation. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Doyle, Arthur Conan The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1950) Penguin Books
Watts, Richard J. The Pragmalinguistic Analysis of Narrative Texts (1981) Gunter Narr Verlag Tübingen
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