A Guide to the Theory of Narrative


Иностранные языки, филология и лингвистика

Normally, the literature department of a bookshop is subdivided into sections that reflect the traditional genres -- Poetry, Drama, and Fiction. The texts that one finds in the Fiction department are novels and short stories (short stories are usually published in an anthology or a collection).



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Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative
Manfred Jahn

Full reference: Jahn, Manfred. 2003. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative. Part III of Poems, Plays, and Prose: A Guide to the Theory of Literary Genres. English Department, University of Cologne.
Version: 1.7.
Date: 28 July 2003
This page: http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppn.htm
Project introductory page: http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/ppp.htm
Email: Manfred.Jahn@Uni-Koeln.de. (Comments and questions of common interest will be published on this project's questions and answer page pppq.htm.)
Homepage: http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/

To facilitate global indexing, all paragraphs in this section are labeled 'N' for 'narratology'. If you quote from this document, use paragraph references (e.g., N5.4) rather than page numbers.

N1. Getting started
N2. The narratological framework
N2.1 Background and basics
N2.2. Narrative genres
N2.3. Narrative communication
N2.4. Narrative Levels
N3. Narration, Focalization, and Narrative Situations
N3.1. Narration (voice)
N3.2. Focalization (mood)
N3.3. Narrative situation
N4. Action, story analysis, tellability
N5. Tense, Time, and Narrative Modes
N5.1. Narrative Tenses
N5.2. Time Analysis
N5.3. Narrative Modes
N6. Setting and fictional space
N7. Characters and Characterization
N8. Discourses: representations of speech, thought and consciousness
N9. A Case Study: Alan Sillitoe's "The Fishing Boat Picture"
N10. References.

N1. Getting started

This chapter builds a toolbox of basic narratological concepts and shows how to put it to work in the analysis of fiction. The definitions are based on a number of classical introductions -- specifically, Genette (1980 [1972]; 1988 [1983], key terms: voice, homo- and heterodiegetic, focalization); Chatman (1978, key terms: overtness, covertness), Lanser (1981; key terms: voice, human limitation, omniscience); Stanzel (1984, key terms: narrative situation, authorial, figural, reflector), and Bal (1985, key term: focalizer). In the later chapters of this script, the toolbox will serve as an organizational framework for contextualizing a large number of more specific terms and concepts.

N1.1. Normally, the literature department of a bookshop is subdivided into sections that reflect the traditional genres -- Poetry, Drama, and Fiction. The texts that one finds in the Fiction department are novels and short stories (short stories are usually published in an anthology or a collection). In order to facilitate comparison, all passages quoted in the following are taken from the first chapters of novels. Thus, as a side effect, this section will also be a survey of representative incipits (beginnings). Hey, that's one technical term out of the way already.

The foregoing decision to generalize from a single text type is motivated by purely practical reasons. There is nothing logical or necessary about it; indeed, many theorists prefer to kick off with more "basic" types of narratives, real-world narratives such as anecdotes, news reports, etc., and then work their way "up" to fiction. Here, however, I suggest doing it the other way round. Novels are an extremely rich and varied medium: everything you can find in other types of narrative you find in the novel; most of what you find in the novel you can find in other types of narrative, whether in nonfiction, natural narrative, drama, film, etc. So, let's go to the bookshelf, get out a few novels, open them on page 1, and see what we can do to get an analytical grip on them.

N1.2. First we must define narrative itself. What are the main ingredients of a narrative? What must a narrative have for it to count as narrative? For a simple answer let us say that all narratives have a story. But let us immediately add two additional requirements: (1) any kind of story is not enough; let us stipulate that a story must have an action which involves characters; and (2) let us also assume that all stories come with a story-teller. Actually, our preferred term for a story-teller will be 'narrator'. A narrative has a story based on an action caused and experienced by characters, and a narrator who tells it. Indeed, this getting started section will mainly focus on narrators and characters.

N1.3. In a real-life face-to-face narrative situation, we have a narrator who is a flesh-and-blood person, somebody who sees us, somebody whom we can see and hear. But what do we know of a textual narrator when all we get is lines of print? Can such a narrator have a voice, and if so, how can it become manifest in a text? Consider our first excerpt, from the beginning of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye (first published 1951).

Chapter One

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two haemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They are nice and all -- I'm not saying that -- but they are also touchy as hell. Besides, I'm not going to tell you my whole goddamn autobiography or anything. I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. (Salinger, Catcher in the Rye 5)

Even though we cannot actually see or hear the narrator, the text contains a number of elements that project the narrator's voice. Clearly, it is not very hard to read out the passage and give it an appropriate intonation. The characteristic voice projected from the text seems to be voice of a teenage boy, for instance. (If you are familiar with the text you know that the narrator, Holden Caulfield, is actually seventeen.) Much the same happens when you read an email from a friend and her voice projects from some typical expressions -- you can almost "hear her speak"). We will say that all novels project a narrative voice, some more distinct, some less, some to a greater, some to a lesser degree. Because a text can project a narrative voice we will also refer to the text as a narrative discourse. (One of the narratological key texts is Genette 1972, a study entitled Narrative Discourse; another is Chatman 1978, Story and Discourse. So, we are evidently right on target.) We focus our attention on a novel's narrative voice by asking Who speaks? Obviously, the more information we have on a narrator, the more concrete will be our sense of the quality and distinctness of his or her voice.

N1.4. Which textual elements in particular project a narrative voice? Here is an (incomplete) list of the kinds of 'voice markers' to look out for:

  •  Content matter -- obviously, there are appropriate voices for sad and happy, comic and tragic subjects (though precise type of intonation never follows automatically). It is clear, however, that the phrasing "my parents would have about two haemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them" (in the passage qtd above) uses a characteristically vocal rhetoric of exaggeration.
  •  Subjective expressions -- expressions (or 'expressivity markers') that indicate the narrator's education, his/her beliefs, convictions, interests, values, political and ideological orientation, attitude towards people, events, and things. In Salinger's text, we do not only get an idea about the narrator's age and background, his discourse is full of value judgments, terms of endearment, disparagement, and expletives. In the passage quoted he calls his parents "nice and all" (the word "nice" is rendered as italicized emphasis); he does not want to write a "goddamn autobiography", he alludes to "all that crap" and the "madman stuff" that happened to him, and so on.
  •  Pragmatic signals -- expressions that signal the narrator's awareness of an audience and the degree of his/her orientation towards it. Storytelling, like speaking in general, takes place in a communicative setting comprising a speaker and an audience (or, a bit more generally, in order to account for written communication as well, an addresser and an addressee).

N1.5. Further on pragmatic signals. In the Salinger passage, the narrator frequently addresses an addressee using the second person pronoun ("you"). Although this is exactly what we expect in ordinary conversational storytelling, if you look (and listen) closely, you will notice that Holden treats his addressee more as an imagined entity than as somebody who is bodily present. For instance, he is careful to say "if you really want to hear about it [...] you'll probably want to know". This rather sounds as if he is addressing somebody whom he does not know very closely. Nor does the addressee actually say anything. At this point, we cannot tell whether Holden has a particular addressee in mind, or whether he addresses a more general, perhaps merely hypothetical audience. "You" could be either singular or plural. Some critics assume that Holden's addressee is a psychiatrist, and "here", the place where he can "take it easy" after all that "madman stuff", might well refer to a mental hospital. Frankly, I have forgotten whether the question is ever resolved in the novel. Whatever the answer, it is obvious that it can make a difference in principle whether the narrative is uttered as a private or a public communication, to a present or an absent audience.

N1.6. Oddly enough, there is one specific audience that neither Holden Caulfield nor any other narrator in fiction can ever be concretely aware of, and that is us, the audience of real readers. We read Salinger's novel, not Holden's; as a matter of fact, Holden isn't writing a novel at all, he is telling a tale of personal experience. The novel's text projects a narrative voice, but the text's narrator is temporally, spatially, and ontologically distant from us. Ontologically distant means he belongs to a different world, a fictional world. Fictional means invented, imaginary, not real. The narrator, his/her addressee, the characters in the story -- all are fictional beings. Put slightly differently, Holden Caulfield is just a 'paper being' (Barthes) invented by Salinger, the novel's author. And again, Salinger's novel is a novel about somebody telling a story of personal experience; Holden's story is the story of that personal experience.

Just as it is a good idea not to confuse a narrator (Holden, a fictional being) with the author (Salinger, the real person who earned money on the novel), we must not confuse a fictional addressee (the text's "you") with ourselves, the real readers. Holden cannot possibly address us because he does not know we exist. Conversely, we cannot talk to Holden (unless we do it in our imagination) because we know he does not exist. By contrast, the relationship between us and authors is real enough. We can write them a letter, we can ask them to sign our copy (if they are still alive). Even when they are dead, readers who appreciate their work ensure their lasting reputation. There are no such points of contact with Holden. The closest analogy to a real-life scenario is when we read a message which was not intended for our eyes, or when we overhear a conversation whose participants are unaware of the fact that we are (illicitly) listening in. Fiction, one might say, offers the gratification of eavesdropping with impunity.

N1.7. What we have just established is the standard structure of fictional narrative communication. Participants and levels are usually shown in a 'Chinese boxes' model. Basically, communicative contact is possible between (1) author and reader on the level of nonfictional communication, (2) narrator and audience or addressee(s) on the level of fictional mediation, and (3) characters on the level of action. The first level is an 'extratextual level'; levels two and three are 'intratextual'.

N1.8. The beginning of Salinger's novel projects quite a distinctive narrative voice. Other novels project other kinds of voices, and sometimes it may be quite difficult to pinpoint their exact quality. What, for instance, do you make of the following incipit to James Gould Cozzens's A Cure of Flesh (first published 1933)?


THE snowstorm, which began at dawn on Tuesday, February 17th, and did not stop when darkness came, extended all over New England. It covered the state of Connecticut with more than a foot of snow. As early as noon, Tuesday, United States Highway No. 6W, passing through New Winton, had become practically impassable. Wednesday morning the snow-ploughs were out. Thursday was warmer. The thin coat of snow left by the big scrapers melted off. Thursday night the wind went around west while the surface dried. Friday, under clear, intensely cold skies, US6W's three lane concrete was clear again from Long Island Sound to the Massachusetts line. (Cozzens, A Cure of Flesh 5)

Contrast this narrative discourse to the narrative discourse that we heard in Salinger's text. The Salinger passage gave us plenty of information about the pragmatic parameters of the narrative situation: there was an addressee (a "you") who was spoken to, we had rich indications of the narrator's language and emotional constitution. None of this is to be found in the present passage. Knowing the rest of the novel, I can tell you that we will never learn the narrator's name, he* will never use the first-person pronoun (that is, will never refer to himself), and he will never directly speak to his addressee. Yet we can recognize well enough that this is a narrator who begins his narrative with an intelligible exposition of the setting of the story. This is a text which has a function and a purpose and therefore projects a purposeful voice. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to imagine somebody speaking or writing without using any style at all (we will come to such a case, however). In ordinary circumstances, at any rate, one is required to speak 'co-operatively' (as pragmaticists put it) -- one selects expressions that are suitable to the purpose in hand, and suitable expressions rely on assumptions about possible readers, their informative needs, intellectual capabilities, interests, etc. Speaking, we do that all the time, or at any rate ought to. Approaching the matter from this angle, one can see that Cozzens's narrator presents a sequence of concise and carefully worded statements which very adequately serve a reader's needs. Reading the passage out loud we'd probably give it a neutral or matter-of-fact voice. But, of course, a matter-of-fact voice is definitely more than no voice at all. At the same time, compared to Holden's voice, this narrator's voice is notably less distinctive.

* Lanser's rule (N3.1.3.) will be observed throughout -- if the narrator is nameless, I will use a pronoun that is appropriate for the real-life author. Cozzens is a male author; hence I refer to the covert narrator in the passage as "he".

N1.9. Having established the foregoing difference in distinctiveness, the audibility of a narrative voice is best understood as being a matter of degrees. In fact, following Chatman (1978), narrative theorists often use the oppositional pair overtness and covertness to characterize a narrative voice, adding whichever qualification or gradation is needed. Narrators can be more or less overt, and more or less covert. Both Holden Caulfield and Cozzens's anonymous narrator are overt narrators, but Holden is clearly the more overt of the two.

Covert narrators, now, must clearly have a largely indistinct or indeterminable voice. Although we have yet to meet covert narration as a phenomenon, let us briefly speculate on how it might be possible at all. By simply inverting our definition of overtness, we can say that a covert narrator must be an inconspicuous and indistinct narrator -- a narrator who fades into the background, perhaps, one who camouflages him- or herself, who goes into hiding. What hiding strategies are there? Obviously, one can try not to draw attention to oneself -- hence a narrator who wishes to stay covert will avoid the first-person pronoun, will also avoid a loud or striking voice, and will also avoid any of the pragmatic or expressivity markers mentioned in N1.4. One can also hide behind something; if all else fails, one can hide behind someone. (Keep this in mind; it will get us somewhere.)

N1.10. So far we have been talking about a narrator's voice as projected by textual expressions signaling emotion, subjectivity, pragmatics, rhetoric, etc. Let us now turn to the question of the narrator's relationship to his or her story, more specifically, the question whether the narrator is present or absent in it. (The narrative types that we are going to identify here are said to be based on the 'relation criterion'). Using common terms, we know that any author of fiction (anybody who tells a story, actually) must decide on one of two basic options: whether to present a first-person narrative or a third-person narrative. Considerable debate has raged among theorists about the suitability of these terms, and while 'first-person narrative' is still widely used (we, too, will use it presently), the term third-person narrative has generally been recognized to be misleading. In the following I will therefore adopt the terms suggested by Genette (1972) -- homodiegetic narrative (= roughly, first-person narrative) and heterodiegetic narrative (= third-person narrative). Diegetic here means 'pertaining to narrating'; homo means 'of the same nature', and hetero means 'of a different nature'. The detailed definitions are as follows:

  •  In a homodiegetic narrative, the story is told by a (homodiegetic) narrator who is present as a character in the story. The prefix 'homo-' points to the fact that the individual who acts as a narrator is also a character on the level of action.
  •  In a heterodiegetic narrative, the story is told by a (heterodiegetic) narrator who is not present as a character in the story. The prefix 'hetero-' alludes to the 'different nature' of the narrator's world as compared to the world of the action.

N1.11. Usually (but not always, and that is a major theoretical problem), Genette's two categorical types correlate with a text's use of first-person and third-person pronouns -- I, me, mine, we, us, our, etc., as opposed to he, she, him, her, they, their, etc. In fact, there is quite a good rule of thumb (but it is only a rule of thumb) to the effect that:

  •  a text is homodiegetic if among its story-related action sentences there are some that contain first-person pronouns (I did this; I saw this; this was what happened to me), indicating that the narrator was at least a witness to the events depicted;
  •  a text is heterodiegetic if all of its story-related action sentences are third-person sentences (She did this, this was what happened to him).

In yet other words, in order to determine the 'relation' type of a narrative, one must check for the presence or absence of an 'experiencing I' in the story's plain action sentences. Note well, the expression 'plain, story-related action sentence' refers to sentences which present an event involving the characters in the story. For instance, "He jumped from the bridge" (= willful action), and "She fell from the bridge" (= involuntary action), and "I said, 'Hello'" (= speech act) are all plain action sentences. By contrast, "Here comes the sad part of our story", and "It was a dark and stormy night" (i.e., a comment and a description) are not plain action sentences.

Novels make use of many types of sentences, and not all of them are plain action sentences -- for instance, descriptions, quotations, comments, etc., are not. Indeed, as we have already seen, many novels begin with an exposition-oriented prologue (a 'block exposition'), introducing characters and setting, often via descriptive statements. While such prologues tell us a lot about the quality of the narrative voice (cp. the Salinger and the Cozzens passages above), they do not necessarily tell us whether the narrative is going to be homodiegetic or heterodiegetic. It is only when the story itself gets going, employing proper action sentences as defined above, that we get into a position to judge whether the narrator is present or absent as an acting character in the story. Actually, sometimes we have to wait quite a while until we get the full picture of which characters are involved in what ways. Sooner or later, however, a narrator's relation to his or her story should be a decidable question.

N1.12. We have, of course, already discussed a homodiegetic passage, namely Salinger's Catcher in the Rye (if you recall, this is a story about "what happened to me"). At this point, however, an incipit which, for the reasons just mentioned, is a bit more action-oriented can serve as a more straightforward case. Here is the beginning of Margaret Drabble's The Millstone (published 1965).

My career has always been marked by a strange mixture of confidence and cowardice: almost, one might say, made by it. Take for instance, the first time I tried spending a night with a man in a hotel. I was nineteen at the time, an age appropriate for such adventures, and needless to say I was not married. I am still not married, a fact of some significance, but more of that later. The name of the boy, if I remember rightly, was Hamish. I do remember rightly. I really must try not to be deprecating. Confidence, not cowardice, is the part of myself which I admire, after all.

     Hamish and I had just come down from Cambridge at the end of the Christmas term: we had conceived our plan well in advance [...]. (Margaret Drabble, The Millstone 5)

For analysis, I will simply repeat the text, inserting some analytical annotations:

My career [aha, this looks like a story of personal experience, perhaps an autobiography] has always been marked by a strange mixture of confidence and cowardice: almost, one might say, made by it [presumably spoken in the tone of reflective comment]. Take for instance [narrator acknowledging an addressee, and providing an illustration to a generalization], the first time I tried spending a night with a man [looks like the narrator is female, so this is a female voice] in a hotel. I was nineteen at the time [this is the age of the experiencing I, the present narrating I is clearly older, presumably wiser, more advanced on her "career"], an age appropriate for such adventures, and needless to say I was not married. I am still not married [further self-characterization of the narrating I], a fact of some significance [narrator drawing attention to what's going to be "significant"], but more of that later. The name of the boy, if I remember rightly [note typical memory mode of homodiegetic narration], was Hamish. I do remember rightly [self-conscious correction]. I really must try not to be deprecating [allusion to tone of voice]. Confidence, not cowardice, is the part of myself which I admire, after all. Hamish and I had just come down from Cambridge at the end of the Christmas term: we had conceived our plan well in advance ... [this is still background action but will soon shift into ordinary past-tense action presentation].

N1.13. According to Genette, Drabble's novel is a homodiegetic narrative on the strength of the single 'relation' condition that the narrator is present as a character in her story. In order to assess the typical implications of such a scenario, and put them to work in our interpretation, we will also make use of Stanzel's theory of typical narrative situations. For this line of inquiry, it is important to realize, first of all, that a homodiegetic narrator always tells a story of personal experience, whereas a heterodiegetic narrator tells a story about other people's experiences. According to Stanzel, Drabble's text is a typical first-person narrative (in the context of narrative situations, we will prefer this term over homodiegetic narrative) because the narrator tells an autobiographical story about a set of past experiences -- experiences that evidently shaped and changed her life and made her into what she is today. Like other typical first-person narrators, she is restricted to a largely personal, subjective, and limited point of view. She has no direct access to (or authority on) events she did not witness in person, she can't be in two places at the same time (this is sometimes called the law against bilocation), and she has no way of knowing for certain what went on in the minds of other characters (in philosophy, this restriction is called the "Other Minds" problem). It is obvious that a narrator's handling of these limitations, and a text's relative closeness to, or distance from, such typicality conditions ('default conditions') can tell us a lot about the 'slant' or attitude of the narrative voice as well as the motives for telling the story.

N1.14. For an example of heterodiegetic narration consider the beginning of George Eliot's Adam Bede (first published 1859). This time, I am directly adding various annotations.



With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertakes to reveal to any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past. This is what I undertake to do for you, reader. [Self-reference of an overt narrator, and acknowledgment of a reader-addressee, also a 'metanarrative comment', i.e. a reflection on the nature of storytelling itself.] With this drop of ink at the end of my pen I will show you the roomy workshop of Mr. Jonathan Burge, carpenter and builder in the village of Hayslope, as it appeared on the eighteenth of June, in the year of our Lord 1799. [Deliberate, addressee-conscious exposition of time and place of action (already alluded to in chapter subheading).]

     The afternoon sun was warm on the five workmen there, busy upon doors and window-frames and wainscoting. A scent of pine-wood from a tent-like pile of planks outside the open door mingled itself with the scent of the elder-bushes which were spreading their summer snow close to the open window opposite [...]. [A] rough grey shepherd-dog [...] was lying with his nose between his forepaws, occasionally wrinkling his brows to cast a glance at the tallest of the five workmen, who was carving a shield in the centre of a wooden mantelpiece. It was to this workman that the strong baritone belonged which was heard above the sound of plane and hammer [...]. (George Eliot, Adam Bede 49)

Puzzled why this is classified as a heterodiegetic text? After all, aren't there three first-person pronouns (two "I"s, one "my") in the first paragraph? True enough, but so what. Any narrator can refer to him- or herself using the first-person pronoun. Looking at first-person pronouns and overlooking the context in which they occur is just like walking into a trap -- the notorious "first-person pronoun trap". Re-check the definitions above to ensure that the only thing that is relevant for determining whether a text is homodiegetic or heterodiegetic is the relation of the narrator to his or her story -- if they are present in the action, they are homodiegetic, if not they are heterodiegetic. The first paragraph of Eliot's novel gives us the background setting of the story, uttered by a highly overt narrator (in this respect the three first-person pronouns are relevant, but they project a voice characteristic, not a relation; we are listening to an overt narrator but whether this is going to be a story of personal experience or not is still an open question). At the same time one can already sense that the exposition is presented by somebody who is above and beyond all the people and things in the story. This is not really a remembering voice. Apparently the narrator knows all the facts, yet nobody is going to ask her how she came by her knowledge. When the story gets going in the second paragraph, all characters in it (so far, at any rate) are third-person characters. Any first-person identifying an acting or speaking character in the action itself would be significant indeed. But nothing like that happens. As a matter of fact, we'd all be a bit disoriented, I suppose, if the second paragraph began with the words "The afternoon sun was warm on the five workmen there, and I was one of them".

N1.15. Remember, a heterodiegetic narrator is somebody who is not, and never was, a character in the world of the story. The fact that a heterodiegetic narrator has a position outside the world of the story makes it easy for us to accept what we would never accept in real life -- that somebody should have unlimited knowledge and authority. Heterodiegetic narrators typically assume the power of omniscience -- knowing everything -- as if this were the most natural thing in the world. When inclined to speak overtly, heterodiegetic narrators can speak directly to their addressees, and they can liberally comment on action, characters, and storytelling itself (as happens in the Eliot excerpt above). (Homodiegetic narrators can do that too, of course, but owing to their specific 'human limitations', especially their lack of omniscience, they tend to do it differently.) Evidently, then, this is again a set of typicality conditions which we can use to enrich Genette's "pure" category of heterodiegetic narratives. Following Stanzel, we will call this type of heterodiegetic-overt narration and the typicality conditions associated with it an authorial narrative situation (or just plain authorial narration). Of course, an authorial narrator's comprehensive ('Olympian') world-view is particularly suited to reveal the moral strengths and weaknesses of the characters. Typical authorial texts are the 19C novels of 'social realism' by authors such as Eliot, Bronte, Dickens, and Hardy.

N1.16. As pointed out above, Genette's categorical distinctions (homo- and heterodiegetic), which are based on a clear-cut 'relation' condition (narrator present or absent in the story), can be fruitfully complemented by considering the typicality features, expectations, and implications that come with Stanzel's narrative situations (first-person and authorial narration, so far). Things get a bit more complicated now because Stanzel's model has yet another typical narrative situation. Because it is a difficult type, and comes with traps of its own, we will approach it with due caution. But you can probably guess what is coming.

Recall that in the preceding paragraph authorial narration was tied to a heterodiegetic and overt, i.e., distinctively voiced narrator. We are now going to refocus our attention on the question of overtness and covertness. All set? Brace yourself, then, and consider this beginning of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (published 1943).


He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.

     "Is that the mill?" he asked.

     "Yes." (Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls 1)

[On a subsequent reading of this script, you might consider the following side issue (tricky questions department): Suppose the last sentence were "Yes," I said. Describe the consequences (a) with respect to narrative type (Genette) and (b) with respect to narrative situation (Stanzel).]

N1.17. In the Hemingway passage, the narrator's voice is much harder to determine than in all of the excerpts quoted so far, including the Cozzens passage. There are three reasons for this:

  1.  We do not get any of the expressivity markers that normally project a distinctive voice -- no first-person self-reference, no value judgments, no italicized emphasis, no indications of a moral agenda, point of interest or purpose, nothing of the sort.
  2.  The narrator is also not active on the pragmatic front. He does not acknowledge any actual or hypothetical addressee(s); quite the contrary, he conspicuously flaunts the maxim of addressee-oriented (reader-friendly) exposition normally expected at the beginning of a novel. After all, setting and characters have to be introduced somehow. Thus far into the text, however, we don't know where we are, we don't know who the characters are, how many there are, or what they are doing there, and, incidentally, if you think they are talking in English you are dead wrong. The only thing we know at this point is that the scene opens in some exterior natural setting, a hilly terrain, evidently; it is daytime, and there are at least two characters talking to each other.
  3.  The main point, however, is that the narrator seems to withdraw or hide behind the main character whom we encounter even in the first word of the text. Minutely, from moment to moment, the text seems to render this character's changing perceptual horizon -- the things he sees, feels, and hears (note how cleverly this is suggested by the "pine-needled floor", the "gently sloping" ground, the wind blowing "overhead"). It won't take long and the text will also render this character's thoughts, plans, and memories, in short, the whole subjective landscape of his consciousness. Then we will also -- but always accidentally, as it were -- learn more about the story's background -- that it is set in the Spanish civil war, that the two characters are engaged in reconnoitering enemy territory, etc.

Here, then, is our heterodiegetic-covert example. Note that two mutually dependent features must come together to produce it: the covertness of the narrator, and a kind of spotlight on one of the story's characters (a "central consciousness", as Henry James fittingly put it). The reading experience created by such a text is quite remarkable. (1) Because the narrator is so covert, the text projects a sense and feeling of 'directness' and 'immediacy' -- and that is quite logical, if one reflects on the meanings of 'direct' and 'immediate'. (2) Because the text is so strictly aligned with a character's spatio-temporal co-ordinates of perception, the reader is drawn into the story and invited to co-experience what it is like to be a participant -- one particular participant -- in the unfolding events.

N1.18. Here are the technical terms that describe the phenomena discussed above. The technique of presenting something from the point of view of a story-internal character is called internal focalization. The character through whose eyes the action is presented is called an internal focalizer (some theorists prefer the term reflector, see N3.2 for more detailed definitions). A focalizer is somebody who focuses his/her attention and perception on something. Note that the Hemingway passage has two occurrences of the verb see, and more seeing and other perception is implied by various other expressions and constructions ('perception indicators'). Even though there are two characters in the action, the subject of the various acts of perception is only one of the two. Finally, the reader's imaginative adoption of a reflector's point of view is usually called 'immersion' or (a bit quaintly) 'transposition to the phantasm' (Bühler 1990 [1934]).

Just as we asked Who speaks? in order to identify a text's narrative voice, we can now use the question Who sees? as a catchphrase to alert us to the possible presence of an internal focalizer. And, again following Stanzel, we will call the specific configuration of a heterodiegetic-covert narrative which backgrounds the narrator and foregrounds internal focalization a figural narrative. The Hemingway passage quoted above is a 'figural' passage, the narrative situation underlying it is a 'figural narrative situation'. The Cozzens passage quoted in N1.8 is not a figural passage because there is no reflector figure and no internal focalization in it. If you need a mnemonic, link reflector figure to figural narration. No reflector figure, no figural narration. For good measure, here is the more general definition:

  •  figural narrative A narrative which presents the story's events as seen through the eyes of a third-person internal focalizer. The narrator of a figural narrative is a covert heterodiegetic narrator hiding behind the presentation of the internal focalizer's consciousness, especially his/her perceptions and thoughts. Because the narrator's discourse closely mimics the focalizer's voice its own vocal quality is largely indistinct. One of the main effects of internal focalization is to attract attention to the mind of the reflector-character and away from the narrator and the processes of narratorial mediation.

The full extent of figural techniques was first explored in the novels and short stories of 20C authors such as Henry James, Franz Kafka, Dorothy Richardson, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and many others. Subduing the overt narrator's intrusive presence, these authors opened the door to an unmediated access to a character's mind, and through this 'prism' or 'filter', to the story's events. Logically enough, the most radical reduction of narrative voice comes when the text presents nothing but a direct quotation of a reflector's thoughts -- in the form of an 'interior monologue' (N8.9). Incidentally, the filmic device of the 'POV shot' (= point-of-view shot) is a close and instructive equivalent of the technique of internal focalization. (Jump to F4.3.8 for a graphic illustration.)

N1.19. To recapitulate: in addition to Genette's two basic types of narratives (homodiegetic and heterodiegetic) our toolbox now also stocks Stanzel's three typical narrative situations: first-person, authorial (heterodiegetic-overt) and figural (heterodiegetic-covert plus internal focalization).

You will be relieved to learn that most prose narratives establish their narrative situation quickly, sometimes (as we have seen) in the very first sentence, and then stick to it throughout the whole text. Be forewarned, however, that there are (i) texts that switch narrative situation from one chapter to the next (e.g., Joyce, Ulysses; Dickens, Bleak House), (ii) texts that switch narrative situations from one passage to another, and (iii) borderline cases whose narrative situation vacillates between one or more types.

N1.20. Suppose somebody asked you whether narrative theory has anything of interest to offer on "How to write a novel". What you could say -- after duly pointing out that narrative theory is more interested in how narrative texts work than in how to make them work -- is this. The history of the novel shows that there are three tried and tested recipes. Recipe no. 1 gives you what we call a homodiegetic narrative: You select one of the story's characters and let her/him tell it as a tale of personal experience. Recipe no. 2 gives you an authorial narrative: You use an overt and heterodiegetic narrator who does not belong to the cast of characters, invest him/her with far-ranging knowledge privileges (up to omniscience), and let him/her tell a story of (for instance) social realism. Finally, recipe no. 3 creates a figural narrative: You use an entirely covert narrator and present the story as if seen through the eyes of an internal focalizer.

N1.21. Now see what you make of the following passage from Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley (first published 1921):

Chapter One

Along this particular stretch of line no express had ever passed. All the trains -- the few that there were -- stopped at all the stations. Denis knew the names of those stations by heart. Bole, Tritton, Spavin Delawarr, Knipswich for Timpany, West Bowlby, and, finally, Camlet-on-the-Water. Camlet was where he always got out, leaving the train to creep indolently onward, goodness only knew whither, into the green heart of England.

     They were snorting out of West Bowlby now. It was the next station, thank Heaven.

Can you say whether this a homodiegetic or a heterodiegetic narrative? Well, personally, I can't see any first person pronoun referring to somebody involved in the action. This isn't what a narrator remembers, is it? The only story-internal character present at all is somebody called Denis, and he is referred to by the third person pronoun, "he". It is surely unlikely that a first-person character -- an experiencing I -- should suddenly join him, out of the blue, so to speak. Therefore, most likely this is a heterodiegetic narrative. (And so it is.)

N1.22. But now for a few more challenging questions. First, what can one say about the quality of the narrative voice? Well, in the first two sentences, at least, we seem to be getting some background information (on setting and railway lines). This is roughly reminiscent of what we had in the Cozzens excerpt. So this, too, is an addressee-conscious narratorial exposition in a neutral tone of voice. Is it?

Actually, no, this is not a very satisfactory explanation. For, unlike the Cozzens excerpt, this one has plenty of emotional and subjective expressions in it -- expressions like "goodness only knew", "the green heart of England", "thank Heaven" -- and since these are strong voice markers they suggest a highly overt rather than a neutrally overt voice (as in Cozzens). So what we have is heterodiegetic-overt narration then?

Nope, that isn't it, either. Note that the third sentence begins with the words "Denis knew", which is rather reminiscent of the figural style of the Hemingway excerpt (N1.12). What now? Is the text, and are we as readers, hovering between, or perhaps helplessly tossed among, different modes of narrative?

N1.23. Although this is not really a difficult text, the questions raised by it are difficult to answer on a theoretical level. Any strategy that helps explain how readers negotiate such texts is therefore most welcome.

One such strategy is the 'FID test' which Michael Toolan has proposed recently (2001: 132). FID is a common abbreviation for free indirect discourse -- a term which I am sure you have come across hundreds of times already in your studies. Put simply, FID is a technique for rendering a character's speech or thought. FID does this 'indirectly' in the sense that it transposes pronouns and tenses into the pronoun/tense system of the narrative's ordinary narrative sentences (for instance, it may shift a first person into a third person, and the present tense into the past). But there are no quotation marks, and often any identification of speaker or thinker (he said, she thought etc.) is also dropped. As a consequence, there is often no formal difference between FID (reporting a character's speech or thought) and a plain narratorial statement. Now, it may not be very important whether a sentence is the one thing or the other -- for instance, nothing may hinge on whether It was twelve o'clock; he had plenty of time to catch the plane is just the rendering of a character's thought or a piece of information given by the narrator, or even both. Then again, it may make all the difference: suppose the clock is slow, the character misses the plane, the plane crashes ... you see what I mean.

In the light of this, consider "It was the next station, thank Heaven". If we take that to be a representation of a thought going through Denis's head, then we construe the sentence as FID. Read as a narratorial statement, the sentence might express the narrator's relief ("thank heaven") to have finally come to this part of the story. Of course, this second reading is an entirely far-fetched one. In order to test whether a sentence is FID or a narratorial statement, Toolan suggests to construct two unambiguous and fully explicit versions -- one which explicitly binds the sentence to the character, and another which explicitly binds it to the narrator. The next step is to assess, on the strength of both content and context, which version produces a better "fit". Contrast these two versions, then:

I, the narrator, can tell you, the reader, that it was the next station, thank Heaven.

It was the next station, thank Heaven, Denis thought.

As might be expected, given the context of the sentence and the general content of the passage, the second construction is much more plausible than the first one. Hence we conclude that the original sentence is indeed a FID representation of Denis's thought (we can even 'backshift' it to recover its original form -- "It is the next station, thank Heaven", and we see at once that it fits well). We will say that the FID test registers positively on the sentence in question. The upshot of this is that we can now claim that the emotional tone projected from "thank Heaven" is not the narrator's but Denis's.

N1.24. Let us now extend the FID test and turn it into an 'IF test' (this is not a common term), a test of internal focalization. Internal focalization is mainly concerned with what goes on in a character's consciousness -- thoughts as well as perception, feeling, knowledge. For instance, that list of oddly named train stations -- is that some kind of information that the narrator provides for our benefit? Or does Denis simply rehearse this list in his mind? Again we should use context and content in order to decide this question. The sentence preceding the sentence in question actually tells us that Denis knows the names of the stations "by heart". Don't write this off as an accident; rather, take it as contextual evidence supporting the interpretation that he is now rehearsing them.

N1.25. Huxley's text really requires us to make many similar decisions, and basically they all work out in the same way. For instance, who is more likely to conceptualize the train's further progress as "creeping indolently onward", the narrator or Denis? Who does not really know (or perhaps care) where the train goes ultimately -- "goodness only knew whither" -- the narrator or Denis? (Remember: a standard authorial narrator normally has a knowledge privilege.) Who is the originator of the image of "the green heart of England"? Well, I trust the pieces of the puzzle have long fallen into place. Apparently, one can source all judgments and expressivity markers in this passage more appropriately in the internal focalizer (i.e., Denis) than in the narrator. And, somewhat surprisingly, this even goes for the very first sentence, the sentence that looked like plain narratorial exposition at first glance. Compare:

I, the narrator, tell you, the reader, that along this particular stretch of line no express had ever passed.

Along this particular stretch of line, Denis assumed, no express had ever passed.

While the IF test is never absolutely conclusive, it allows us to argue for or against a particular option. In this case, we see that the internally focalized reading is quite an appropriate one. (Admittedly, however, the story's first sentence could also be the incipit of an authorial narrative. Which ingredients would actually have to be added to the text to make it an authorial one?)

N1.26. Once one looks at the continuation of the text, the narrative situation jells into a plain case of figural narration with all that's implied by it:

     Denis took his chattels off the rack and piled them neatly in the corner opposite his own. A futile proceeding. But one must have something to do. When he had finished, he sank back into his seat and closed his eyes. It was extremely hot.

     Oh, this journey! It was two hours cut clean out of his life; two hours in which he might have done so much, so much -- written the perfect poem, for example, or read the one illuminating book. Instead of which -- his gorge rose at the smell of the dusty cushions against which he was leaning.

     Two hours. One hundred and twenty minutes. Anything might be done in that time. Anything. Nothing. Oh, he had had hundreds of hours, and what had he done with them? Wasted them, spilt the precious minutes as though his reservoir were inexhaustible. Denis groaned in the spirit, condemned himself utterly with all his works. What right had he to sit in the sunshine, to occupy corner seats in third-class carriages, to be alive? None, none, none.

     Misery and a nameless nostalgic distress possessed him. He was twenty-three, and oh! so agonizingly conscious of the fact. The train came bumpingly to a halt. Here was Camlet at last. (Aldous Huxley, Crome Yellow 5)

For an exercise, test your own intuitions by selectively applying the FID/IF test in this passage. Again, all distinct voice-indicating emotional expressions will attach more plausibly to the internal focalizer than to the narrator. This confirms what we found earlier, namely that any vocal quality of this text belongs to the character, not the narrator. Ultimately, we can say very little about the narrator's voice because the narrator effectively hides (himself and his voice) behind the presentation of the internal focalizer's voice (and perception and consciousness). One could also say he hides his own voice by imitating the character's voice.

N1.27. Ready for another turn of the screw? As we are coming to the end of this section, I want to test our toolbox by looking at two further examples. The first is the incipit of Jane Austen's Emma first published in 1816). For a suitable division of labor, I propose to do most of the work at first, answering the simple questions, and then you get a chance to have a go at the hard ones.


EMMA WOODHOUSE, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

This is clearly an overt narratorial voice engaged in giving concise and reader-conscious expository information on the main character (a block characterization, in other words). The paragraphs that follow present additional background information on the Woodhouse family. The narrator introduces a governess, summarizes Emma's childhood and adolescence, and comments on the developing friendship between the two women:

     She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father, and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses, and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

     Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr Woodhouse's family less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.

Some of character traits attributed to Emma are obviously wholly conventional, others strike one as slightly unexpected, perhaps deserving careful intonation. Observe the projected tone of voice in "and Emma doing just what she liked", for instance. At any rate, in the following paragraph, the narrator gets down to a crucial point -- the heroine's personality -- more directly.

     The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy [= impairment, M.J.] to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.

Clearly, this is said in a judgmental voice, and whatever else may be entailed by the summary characterization of Emma it is not an entirely positive one. What, do you think, is it in particular that is "unperceived" by Emma (but apparently quite obvious to the narrator)?

N1.28. (Emma, continued.) The paragraphs following the preceding passage now move from plain exposition of background information (often using sentences cast in the past perfect tense) to a presentation of more concrete events and action (cast in the simple past, the novel's basic narrative tense). The novel's action proper begins on the evening of Miss Taylor's wedding day, an event which causes a major change of state in the affairs of the protagonists.

     Sorrow came -- a gentle sorrow -- but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciousness. -- Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance. The wedding over and the bride-people gone, her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer a long evening. Her father composed himself to sleep after dinner, as usual, and she had then only to sit and think of what she had lost.

     The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr Weston was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match; but it was a black morning's work for her. The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day. She recalled her past kindness -- the kindness, the affection of sixteen years -- how she had taught and how she had played with her from five years old -- how she had devoted all her powers to attach and amuse her in health -- and how nursed her through the various illnesses of childhood. A large debt of gratitude was owing here; but the intercourse of the last seven years, the equal footing and perfect unreserve which had soon followed Isabella's marriage on their being left to each other, was yet a dearer, tenderer recollection. It had been a friend and companion such as few possessed, intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways of the family, interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in herself, in every pleasure, every scheme of her's; - one to whom she could speak every thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for her as could never find fault.

     How was she to bear the change? - It was true that her friend was going only half a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great must be the difference between a Mrs Weston only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful. (Jane Austen, Emma 37-38)

First of all, the knowledge privilege now exhibited by the narrator confirms that this is a heterodiegetic narrative situated in a typical authorial narrative situation (as you surely suspected from the beginning). There is no experiencing I in the action, and a first-person narrator just would have no way of knowing how Emma spent her time on the evening of that particular day.

N1.29. More importantly, however, as you negotiate these paragraphs, you will (hopefully) notice a gradual development and shift in narrative orientation. Try to put your finger on it. First of all, the text begins to focus on single, concrete events. Whereas at the beginning of the novel we were given summary accounts of large-scale events (e.g. Emma's mother's death), we are now situated in the middle of an ongoing action sequence. Does this development go hand in hand with what we have previously identified as 'internal focalization'? Of course, we can easily ask Toolan's FID/IF test questions. Is it the narrator who, reader-friendly and duty-bound as she is, informs us of the fact that "The event had every promise of happiness for [Miss Taylor]"? In other words, is this an important piece of factual information she wants us to know? Or is there a more likely alternative reading? Next, who is the source of the text's reference to "all her [Emma's] advantages, natural and domestic" -- the narrator? (Actually, there is a salient textual correspondence that suggests that the answer to this question is No rather than Yes.) Again, who is a likely source for the judgment that "her father [...] was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful" -- the narrator? And what difference does it make if it were not the narrator?

We can sum up the whole of the previous line of questioning by asking, how many voices does Austen's text project? And what are the consequences? Watch out, these are loaded questions, and they come with a host of interpretive implications (which is, of course, exactly what we need).

"Emma is the climax of Jane Austen's genius and the Parthenon of fiction" (Ronald Blythe, Introduction to the Penguin edition). Support Blythe's judgment by showing two things: (1) that the text is entirely modern in its anticipation of a future narrative technique; (2) that the global narrative design of the novel is effectively implied and established on page 1 (you'll have to speculate a bit on what the novel is going to be about).

N1.30. Finally, here is another incipit (from Raymond Chandler's The High Window, published 1943). Write down a protocol of your reading experience; pay particular attention to your understanding (or non-understanding) of the narrative situation as it evolves from sentence to sentence. The bracketed note numbers in the text refer to the "questions and hints" below.

Chapter One

THE house was on Dresden Avenue in the Oak Knoll section of Pasadena, a big solid cool-looking[1] house with burgundy brick walls, a terra-cotta tile roof, and a white stone trim. The front windows were leaded downstairs. Upstairs windows were of the cottage type and had a lot of rococo imitation stonework trimming around them.

     From the front wall and its attendant flowering bushes a half-acre or so of fine green lawn[2] drifted in a gentle slope down to the street, passing on the way an enormous deodar[3] around which it flowed like a cool green tide around a rock. [...] There was a heavy scent of summer on the morning and everything that grew was perfectly still in the breathless air they get over there on what they call a nice cool day.[4]

     All I knew about the people[5] was that they were a Mrs Elizabeth Bright Murdock and family and that she wanted to hire a nice clean private detective who wouldn't drop cigar ashes on the floor and never carried more than one gun.[6] And I knew she was the widow of an old coot with whiskers named Jasper Murdock who had made a lot of money helping out the community, and got his photograph in the Pasadena paper every year on his anniversary, with the years of his birth and death underneath, and the legend: His Life Was His Service.[7]

     I left my car on the street and walked over a few dozen stumbler stones set into the green lawn, and rang the bell in the brick portico under a peaked roof.[8] (Raymond Chandler, The High Window 5 [1943])

Questions and hints:

  1.  "Cool-looking", it might be argued, is part of a textual isotopy here. Don't know what an isotopy is? Check it out in P3.5.
  2.  What note is struck by indicating the size of somebody's lawn in acres?
  3.  "Deodar" -- had to look it up, it's an "East Indian cedar" (Webster's Collegiate). What does that tell you, I mean, not about me, about the narrator?
  4.  "They" -- as in "us and them"?
  5.  What is your intuition here -- narrating I, experiencing I, or self-reference of an authorial narrator?
  6.  That may be what she wanted, but was it what she got?
  7.  Any comment on projected attitude, tone, etc.?
  8.  It certainly took a while, but now the text's narrative situation is finally firmly established. Why did the narrator do it the way he did? By way of experiment, what would one have to do to transpose ("transvocalize") this passage into a figural narrative? It is absurdly simple: change four words and it is done...

N1.31. Here is a survey of the main features of the incipits discussed in this section.



Type (Genette)

Narrative Situation (Stanzel)

Salinger: "If you really want to hear about it ..." N1.3

highly overt



Cozzens: "The snowstorm, which began at dawn ..." N1.8

neutrally overt


neutral* (unobtrusively authorial)

Drabble: "My career has always been marked ..." N1.12

highly overt


standard first-person autobiographical

Eliot: "With a single drop of ink the Egyptian ..." N1.14

highly overt


authorial (standard 19C pattern)

Hemingway: "He lay flat on the pine-needled ..." N1.16



figural (standard 20C pattern)

Huxley: "Along this particular stretch of the line ..." N1.21, N1.24




Austen: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, ..." N1.27



dynamic: authorial plus internal focalization

Chandler: "The house was on Dresden avenue ..." N1.30

(ultimately) overt



* Stanzel (1955: 28) briefly toyed with the concept of a separate category of 'neutral narration', but this was equivalent to the heterodiegetic-covert mode rather than to the heterodiegetic-weakly-overt voice that characterizes the Cozzens passage. As a matter of fact, after two introductory paragraphs, Cozzens's text shifts gears and proceeds as standard figural narration. See also N3.3.11.

Exercise. Pick some novels or short stories yourself and analyze them by working through the catalog of questions available via the toolbox. You could invite friends, let them bring some novels and do the whole thing as a group exercise, or a quiz ...

N1.32. Outline of major concepts introduced so far.

A. Narrative voice N1.3

     1) Who speaks? N1.3, N1.18

     2) expressivity markers, N1.4

     3) overt/covert voice distinction, N1.9

     4) how to hide a voice, N1.9, N1.17

B. Internal focalization N1.16, N1.24

     1) Who sees? N1.18

     2) internal focalizer/reflector, N1.18

     3) FID/IF test N1.23, N1.24, N8.6

C. Basic types and typical narrative situations

     1) Genette's basic types

           a) homodiegetic, N1.10, N1.20

           b) heterodiegetic, N1.10, N1.21, N1.28

     2) Stanzel's narrative situations (N3.3.1)

           a) first-person, N1.11

           b) authorial, N1.13, N1.20

           c) figural, N1.18, N1.20, N1.26

From here on, you are on your own, and I am sorry to say that the rest of this document is much rougher going -- one definition will simply chase another. Remember that being able to identify whether text X is homodiegetic or heterodiegetic, or authorial or figural, or what not, is fine, but not much. What is really important is that these concepts come with a huge number of assumptions, expectations, implications, and, above all, questions. So get your tools ready and make those questions explicit. Ask yourself, Why should this author choose a homodiegetic narrative, and why is the narrator telling this particular story? Or, Why is this character used as a reflector and not that character? And perhaps, after a while, you will suddenly realize that the tools allow you to say because because because... And that is good because being able to say "because" is what theory and essay writing is all about (Aczel 1998: 49).

N2. The narratological framework

N2.1. Background and basics

N2.1.1. As a discipline, narratology began to take shape in 1966, the year in which the French journal Communications brought out a special issue entitled "The structural analysis of narrative" (actually, a good working definition). The term narratology itself was coined three years later, by one of the contributors to that special issue, Tzvetan Todorov (1969: 9):

  •  narratology The theory of the structures of narrative. To investigate a structure, or to present a 'structural description', the narratologist dissects the narrative phenomena into their component parts and then attempts to determine functions and relationships.

[For a reader's question on the scope of narratology vs. stylistics, see Q3.2.]

N2.1.2. Practically all theories of narrative distinguish between WHAT is narrated (the 'story') and HOW it is narrated (the 'discourse'). Some theorists, among them Gérard Genette, opt for a narrow meaning of the term 'narrative', restricting narratives to verbally narrated texts (Genette 1988: 17); others (Barthes 1975, Chatman 1990, Pavel 1985, Bal 1985) argue that anything that tells a story, in whatever genre, constitutes a narrative. It is this latter view which is adopted here (see N2.2 for a fuller diagram of narrative text types). Here, then, are our first and most basic definitions:

  •  narrative Anything that tells or presents a story, be it by text, picture, performance, or a combination of these. Hence novels, plays, films, comic strips, etc., are narratives.
  •  story A sequence of events involving characters. 'Events' include natural and nonnatural happenings like floods and car accidents. Characters get involved by being agents (causing an event), patients or beneficiaries (being affected by an event). Linguists further make a distinction between verbs which signal willful ('volitional') acts (What does X do? -- jump from a bridge, watch a show) and verbs which signal nonvolitional acts or experiences (What does X experience? -- falling from a bridge, seeing an accident).

In critical practice, 'events' and 'action' are often used synonymously. If necessary -- as in the case of fables -- the term 'character' must be extended so as to include nonhuman agents such as talking animals.

N2.1.3. According to the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (the founding-father of structuralism), any sign consists of a 'signifier' and a 'signified' -- basically, a form and a meaning. For a narrative text -- a complex sign -- the signifier is a 'discourse' (a mode of presentation) and the signified is a 'story' (an action sequence). Hence, narratological investigation usually pursues one of two basic orientations:

  •  discourse narratology analyzes the stylistic choices that determine the form or realization of a narrative text (or performance, in the case of films and plays). Also of interest are the pragmatic features that contextualize text or performance within the social and cultural framework of a narrative act.
  •  story narratology, by contrast, focuses on the action units that 'emplot' and arrange a stream of events into a trajectory of themes, motives and plot lines. The notion of emplotment plays a crucial role in the work of theorists like the historian Hayden White (1981) and cultural philosphers such as Paul Ricoeur (1991) and Michel Foucault. For a more detailed survey of the mechanics of story and plot, the reader is referred to the works of Bremond (1970), Prince (1982), Pavel (1985), and Ryan (1991).

N2.1.4. Ultimately, the roots of narratology, like the roots of all Western theories of fiction, go back to Plato's (428-348 BC) and Aristotle's (384-322 BC) distinction between 'mimesis' (imitation) and 'diegesis' (narration). Chatman (1990: ch. 7) uses these concepts to distinguish diegetic narrative genres (epic narratives, novels, short stories) from mimetic narrative genres (plays, films, cartoons); most commentators, however, follow Genette's (1980 [1972]: ch. 4; 1988: 49) proposal that narrative fiction is a 'patchwork' consisting of both mimetic and diegetic parts (mainly 'narrative of words' and 'narrative of events', 1988: 43).

N2.1.5. The main tenets of discourse narratology are well presented in the writings of Stanzel, Chatman, Cohn, Genette, Bal, Rimmon-Kenan, Lintvelt, and Fludernik. Most of the monographs published in narratology's 'classical' period -- the nineteen seventies and eighties -- are still authoritative introductions to the field, especially Genette (1980 [1972]), Chatman (1978), Cohn (1978), Sternberg (1993 [1978]), Prince (1982), Stanzel (1984), and Bal (1985). Particularly useful are Rimmon-Kenan's (1983) concise survey (also available in a recent, revised edition), Prince's (1987) dictionary of terms, Onega et al.'s (1996) reader (containing reprints of many of the foundational essays), the surveys by O'Neill (1999) and Nelles (2000), and the linguistically oriented discussions and exercises in Toolan (2001). The more recent 'postclassical' variants of narratology are discussed in D. Herman (1999) and L. Herman and Vervaeck (2001, there is also going to be an English translation). Today's narratological branches include a psychoanalytic narratology (Brooks 1984), a historiographic narratology (Cohn 1999), a possible worlds narratology (Ryan 1991; 1998; Ronen 1994; Gutenberg 2000), a legal narratology (Brooks and Gewirtz, eds. 1996); a feminist narratology (Warhol 1989; Lanser 1992; Mezei 1997), a cognitive narratology (Perry 1979, Sternberg 1993, Jahn 1997), a 'natural narratology' (Fludernik 1996), a postmodernist narratology (McHale 1987, Currie 1998), a rhetorical narratology (Phelan 1996, Kearns 1999), a cultural narratology (Nünning 2000), and a transgeneric narratology (Nünning and Nünning 2002). Current researchers emphasize the openness of the discipline, particularly vis à vis linguistics (Fludernik 1993a), cognitive science (Duchan et al. 1995), artificial intelligence (Ryan 1991) and pragmatics (Pratt 1977; Adams 1996). Many of these interdisciplinary threads are taken up in Fludernik (1996).

Some recent studies: Abbott (2002) [dedicated transgeneric aproach; many interesting ideas on "narrative and life" (ch. 1), narrative rhetoric, cultural masterplots (ch. 4), closure (chs 5, 12), "overreading and underreading" (ch. 7)]; David Herman (2002) [cognitive, stylistic, and linguistic orientation]; Marie-Laure Ryan (2004) [cross- and transmedial approaches].

N2.1.6. For a web-based source on narratology turn to the "NarrNet" page at www.narratology.net . This is an interdisciplinary website implemented by the U of Hamburg, Germany. Among the services offered are an extensive bibliography, a list of researchers, descriptions of various current research projects, links, discussion lists and plenty of other useful stuff. (I am grateful to the organizers for including a link to this script.)

N2.2. Narrative genres

N2.2.1. So far we only alluded to just a few representative forms of narrative. But arguably, narrative has a far wider scope. Consider the famous list submitted by Roland Barthes (from his seminal contribution in Communications 8, mentioned in N2.1.1, above):

There are countless forms of narrative in the world. First of all, there is a prodigious variety of genres, each of which branches out into a variety of media, as if all substances could be relied upon to accommodate man's stories. Among the vehicles of narrative are articulated language, whether oral or written, pictures, still or moving, gestures, and an ordered mixture of all those substances: narrative is present in myth, legend, fables, tales, short stories, epic history, tragedy, drame [suspense drama], comedy, pantomime, paintings (in Santa Ursula by Carpaccio, for instance), stained-glass windows, movies, local news, conversation. Moreover, in this infinite variety of forms, it is present at all times, in all places, in all societies; indeed narrative starts with the very history of mankind; there is not, there has never been anywhere, any people without narrative; all classes, all human groups, have their stories, and very often those stories are enjoyed by men of different and even opposite cultural backgrounds [...]. (Barthes 1975 [1966]: 237; my emphases)

In this passages I have highlighted not only the individual types of narrative but also the various terms used by Barthes for the 'forms' themselves -- 'genres', 'media', 'substances', and 'vehicles'. Here is a taxonomy which imposes some order on Barthes's list.

Obviously, this diagram is not exhaustive but uses representative or prototypical genres. Actually, it might be a good idea to assume that each tree node has an additional branch leading to an implicit "Other" category, and that this may serve as an empty slot that can be filled with any new category that might come up (cp. Chatman 1990). If you come across a genre not accounted for by any prototype -- radio plays? hypertext narratives? comic strips? -- try fitting it in as an exercise. If it does not work, create a new structure and write an essay on it. Note that owing to the hierarchical relations posited, some forms occur more than once in the tree diagram -- e.g., check nodes for poems and plays.

N2.2.2. As noted above, narratology is concerned with all types of narratives, literary and nonliterary, fictional and nonfictional, verbal and nonverbal. The overarching distinction is clearly that between fictional and nonfictional narratives:

  •  A fictional narrative presents an imaginary narrator's account of a story that happened in an imaginary world. A fictional narrative is appreciated for its entertainment value, possibly also for providing a vision of characters who might exist or might have existed, and a vision of things that might happen or could have happened. Although a fictional narrative may freely refer to actual people, places and events, it cannot be used as evidence of what happened in the real world.
  •  A nonfictional narrative (also factual narrative) presents a real-life person's account of a real-life story. Unless there are reasons for questioning an author's credibility, a factual narrative can serve as evidence of what happened in the real world. In principle, the author of a factual narrative is accountable for the truth of its statements and can always be asked How do you know?.

Because of the systematic relatedness of these concepts, many factual narratives such as historiographic texts or biographies have fictional counterparts (historiographic fiction, fictional biographies, etc.) (Cohn 1999). On the notion or 'doctrine' of panfictionality, which questions and subverts the fact/fiction distinction, see Ryan 1997.

N2.2.3. Here is an incomplete list of various narrative themes and genres.

  •  narratives of personal experience: Labov's (1972) famous analysis of a corpus of stories based on interview questions such as "Were you ever in a situation where you were in serious danger of being killed?".
  •  biblical narratives: Kermode (1979); Sternberg (1985); Bal (1987, 1988).
  •  teacher's narratives: Cortazzi (1993).
  •  children's narratives: Applebee (1978); Branigan (1992: 18-19).
  •  doctor's narratives: Hunter (1993).
  •  family narratives: Flint (1988); Jonnes (1990); Style 31.2 (1997) [special issue, ed. John Knapp].
  •  courtroom narratives/legal narratives: Brooks and Gewirtz, eds. (1996); Posner (1997)
  •  historiographic autobiography/fictional autobiography: Lejeune (1989); Cohn (1999: ch. 2); Löschnigg (1999).
  •  hypertext narratives: Ryan (1997)
  •  musical narratives: McClary (1997)
  •  filmic narratives: Kozloff (1988); Chatman (1978; 1990); see also this project's film page pppf.htm 
  •  mental (or 'internal') narratives: Schank (1995); Ricoeur (1991); Turner (1996); Jahn (2003)

N2.3. Narrative communication

N2.3.1. As is shown in the following graphic, literary narrative communication involves the interplay of at least three communicative levels. Each level of communication comes with its own set of addressers and addressees (also 'senders' and 'receivers').

This model distinguishes between the levels of action, fictional mediation, and nonfictional communication, and establishes useful points of reference for key terms like author, reader, narrator, and narratee/addressee.

For example, on the level of nonfictional (or 'real') communication, the author of the short story "The Fishing-Boat Picture" is Alan Sillitoe, and any reader of this text is situated on the same level of communication. Since author and reader do not communicate in the text itself, their level of communication is an 'extratextual' one. However, there are also two 'intratextual' levels of communication. One is the level of narrative mediation (or 'narrative discourse'), where a fictional first-person narrator named Harry tells the fishing-boat picture story to an unnamed addressee or 'narratee' (see N9 for an argument that Harry is his own narratee). Finally, on the level of action, Harry and his wife Kathy are the major communicating characters of the story. We call this latter level the 'level of action' because we are assuming that speech acts (Austin 1962, Searle 1974) are not categorically different from other acts.

N2.3.2. Some theorists add another intermediate level of implied fictional communication (a level below the author-reader level) comprising an implied author (a text's projection of an overarching intratextual authority above the narrator) and an implied reader (a text's overall projection of a reader role, superordinate to any narratee). The main reason for implementing this level is to account for unreliable narration. See Booth (1961), Chatman (1990) [one proposing and the other defending the concept]; Iser (1972) [on 'implied reader']; Bal (1981b: 209), Genette (1988: chapter 19) [for critical discussion], and Kindt and Müller (1999) -- http://www.narratology.net/texts/implied_author/kindtmueller_1999.html

N2.3.3. Following the reception-oriented model proposed by Rabinowitz (1987), some narratologist now differentiate between the stipulated belief systems/interpretive strategies of 'authorial' and 'narrative' audiences:

  •  authorial audience The audience of real readers addressed by the author.
  •  narrative audience The fictional audience addressed by the narrator. The term covers both explicitly specified (named) addressees as well as the wider set of unspecified, implied, or hypothetical addressees. Kearns (1999), however, makes the sensible suggestion to reserve the term 'narratee' for explicitly mentioned addressees.

The two kinds of audiences are rarely the same. In particular, readers have to decide whether they should (or should not) adopt the narrative audience's presuppositions as projected by or reflected in the narrator's discourse. See Rabinowitz (1987), Phelan (1996) and Kearns (1999) for further elaboration and application of these concepts.

N2.3.4. Although the terms person, character and figure are often used indiscriminately, modern theoretical discourse makes an effort to be more distinct and accurate.

  •  A person is a real-life person; anyone occupying a place on the level of nonfictional communication. Hence, authors and readers are persons.
  •  A character is not a real-life person but only a "paper being" (Barthes 1975 [1966]), a being created by an author and existing only within a fictional text, either on the level of action or on the level of fictional mediation. Example: the character Harry in Sillitoe's "The Fishing Boat Picture".
  •  The term figure is often simply used as a variation of 'character'; however, some theorists also use for referring to the narrator. Hence the first-person narrator in Sillitoe's story can be called a 'narrator figure'.

N2.3.5. Transgression of levels: metalepsis. Normally, the levels of action, fictional mediation, and nonfictional communication (as shown in the graphic above, N2.3.1) are hermetically sealed domains indicating crucial thresholds of control and awareness. Any agent situated on a higher-level dominates and frames all lower-level agents, while lower-level agents are unaware of the existence of the higher-level agents. For instance, the characters at the level of action do not know that they are characters in some narrator's story, and they cannot complain if their acts or motives are misrepresented by this narrator. Similarly, a narrator such as Holden Caulfield is not aware of the fact that he is a fictional figure in a novel written by J.D. Salinger (cp. the point made in N1.6).

Occasionally, however, one finds some playful and not-so-playful transgressions of levels, which Genette calls 'metalepses' (Genette 1980: 234-237). Typical cases cited in the literature are (1) characters attempting to establish communicative contact with either audience or author (see the device of the 'aside ad spectatores' in drama and film -- D3.4, also actors 'acting out of charcater'), and (2) narrators and narratees seemingly joining the characters in the action. Slightly modifying the terms used in Malina (2000), the first could be called a 'diegetic-to-extradiegetic metalepsis', while the second would be 'extradiegetic-to-diegetic' (these terms differ slightly from the ones actually used by Malina because I want them to dovetail with the Genettean terms listed in N2.4, below). Here is a famous example of the second type:

You shall see them, reader. Step into this neat garden-house on the skirts of Whinbury, walk forward into the little parlour -- there they are at dinner. [...] You and I will join the party, see what is to be seen, and hear what is to be heard. (Charlotte Bronte, Shirley 9)

Clearly, a metalepsis can either be playful and harmlessly metaphorical (as in the example above) or else a serious transgression violating the "sacred frontier between two worlds, the world in which one tells, the world of which one tells" (Genette 1980: 236) -- in other words, the domain of the discourse and the domain of the story. See D. Herman (1997) for a formal description of metalepsis and Malina (2000) for an in-depth exploration of functions, effects, and types of 'reconstructive', 'deconstructive', 'subversive', and 'transformative' metalepses.

Whoever is interested in another batch of recent studies of the phenomenon should watch out for the proceedings of the International Colloquium "Metalepsis Today" held at the Goethe Institut, Paris, on 29-30 November 2002 (ed. John Pier). Related phenomena include alterations in prose narratives (N3.3.15), the alienation effect in drama (D6.1), the device goof in film (F5.3.3), and parabasis in classical rhetoric (the latter term refers to a character directly addressing the audience).

N2.4. Narrative Levels

N2.4.1. Story-telling can occur on many different levels. As Barth (1984) puts it, there are "tales within tales within tales". The model presented in N2.3.1, above, provides a general framework which can easily be adapted to more complex circumstances. One such circumstance arises when a character in a story begins to tell a story of his or her own, creating a narrative within a narrative, or a tale within a tale. The original narrative now becomes a 'frame' or 'matrix' narrative, and the story told by the narrating character becomes an 'embedded' or 'hyponarrative' (Bal 1981a: 43):

  •  A matrix narrative is a narrative containing an 'embedded' or 'hyponarrative'. The term 'matrix' derives from the Latin word mater (mother, womb) and refers to "something within which something else originates" (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). In linguistics, a 'matrix sentence' is one that embeds a subordinate sentence. Ordinarily, both the transition to a hyponarrative, its termination and the return to the matrix narrative are explicitly signaled in a text; occasionally, however, a text closes on a hyponarrative without explicitly picking up (returning) to the matrix narrative (example in subgraphic [c] below). One could call this a dangling matrix narrative. The systematic opposite to this would be an uninitialized hyponarrative (example?).

N2.4.2. For a more elaborate analysis of embedded narratives, Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 91) suggests the following terms:

  •  A first-degree narrative is a narrative that is not embedded in any other narrative; a second-degree narrative is a narrative that is embedded in a first-degree narrative; a third-degree narrative is one that is embedded in a second-degree narrative, etc.
  •  A first-degree narrator, by analogy, is the narrator of a first-degree narrative, a second-degree narrator is the narrator of a second-degree narrative, etc., in exact correspondence.

See Genette (1980 [1972]: 228-234; 1988 [1983]: chapter 14) [extradiegetic, diegetic, intradiegetic, metadiegetic]; Bal (1981: 48-50) [on 'hypo-' vs. 'meta-']; Lanser (1981); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 91-94) ['graded' narrators and narratives]; Duyfhuizen 1992; O'Neill (1994: ch. 3); Nelles (1997: ch. 5).

N2.4.3. Genette has illustrated the basic structure of embedded narratives with the help of a naive drawing using stick-figure narrators and speech-bubble narratives (Genette 1988 [1983]: 85). In graphic (a), below, first-degree narrative A contains a second-degree story B. The other examples in the graphic are 'Chinese-boxes models' which can be drawn to great accuracy, indicating both the relative lengths of the various narratives as well as their potentially 'open' status (Lintvelt 1978; Ryan 1991: 178; Branigan 1992: 114).

In example (b), A is a first-degree narrative, B1 and B2 are second-degree narratives, and C is a third-degree narrative (Question: which ones of these are matrix narratives?). Finally, example (c) illustrates the embedding structure of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. James's novel ends on the conclusion of a third-degree narrative (the Governess's tale) without explicitly closing its two superordinate matrix narratives.

There are a number of texts which are famous for their multiply embedded narratives: The Thousand and One Nights, Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Jan Potocki's The Saragossa Manuscript, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, John Barth's "Menelaiad". See also Chatman (1978: 255-257), Barth (1984), Ryan (1991: ch. 9), Baker (1992).

N2.4.4. As an exercise, work out the following problems. Some of them are quite tricky; use simple Chinese-boxes models to argue your answers.

1. Can a hyponarrative be a matrix narrative?

2. Can a matrix narrative be a hyponarrative?

3. Must a first-degree narrative be a matrix narrative?

4. Can a text have more than one first-degree narratives?

5. Can a single character be both a second-degree narrator and a third-degree narrator?

N2.4.5. Comment. The foregoing account makes short shrift of a host of rather unhappy terms that haunt the narratological literature, including the term 'frame narrative' itself (does it refer to a narrative that has a frame or one that is or acts as a frame?). With reference to graphic (a) in N2.4.3, above, Genette calls the narrator of A an 'extradiegetic narrator' whose narrative constitutes a 'diegetic' level, while B is a 'metadiegetic narrative' told by an 'intradiegetic' (or, confusingly, 'diegetic') narrator. On the next level of embedding, one would get a meta-metadiegetic narrative told by an intra-intradiegetic narrator. Against this, Bal (1981a: 43) and Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 91-93) have argued that hypo- (from Greek 'under') is a more adequate prefix than meta- (from Greek 'on, between, with') to refer to what are, at least technically (though not necessarily functionally), subordinate narratives. Oddly, however, in their system, B (in graphic [a]) is a 'hyponarrative' told by a 'diegetic narrator', and if there were an additional level, Bal and Rimmon-Kenan would be happy to have a 'hypo-hyponarrative' told by a 'hypodiegetic narrator', and so on. Although the hypo- concept is a useful one, correlating hypodiegetic narrators with hypo-hyponarratives is both awkward and counterintuitive. More drawbacks of the nomenclature become apparent when one tries to tackle the problems set in N2.4.4.

N2.4.6. Embedded narratives can serve one or more of the following functions:

  •  actional integration: the hyponarrative serves as an important element in the plot of the matrix narrative. For instance, Scheherazade's stories keep the Sultan from killing her. Indeed, in the end, he marries her because she is such an excellent story-teller. Or think of a surprise witness in a crime or courtroom novel whose tale solves the case.
  •  exposition: the hyponarrative provides information about events that lie outside the primary action line of the matrix narrative (specifically, events that occurred in the past).
  •  distraction: "So tell us a story while we're waiting for the rain to stop" (Genette 1988 [1983]: 93).
  •  obstruction/retardation: the hyponarrative momentarily suspends the continuation of the matrix narrative, often creating an effect of heightened suspense.
  •  analogy: the hyponarrative corroborates or contradicts a story line of the matrix narrative ("You are not the only person ever deceived by a faithless lover; let me tell you about [...]") (Barth 1984: 232).

N2.4.7. Hyponarratives are also often used to create an effect of 'mise en abyme', a favorite feature of postmodernist narratives (McHale 1987: ch. 8). The graphic on the right shows a visual example.


mise en abyme The infinite loop created when a hyponarrative embeds its matrix narrative. "It can be described as the equivalent of something like Matisse's famous painting of a room in which a miniature version of the same paintings hangs on one of the walls. [...] A famous example from Gide's work is The Counterfeiters (1949) where a character is engaged in writing a novel similar to the novel in which he appears" (Rimmon-Kenan 1983: 93).

Spence (1987: 188) cites the following example:

It was a dark and stormy night. The band of robbers huddled together around the fire. When he had finished eating, the first bandit said, "Let me tell you a story. It was a dark and stormy night and a band of robbers huddled together around the fire. When he had finished eating, the first bandit said: 'Let me tell you a story. It was a dark an stormy night and . . .'"

N3. Narration, Focalization, and Narrative Situations

This section combines the theories of Gérard Genette (1980 [1972]; 1988 [1983]) and Franz K. Stanzel (1984). Additionally, it also considers various revisions and modifications suggested by Chatman (1978; 1990), Lanser (1981), Lintvelt (1981), Cohn (1981, 1999), Bal (1985), and Fludernik (1996). The best preparation for understanding the key distinctions made here is to read the "Getting started" chapter of this script (N1).

N3.1. Narration (voice)

The term 'voice' metaphorically invokes one of the major grammatical categories of verb forms -- tense, mood, and voice (Genette 1980: 213). In terms of voice, a verb is either 'active' or 'passive'. In a more general definition, voice indicates "the relation of the subject of the verb to the action which the verb expresses (Webster's Collegiate). In narratology, the basic voice question is "Who speaks?" (= who narrates this?). In the present account, voice is also understood as a characteristic vocal or tonal quality projected through a text.

N3.1.1. As regards the question Who speaks? Who is the text's narrative voice? we are going to use the following definition of a narrator, or 'narrative agency':

  •  A narrator is the speaker or 'voice' of the narrative discourse (Genette 1980 [1972]: 186). He or she is the agent who establishes communicative contact with an addressee (the 'narratee'), who manages the exposition, who decides what is to be told, how it is to be told (especially, from what point of view, and in what sequence), and what is to be left out. If necessary, the narrator will defend the 'tellability' (N1.5) of the story (Labov 1972) and comment on its lesson, purpose, or message.

N3.1.2. In Jakobson's terms, narratorial discourse (like any other discourse) can serve a variety of 'functions', mainly (a) an addressee-oriented 'phatic function (maintaining contact with the addressee), (b) an 'appellative function' (persuading the addressee to believe or do something), and (c) an 'emotive' or 'expressive function' (expressing his/her own subjectivity). All of these function are highly indicative of a text's projection of narratorial voice (cp. N1.4). See Jakobson (1960) for the discourse functions; Fowler (1977) on the notion of a narrator's 'discoursal stance'; Bonheim (1982) on the presence or absence of narratorial 'conative solicitude'; Chatman (1990) on narratorial 'slant' ("the psychological, sociological and ideological ramifications of the narrator's attitudes, which may range from neutral to highly charged" 1990: 143).

N3.1.3. Whatever you may think of 'political correctness' in general, interpretive discourse must decide on how to gender a narrator grammatically, mainly because it would be stylistically awkward never to use a pronoun at all. A generic 'he' is clearly out of the question, and the option suggested by Bal -- "I shall refer to the narrator as it, however odd this may seem" (1985: 119) -- is, as Ryan (1999: 141n17) rightly points out, "incompatible with consciousness and linguistic ability". By way of compromise, most scholars now follow what has become known as 'Lanser's rule':

  •  Lanser's rule In the absence of any text-internal clues as to the narrator's sex, use the pronoun appropriate to the author's sex; i.e., assume that the narrator is male if the author is male, and that the narrator is female if the author is female, respectively. (Lanser 1981: 166-68; Lanser 1992: ch. 1; Lanser 1995).

Hence the narrator of Dickens's Hard Times would be assumed to be male and referred to by "he", while the narrator of Austen's Sense and Sensibility would be assumed to be female and referred to as "she". See Culler (1988: 204-207) for a critique of Lanser's rule and for pointing out some interesting ramifications. Problematic in Lanser's gendered pronouns are (1) that they may attribute a narrative voice quality which is better left indeterminate, in certain cases (saying "narrative agency" and "it" poses just the opposite problem, however); (2) that they establish a questionable author-narrator link (cp. N2.3.1).

The problem of sexually indeterminate narrators usually arises with authorial narrators (heterodiegetic narrators) only. See Lanser (1995) and Fludernik (1999) for a discussion of sexually indeterminate first-person narrators in Jeannette Winterson's Written on the Body and Maureen Duffy's Love Child.

N3.1.4. Depending on how the presence of a narrator is signaled in the text, one distinguishes between 'overt' and 'covert' narrators:

  •  An overt narrator is one who refers to him/herself in the first person ("I", "we" etc.), one who directly or indirectly addresses the narratee, one who offers reader-friendly exposition whenever it is needed (using the 'conative' or 'appellative' discourse function), one who exhibits a 'discoursal stance' or 'slant' toward characters and events, especially in his/her use of rhetorical figures, imagery, evaluative phrases and emotive or subjective expressions ('expressive function'), one who 'intrudes' into the story in order to pass philosophical or metanarrative comments, one who has a distinctive voice.
  •  A covert narrator, in contrast, is one who exhibits none of the features of overtness listed above: specifically, s/he is one who neither refers to him- or herself nor addresses any narratees, one who has a more or less neutral (nondistinctive) voice and style, one who is sexually indeterminate, one who shows no 'conative solicitude' whatsoever, one who does not provide exposition even when it is urgently needed, one who does not intrude or interfere, one who lets the story events unfold in their natural sequence and tempo ("lets the story tell itself", as is frequently, though not uncontroversially, said [Lubbock 1957: 62; qtd Genette 1988: 45]); in short, one whose discourse fulfills no obvious conative, phatic, appellative, or expressive functions. Covert narration can be most easily achieved by letting the action be seen through the eyes of an internal focalizer (N3.2.2).

See N1.4, above, for a list of typical 'voice markers' which, in addition to the pragmatic signals discussed above, consider content matter and subjective expressions.

Needless to mention, overtness and covertness are relative terms, that is, narrators can be more or less overt, and more or less covert. Usually, however, overtness and covertness vary in inverse proportion such that the presence of one is an indication of the absence of the other. In analysis, it is always a good idea to look out for typical signals (or absences) of narratorial overtness or functionality.

N3.1.5. Following Genette, we will make a categorical distinction between two principal types, homodiegetic and the heterodiegetic narrators and narratives. The distinction is based on the narrator's "relationship to the story" (1972: 248) -- i.e., whether s/he is present or absent from the story.

  •  In a homodiegetic narrative--, the story is told by a (homodiegetic) narrator who is present as a character in the story. The prefix 'homo-' points to the fact that the individual who acts as a narrator is also a character on the level of action. A special case of homodiegetic narration is autodiegetic narration, in which the narrator is the protagonist of his/her story.
  •  In a heterodiegetic narrative--, the story is told by a (heterodiegetic) narrator who is not present as a character in the story. The prefix 'hetero-' alludes to the 'different nature' of the narrator's world as compared to the world of the action.

Usually, the two types correlate with a text's use of first-person and third-person pronouns. As a rule of thumb (cf. N1.11),

  •  a text is homodiegetic if among its story-related action sentences there are some that contain first-person pronouns (I did this; I saw this; this was what happened to me), indicating that the narrator was at least a witness to the action;
  •  a text is heterodiegetic if all story-related action sentences are third-person sentences (She did this, this was what happened to him).

N3.1.6. In order to determine the 'relation' type of a narrative or a narrator, one must check for the presence or absence of an 'experiencing I' in the story's plain action sentences, i.e., sentences which present an event involving the characters in the story. Note well, however, that narrative texts make use of many types of sentences which are not plain action sentences -- descriptions, quotations, comments, etc. (Cp. N1.11, N5.5.5.)

As Genette points out, the criterial feature of homodiegetic narration is whether the narrator was ever present in the world of his/her story. The bare fact that homodiegetic narrators refer to themselves in the first person is not an absolutely reliable criterion for two reasons: (1) overt heterodiegetic narrators refer to themselves in the first person, too, and (2), more rarely though, there are some homodiegetic narrators who refer to themselves in the third person (famous classical example is Caesar's De Bello Gallico). See Genette (1980 [1972]: 245-247); Stanzel (1984: 79-110, 200-224, 225-236), Edmiston (1991).

N3.1.7. At this point, let us briefly return to the concept of voice. Of course, a voice can only enter into a text through a reader's imaginary perception; hence, unless the text is an oral narrative in the first place, or is performed in the context of a public reading, voice is strictly a readerly construct. In the classical narratological model, 'voice' is primarily associated with the narrator's voice (this is also how we treated the topic in N1.3 ff. In N1.29, however, we were led to ask how many voices were projected by a particular text (Austen's Emma). Under the growing impact of Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of narrative it is now standard practice to assign all addresser agencies ('senders') in the model of narrative communication (N2.3.1) their own voices. On this basis, then,

  •  textual or intratextual voices are those of the narrator (= the text's 'narrative voice') and the characters; whereas
  •  the extratextual voice is that of the author. One normally considers the author's voice in two scenarios only: (a) when one has reason to believe that it is more or less identical to that of the narrator (as is often the case in authorial narration (aptly named, as one can see), also in nonfictional, real-life, or historiographic narrative, or (b), conversely, when the author's and the narrator's voices are likely to be significantly different -- in other words, when one assumes that the author intentionally uses a narrative voice distinct from his or her own.

N3.1.8. Vocal characteristics can be profitably investigated by analyzing somebody's dialect (regional features, esp. pronunciation), sociolect (speech characteristics of a social group), idiolect (singular or idiosyncratic style), and genderlect (the gender-specific style preferred by women and men, respectively).

N3.1.9. According to Bakhtin, there are two basic voice effects that can characterize a narrative text:

  •  monologism The effect created when all voices sound more or less the same, producing a 'monologic' text.
  •  dialogism The effect created when a text contains a diversity of authorial, narratorial, and characterial voices creating significant contrasts and tensions. The result is a polyphonic or dialogic text.

N3.1.10. Not surprisingly, most theorists and interpreters (including Bakhtin himself) consider the dialogic text the more sophisticated, interesting and challenging form. There are two additional Bakhtinian terms that are frequently mentioned in the context of dialogism and polyphony:

  •  heteroglossia (literally, 'other-language') The use of language elements inherited or learned from others. The concept stresses the fact that 'our' language is never truly our own, and that no language can be entirely private or idiosyncratic; hence, heteroglossia normally suffuses all discourses.
  •  alterity The theme or effect of otherness or strangeness (especially as opposed to what is familiar and to what one considers one's own selfhood and unique identity). Cp. the alterity effect created by the Russian-influenced slang used by the juvenile hooligans in Burgess's A Clockwork Orange.

Genette (1980: ch. 5) [voice = narrator's voice]; Bakhtin (1981); Lanser (1981) [extra- and (intra)textual voices]; Fowler (1983) [excellent analysis of polyphony and dialect/sociolect in Dickens's Hard Times]; Fludernik (1993: 324) [on heteroglossia]; Aczel (1998) [voice and intertextuality; voices in Henry James].

N3.2. Focalization (mood)

In Genette's (1980; 1988) exposition, the term 'mood' (like the term 'voice') metaphorically invokes a grammatical verb category. Strictly speaking, mood categorizes verb forms according to whether they express a fact, a command, a possibility, or a wish (indicative, imperative, interrogative, subjunctive etc.). Metaphorically, Genette lets mood capture "degrees of affirmation" and "different points of view from which [...] the action is looked at" (1980: 161). The relevant question (as opposed to Who speaks?) is Who sees? Useful, too, are variations like: Who serves as a text's center of perspectival orientation? In what way is narrative information restricted or narrowed down (either temporarily or permanently) to somebody's perception, knowledge, or 'point of view'?

N3.2.1. Although the primary candidate for a text's perspectival orientation is the narrator (presenting an external focalization of the world of story), a text's information may also be restricted to a character's field of perception. Indeed, the major question of focalization is whether there is internal focalization, i.e., whether the narrative events are presented from a character's point of view. See N1.16 ff for a detailed introduction to this difficult area, also this project's film document for the concept (and various graphic examples) of a 'POV shot' (F4.3.8), the direct filmic equivalent of internal focalization.

N3.2.2. Functionally, focalization is a means of selecting and restricting narrative information, of seeing events and states of affairs from somebody's point of view, of foregrounding the focalizing agent, and of creating an empathetical or ironical view on the focalizer.

  •  A focalizer is the agent whose point of view orients the narrative text. A text is anchored on a focalizer's point of view when it presents (and does not transcend) the focalizer's thoughts, reflections and knowledge, his/her actual and imaginary perceptions, as well as his/her cultural and ideological orientation. While Genette and Chatman prefer to restrict focalization to 'focal characters' only, most narratologists today follow Bal's and Rimmon-Kenan's proposal that a focalizer can be either 'external' (a narrator) or 'internal' (a character). External focalizers are also called 'narrator-focalizers'; internal focalizers are variously termed 'focal characters', 'character-focalizers', 'reflectors', or 'filter characters'.

N3.2.3. Here is a (rather long) list of theoretical accounts of focalization: Genette (1980 [1972]: 185-194); Bal (1983: 35-38); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 71-85); Nünning (1989: 41-60); Vitoux (1982); Cordesse (1988); Toolan (1988: 67-76); Edmiston (1991: Introduction and Appendix); Füger (1993); O'Neill (1994: ch. 4); Herman (1994); Deleyto (1996); Nelles (1997: ch. 3); Jahn (1996; 1999). Focalization concepts have also been put to use in analyses of films (Jost 1989, Deleyto 1996 [1991], Branigan 1992: ch. 4), pictures (Bal 1985: ch. 7; Bal 1990) and comic strips (O'Neill 1994: ch. 4). Controversial issues are discussed in Genette (1988 [1983]: ch. 11-12), Chatman (1986), Bal (1991: ch. 6); Fludernik (1996: 343-347), Jahn (1996, 1999), Toolan (2001).

N3.2.4. Four main forms or patterns of focalization can be distinguished:

  •  fixed focalization The presentation of narrative facts and events from the constant point of view of a single focalizer. The standard example is Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
  •  variable focalization The presentation of different episodes of the story as seen through the eyes of several focalizers. For example, in Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the narrative's events are seen through the eyes of Clarissa Dalloway, Mr. Dalloway, Peter Walsh, Septimus Warren Smith, Rezia Smith, and many other internal focalizers.
  •  multiple focalization A technique of presenting an episode repeatedly, each time seen through the eyes of a different (internal) focalizer. Typically, what is demonstrated by this technique is that different people tend to perceive or interpret the same event in radically different fashion. Texts that are told by more than one narrator (such as epistolary novels) create multiple focalization based on external focalizers (example: Fowles, The Collector). See Collier (1992) for a discussion of multiple internal focalization in Patrick White's The Solid Mandala.
  •  collective focalization Focalization through either plural narrators ('we narrative') or a group of characters ('collective reflectors'). Stanzel (1984: 172); Banfield (1982: 96). Example:

A small crowd meanwhile had gathered at the gates of Buckingham Palace. Listlessly, yet confidently, poor people all of them, they waited; looked at the Palace itself with the flag flying; at Victoria, billowing on her mount, admired the shelves of running water, her geraniums; singled out from the motor cars in the Mall first this one, then that [...]. (Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway)

N3.3. Narrative situation

Both Genette (1988: ch. 17) and Stanzel (1984) use the term narrative situation to refer to more complex arrangements or patterns of narrative features. Genette's system uses the subtypes of voice (narration) and mood (focalization) in order to explore a range of possible combinations; Stanzel is more interested in describing 'ideal-typical' or (as we shall say) prototypical configurations and arranging them on a 'typological circle' (1984: xvi). The following paragraphs will mainly focus on the interpretive implications of Stanzel's model. For an excellent comparative survey of the two approaches, including some proposals for revisions, see Cohn (1981).

N3.3.1. Stanzel's (proto-)typical narrative situations are complex frameworks aiming at capturing typical patterns of narrative features, including features of relationship (involvement), distance, pragmatics, knowledge, reliability, voice, and focalization. This line of approach results in complex 'frames' of defaults and conditions which are extremely rich in interpretive implications (Jahn 1996). In survey, the basic definitions are as follows (more detailed definitions to follow below):

  •  A first-person narrative is told by a narrator who is present as a character in his/her story; it is a story of events s/he has experienced him- or herself, a story of personal experience. The individual who acts as a narrator (narrating I) is also a character (experiencing I) on the level of action (more: N3.3.2).
  •  An authorial narrative is told by a narrator who is absent from the story, i.e., does not appear as a character in the story. The authorial narrator tells a story involving other people. An authorial narrator sees the story from an outsider's position, often a position of absolute authority that allows her/him to know everything about the story's world and its characters (more: N3.3.5).
  •  A figural narrative presents a story as if seeing it through the eyes of a character (more: N3.3.7).

N3.3.2. Here, in more detail, are the main aspects of first-person narration.

  •  In first-person narration, the first-person pronoun refers both to the narrator (narrating I or narrating self) and to a character in the story (experiencing I). If the narrator is the main character of the story s/he is an I-as-protagonist; if s/he is one of the minor characters s/he is an I-as-witness. With respect to focalization, a first-person narrative can either be told from the hindsight awareness of the narrating I (typical discoursal attitude: Had I known then what I know now) or from the more limited and naive level of insight of the experiencing I (functioning as an internal focalizer). Epistemologically (knowledge-wise), first-person narrators are restricted to ordinary human limitations (Lanser 1981: 161): they cannot be in two places at the same time, they don't know what will happen in the future, they cannot (under ordinary circumstances) narrate the story of their own death, and they can never know for certain what other characters think or thought (the 'other minds' problem).
  •  narrative distance The temporal and psychological distance between the narrating I and the experiencing I. Usually, the narrating I is older and wiser than the experiencing I. Example:

Later I learnt, among other things, never to buy cheap raincoats, to punch the dents out of my hat before I put it away, and not to have my clothes match too exactly in shade and colour. But I looked well enough that morning ten years ago [exact specification of temporal distance]; I hadn't then begun to acquire a middle-aged spread and -- whether it sounds sentimental or not -- I had a sort of eagerness and lack of disillusion which more than made up for the coat and hat . . . . [a block characterization of the experiencing I, from the point of view of the narrating I] (Braine, Room at the Top 7)

N3.3.3. Over and above the functional roles of the I as protagonist and the I as witness (Friedman 1967 [1955]), Lanser (1981: 160) identifies a range of common subtypes: I as co-protagonist (Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby), I as minor character (Dickens, "The Signalman"), I as witness-protagonist (chapter 1 of Flaubert's Madame Bovary), I as uninvolved eyewitness (Faulkner, "A Rose for Emily").

N3.3.4. Typical story patterns of the first-person narrative situation. Generally, a first-person/homodiegetic narration aims at presenting an experience that shaped or changed the narrator's life and made her/him into what s/he is today. Sometimes, a first-person narrator is an important witness offering an otherwise inaccessible account of historical or fictional events (including science-fiction scenarios). Typical subgenres of first-person narration are fictional autobiographies, initiation stories, and skaz narratives, as defined in the following.

  •  A fictional autobiography is an I-as-protagonist (Genette: autodiegetic) narrative in which the first-person narrator tells the story (or an episode) of his/her life. Example: Sillitoe, "The Fishing Boat Picture".
  •  A story of initiation is a story about a young person's introduction into a new sphere of society, activity, or experience. Many stories of initiation involve some stage in the transition from childhood and ignorance to adulthood and maturity and climax at a moment of recognition. As Freese (1979) has shown, many stories of initiation also begin with a journey, often they involve a character's first sexual experience or some growing-up ritual or ceremony, which sometimes turns into an ordeal. Occasionally, the protagonist (technically, the 'initiate') can turn to an adult helper, but often enough there is no helper, or the helper turns out to be a fraud, and the whole initiatory experience may become a catastrophic and traumatic failure. (Note that not all initiation stories are necessarily homodiegetic ones. Consider also what it means to say that someone is "uninitiated".) Example: Sherwood Anderson, "I want to Know Why" [note that the story's title already alludes to motif of ignorance]. See also Brooks and Warren (1959).
  •  skaz narrative (from Russian skaz, 'speech') A literary form that represents an oral (or 'conversational') story-telling situation in which a speaker tells a story to a present audience. Apart from having a distinctly oral diction and syntax, a skaz-narrator's discourse is also characterized by a high incidence of phatic and appellative elements, signaling the presence of the listening audience. Skaz is closely related (and usefully compared to) the poetic genre of the 'dramatic monologue'. (Not all skaz narratives are necessarily homodiegetic ones, however). See Dolezel (1980: 22); Banfield (1982: 172, 306n 25); Fludernik (1996: 178-179, 394n1). Examples: Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, Ring Lardner, "Haircut", Salinger, Catcher in the Rye.

N3.3.5. Basic features of authorial narration.

  •  authorial narration involves telling a story from the point of view of an 'authorial narrator', i.e., somebody who is not, and never was, a character in the story itself. (Note, however, that, like a first-person (Genette: homodiegetic) narrator, an authorial narrator may refer to him- or herself in the first person.) Often, the authorial narrator's status of an outsider makes her/him an authority commanding practically godlike abilities such as omniscience and omnipresence. Many authors allow their authorial narrators to speak directly to their addressees, to comment on action and characters, to engage in philosophical reflection, and to 'interrupt' the course of the action by detailed descriptions (pauses, see N5.5.3). As Friedman puts it, "The prevailing characteristic of omniscience [...] is that the author[ial narrator] is always ready to intervene himself between the reader and the story, and that even when he does set a scene, he will render it as he sees it rather than as his people see it" (1967 [1955]: 124). Example:

N3.3.6. Typical authorial story patterns. Usually, the authorial narrator is an omniscient and omnipresent mediator (or 'moderator') telling an instructive story (a story containing a moral or a lesson) set in a complex world. The authorial narrator's comprehensive ('Olympian') world-view is particularly suited to reveal the protagonists' moral strengths and weaknesses, and to present a tightly plotted narrative. Typical subgenres are 18C and 19C novels of social criticism. See Stanzel (1984: 141-184, 185-224); Stanzel (1964: 16, 18-25); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 95-96); Genette (1980 [1972]: 243-245); Nünning (1989: 45-50, 84-124).

N3.3.7. Figural narration.

  •  figural narration A figural narrative presents the story's events as seen through the eyes of a third-person 'reflector' character (or internal focalizer or 'figural medium'). The narrative agency of figural narration is a highly covert one; some theorists go so far as to say that figural texts are "narratorless" (Banfield 1982). Stanzel (1984: 141-184, 185-200, 225-236); Stanzel (1964: 17, 39-52). Weldon's "Weekend" is a figural short story: everything -- or almost everything -- is seen through Martha's point of view.

Note that nobody uses the term 'figural narrator': the narrative agency of a figural text is a covert authorial (heterodiegetic) narrator.

N3.3.8. Note, too, that the foregoing definition assumes that figural narration is realized as a heterodiegetic (third person) text. There is also a slightly more flexible concept of 'reflector-mode narration', however, which allows the inclusion of first-person texts:

  •  reflector-mode narration A mode of narration in which the story is presented as seen through the eyes of either a third-person or a first-person reflector character (internal focalizer).

N3.3.9. Typical figural story patterns. A figural narrative presents the story's action as seen through the eyes of a reflector figure. Often, a figural text presents a distorted or restricted view of events -- to many authors, such a distorted (but 'psychologically realistic') perspective is far more interesting than an omniscient or 'objectively true' account of events. Because figural texts have a covert narrator (a withdrawn, subdued narrator) only, figural stories typically begin 'medias in res', have little or no exposition, and attempt to present a direct (i.e., both immediate and unmediated) view into the perceptions, thoughts, and psychology of a character's mind. Typical subgenres are 'slice-of-life' and 'stream of consciousness' (N8.8) stories, often associated with 20C literary impressionism and 'modernism'. Indeed, many modernist authors specifically aimed at capturing the distortive perceptions of unusual internal focalizers -- e.g., a drug addict (Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood), a drinker (Lowry, Under the Volcano), a two-year old child (Dorothy Richardson, "The Garden"), a dog (Woolf, Flush), a machine (Walter M. Miller, "I Made You").

N3.3.10. Four additional elements of figural narratives are worthy of closer attention: incipits using referentless pronouns and familiarizing articles, slice-of-life format, epiphanies, and the mirror trick.

  •  referentless pronoun Many figural stories begin with a third-person pronoun whose referent has not yet been established. This is usually indicative of a narrator's covertness, his/her relinquishing of exposition and conative solicitude. Usually, the pronoun identifies the text's internal focalizer. See also 'familiarizing article', below. Stanzel (1984: 6.3).
  •  Similarly, a familiarizing article presents new information (as far as the reader is concerned) in the guise of given information (as far as a story-internal character is concerned). Cf. the incipit of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls: "He [referentless pronoun, identifying the reflector] lay flat on the [familiarizing article] brown, pine-needled floor of the [another familiarizing article] forest [...]". Bronzwaer (1970); Stanzel (1984: 6.3).
  •  slice of life story/novel A short story or novel whose story time (N5.5.2) is restricted to a very brief episode in a character's life, often only a day, a few hours, or even just a single moment. Examples: Joyce, "Eveline", Mansfield, "Miss Brill", Richardson, "The Garden", Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, Joyce, Ulysses (note that the latter is a 600+ page novel!).
  •  epiphany Originally, a Greek term denoting the 'manifestation' or appearance of divine quality or power. The term was appropriated by James Joyce in Stephen Hero (1905) to denote a moment of intense insight, usually occasioned by the perception of a more or less ordinary object or event. The term is closely related to what other authors variously term 'moment of vision' (Conrad, Woolf), 'moment of being' (Woolf, again), or 'glimpse' (Mansfield). According to Beja, "epiphany is a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether from some object, scene, event, or memorable phase of the mind -- the manifestation being out of proportion to the significance or strictly logical relevance of whatever produces it" (Beja 1984: 719). Here is the relevant passage from Joyce's Stephen Hero:

Stephen as he passed [...] heard the following fragment of colloquy out of which he received an impression keen enough to afflict his sensitiveness very severely:

     The Young Lady -- (drawling discreetly) ...O, yes ... I was ... at the ... cha...pel...

     The Young Gentleman -- (inaudibly) ... I ... (again inaudibly) ... I ...

     The Young Lady -- (softly) ... O ... but you're ... ve...ry .... wick...ed ...

This triviality made him think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies. By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments. (qtd Beja 1971: 72-73)

In the practice of many authors, notably Woolf and Mansfield, epiphanies may turn out to be deceptive, misguided, or otherwise erroneous (see Mansfield's "Bliss" for a particularly striking pseudo-epiphany). In many modernist texts, epiphanies are made to serve as climaxes or endings ('epiphanic endings').

  •  mirror trick A way (perhaps the only way?) of conveying the physical characteristics of a reflector figure without using overt narratorial description. Example:

Mr. Hutton came to pause in front of a small oblong mirror. Stooping a little to get a full view of his face, he passed a well-manicured finger over his moustache. It was as curly, as freshly auburn as it had been twenty years ago. His hair still retained its colour, and there was no sign of baldness yet -- only a certain elevation of the brow. "Shakespearean," thought Mr. Hutton, with a smile [...]. (Huxley, "The Gioconda Smile")

All four elements identified above can also occur, albeit to a lesser extent, in the other narrative types and situations.

N3.3.11. In addition to the three standard narrative situations, we will briefly mention four peripheral categories: we-narratives, you-narratives, simultaneous narration and camera-eye narration.

  •  we-narrative A form of homodiegetic narrative in which the narrator's experiencing self belongs to a group of collective internal focalizers. Fludernik (1996: ch. 6.1.1); Margolin (1996; 2000).

We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will. (Faulkner, "A Rose for Emily")

  •  you-narrative/second-person narrative A narrative in which the protagonist is referred to in the second person. Functionally, you may refer (a) to the narrator's experiencing Self, (b) to some other character in a homodiegetic world, or (c) to a character in a heterodiegetic world. (Note, we are not talking here of the 'general' "you", meaning 'anyone', nor the "you" that first-person or authorial narrators use for addressing their narratees). You-narratives are special forms of homodiegetic and heterodiegetic narratives. More on this in Booth (1961: 150); Stanzel (1984: ch. 5.1, 7.3); Bonheim (1990: ch. 15); Fludernik (1993b); Style 28.3 (1994; special issue); Fludernik (1996: ch. 6.1.1)

I persistently imagine you dead. You told me that you loved me years ago. And I said that I, too, was in love with you in those days. An exaggeration. (Alice Munro, "Tell Me Yes or No", qtd Bonheim 1990: 281) [homodiegetic you-narrative]

Claude Ford knew exactly how it was to hunt a brontosaurus. You crawled heedlessly through the grass beneath the willows, through the little primitive flowers with petals as green and brown as a football field, through the beauty-lotion mud. You peered out at the creature sprawling among the reeds, its body as graceful as a sock full of sand. (Brian W. Aldiss, "Poor Little Warrior!") [heterodiegetic you-narrative]

  •  simultaneous narration A type of homodiegetic narrative in which the narrator tells a story that unfolds as s/he tells it. The problematic logic of this type of narrative situation demands that the narrator does not know how the story ends, that there can be no objective flashforwards, that all diegetic sentences are in the present tense, and that the narrating and experiencing selves (external and internal focalizers) overlap and merge. Simultaneous narration exhibits a certain resemblance to both journalistic 'on-the-scene reporting' and interior monologue (N8.9). The term was originally coined by Genette (1980 [1972]: 218-19); the current extended definition is Cohn's (1993). Examples: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892) [a diary-type story]; Beckett, "Text For Nothing: One"; Updike, "Wife-Wooing".

But in the places where it [the wallpaper] isn't faded and where the sun is just so -- I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about that silly and conspicuous front design.

     There's sister on the stairs! (Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper")

  •  camera-eye narration The purely external or 'behaviorist' representation of events; a text that reads like a transcription of a recording made by a camera. Originally, the term was appropriated from the introductory paragraph of Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin (quoted below); today, the term is more often used as a metaphor of strictly 'neutral' types of heterodiegetic narration. Stanzel (1955: 28) briefly toyed with the notion of a separate category of 'neutral narration' but eventually subsumed this under figural narration; however, 'neutral narrative' is still an active category in Lintvelt's (1981) model, where it is characterized by covert narration, absence of inside views, and the point of view of a stationary camera. The standard example is Hemingway's "The Killers" (see below). Pouillon (1946: ch. 2) [introduction of the concept of outside view (vision du dehors)]; Friedman (1967[1955]: 130-131); Stanzel (1984: ch. 7.3.2); Genette 1980 [1972]: ch. 4; Genette 1988 [1983]: ch. 11 ['external' focalization]; Lintvelt (1981: ch. 3) [neutral narrative]. Examples:

From my window, the deep solemn massive street. Cellar-shops where the lamps burn all day, under the shadow of top-heavy balconied facades, dirty plaster-frontages embossed with scroll-work and heraldic devices. [...]

     I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed. (Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin)

The door of Henry's lunch-room opened and two men came in. They sat down at the counter.

     "What's yours?" George asked them.

     "I don't know," one of the men said. "What do you want to eat, Al?"

     "I don't know," said Al. "I don't know what I want to eat."

     Outside it was getting dark. The street-light came on outside the window. The two men at the counter read the menu. Nick Adams watched them. He had been talking to George when they came in. (Hemingway, "The Killers")

The concluding sentences of the Hemingway passage make it easier to understand why Stanzel decided to subsume neutral narration under figural narration. For narratological approaches to the Hemingway story, see Fowler (1977: 48-55); Rimmon-Kenan (1983); Lanser (1981: 264-276); Chatman (1990).

N3.3.12. Here come some problem cases, and they are largely due to the fact that a whole novel or a passage of a narrative text may exhibit features of more than one narrative situation, producing borderline cases, transitional passages, and mixed-mode narrative situations. The most common phenomenon is that of 'authorial-figural narration'.

  •  In authorial-figural narration there is both an authorial narrator and a figural medium (Stanzel 1984: 185-186). Examples: (1) Bradbury's "Composition" begins with an authorial exposition but has a middle section which is presented largely through the protagonist's point of view. The story ends with authorial summary and comment. (2) In Henry James's What Maisie Knew, the perceptions of a young heroine with a very limited consciousness are amplified by an overt and intrusive authorial narrator's commentary. (3) A number of short stories in Joyce's Dubliners ("A Painful Case", "The Boarding House") begin with an authorial exposition and then continue as figural narrations.

N3.3.13. As an exercise, analyze the following passages as mixed types of narration:

  •  Our story opens in the mind of Luther L. (L for LeRoy) Fliegler, who is lying in his bed, not thinking of anything, but just aware of sounds, conscious of his own breathing, and sensitive to his own heartbeats. Lying beside him is his wife, lying on her right side and enjoying her sleep. She has earned her sleep, for it is Christmas morning, strictly speaking, and all the day before she has worked like a dog, cleaning the turkey and baking things, and, until a few hours ago, trimming the tree. (O'Hara, Appointment in Samarra 7)
  •       According to the Buddhist belief, those who have done evil in their lives will spend the next incarnation in the shape of a rat, a frog or some other low animal. U Po Kyin was a good Buddhist and intended to provide against this danger. He would devote his closing years to good works, which would pile up enough merit to outweigh the rest of his life. Probably his good works would take the form of building pagodas. Four pagodas, five, six, seven -- the priests would tell him how many -- with carved stonework, gilt umbrellas, and little bells that tinkled in the wind, every tinkle a prayer. And he would return to the earth in male human shape -- for a woman ranks at about the same level as a rat or a frog -- or at best some dignified beast such as an elephant.

     All these thoughts flowed through U Po Kyin's mind swiftly and for the most part in pictures. His brain, though cunning, was quite barbaric, and it never worked except for some definite end; mere meditation was beyond him. (Orwell, Burmese Days)

N3.3.14. A decidedly rarer type of mixed-mode narration is first-person/third-person narration as exemplified by, for instance, Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus, Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Donleavy's The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, John Barth's "Ambrose His Mark", and Fay Weldon's The Heart of the Country. In Jan Philipp Reemtsma's autobiographical story Im Keller, the episodes in the cellar (where the author was held hostage for 33 days) are narrated in the third person. As Reemtsma puts it, "there is no I-continuity that leads from my writing desk into that cellar" (p. 46).

N3.3.15. Violations of standard schemes. The narrative situations have here been described as typicality models which capture standard narratorial characteristics (function, strategy, stance, limitation) and the corresponding readerly expectations in culturally acquired 'cognitive frames'. Frequently, the conditions of these frames can also be made explicit by detailing the unwritten 'narrator-narratee contract'. Of course, sometimes a narrative has a surprise in store, either because its story takes an unexpected turn or because it becomes difficult to reconcile a present mode of presentation with the general frame or contract that we thought we could use in order to optimally read and understand. It is this second type of narrative effect which Genette terms 'transgression' or 'alteration' or 'infraction of code'.

  •  alteration A (usually, temporary) shift into a mode of presentation which does not conform to the standard expectations associated with the current narrative situation. Genette specifically invokes the analogy of a musical composition which momentarily becomes dissonant or changes its tonality (Genette 1980: 197).

Some of the problem cases mentioned above can clearly be analyzed as infractions/alterations in this sense. Genette further differentiates between the following two main types of alterations:

  •  paralepsis An infraction caused by saying too much; a narrator assuming a competence he/she does not properly have; typically, a first-person narrator (or a historiographer) narrating what somebody else thought (Genette's 1980: 208 example is Marcel's narration of Bergotte's dying thoughts), or what happened when he/she was not present (illicit assumption of authorial competence).
  •  paralipsis An infraction caused by omitting crucial information; saying too little; typically, an authorial narrator pretending "not to know" what happened in her/his characters' minds, or what went on at the same time in another place, or distortively censoring a character's thought, or generally pretending to be restricted to ordinary human limitations. (To remember this term, think of the rhetorical figure of ellipsis, omission.)

Paralepsis and paralipsis are instances of violations of Grice's (1975) famous principle of co-operation -- the notion that speakers (narrators) are socially obliged to follow an established set of 'maxims': to give the right amount of information, to speak the truth, to speak to a purpose (tell something worth telling), to be relevant, etc. Cognitive strategies for handling alterations include (a) 'naturalizing' them so that they become acceptable data consistent (after all) with one's current frame of interpretation; (b) adapting the frame so that it allows for the alteration as an 'exception'; (c) treating it as a stylistic 'error'; (d) search for a replacement frame.

Frequently mentioned cases of alterations are Agatha Christie's Murder of Roger Ackroyd (a crime novel narrated by a first-person narrator who turns out to be the murderer himself), Richard Hughes's "The Ghost" (first-person narrator "lives" to tell the tale of her own death), Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (containing unsignaled shifts into a character's dream world). The following case construed by Fillmore (1981), modifying the incipit of Joyce's "Eveline", shows an inconsistent shift away from reflector-mode narration:

She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.

"It would have an absolutely jarring effect on the reader", Fillmore continues, "[...] if the last line of the paragraph were to read 'She was probably tired'" (Fillmore 1981: 160). See also: Genette (1980: 194-197); Edmiston (1991) [paralepsis/paralipsis put to excellent analytical use]; Jahn (1997) [narrative situations as cognitive frames; notion of replacement frames]; Lejeune (1989), Cohn (1999: ch. 2) [both on narrator-narratee contracts].

N4. Action, story analysis, tellability

N4.1. Although 'action' is a more or less self-explanatory term, let us try to give it a more precise and useful definition.

  •  action A sequence of acts and events; the sum of events constituting a 'story line' on a narrative's level of action. An 'action unit' or 'narreme' (Dorfman 1969) is a distinct point (or small segment) on the story line.

Events in the 'primary story line' are often kept distinct from 'external' events that take place before the beginning or after the end of the primary story line (constituting a 'pre-history' and an 'after-history', respectively). According to Sternberg (1978: 49-50), the primary story line begins with the first scenically and singulatively presented event (N5.5.6), usually, the first dialogue. See Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 61-63).

When my first pay-night came I called for her and asked: "What about a walk up Snakey Wood?" (Sillitoe, "The Fishing-Boat Picture" 135) [The beginning of the primary story line is here signaled by the first scenically and singulatively presented event.]

N4.2. What should count as a "minimal sequence of events"? If one permits the limit case of one event then "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy cow" can count as a possible minimal narrative, as do "the king died", "Pierre has come" and "I walk" (Genette 1988: 18-20). Another example used by Genette, "Marcel becomes a writer" wittily condenses Proust's 2000-page novel A la recherche du temps perdu into a single narrative sentence. Here are some additional examples of minimal narratives:

  •  Joan ate an egg and Peter drank a glass of milk, then they went to the theater. (Prince 1982: 76)
  •  The king died and then the queen died of grief. (Forster)
  •  Jack and Jill / Went up the hill / To fetch a pail of water; Jack fell down / And broke his crown, / And Jill came tumbling after. (Everyman's Book of Nonsense 158))

Prince's example lists a bare sequence of action units; Forster's example illustrates the principle of causal connectivity between story units (see 'plot' in N4.6); and the third is a nursery rhyme that lends itself to being enacted by gesture and physical contact. See also Branigan (1992: 11-12; 222n29); Chatman (1978: 30-31; 45-48).

N4.3. None of the foregoing examples can boast of a high degree of tellability (Labov 1972; Ryan 1991: ch. 8). Normally, a story is required to have a point, to teach a lesson, to present an interesting experience (also called 'experientiality', Fludernik 1996), and to arrange its episodes in an interesting progression. Sketching his project, Branigan says:

I wish to examine how we come to know that something is a narrative and how a narrative is able to make intelligible our experiences and feelings. I will argue that it is more than a way of classifying texts: narrative is a perceptual activity that organizes data into a special pattern which represents and explains experience. (Branigan 1992: 3)

Jerome Bruner, too, considers tellability and experientiality as an essence of narrative:

[Narrative] deals in human or human-like intention and action and the vicissitudes and consequences that mark their course. It strives to put its timeless miracles into the particulars of experience, and to locate the experience in time and place. [...] [S]tory must construct two landscapes simultaneously. One is the landscape of action, where the constituents are [...] agent, intention or goal, situation, instrument [...]. The other landscape is the landscape of consciousness: what those involved in the action know, think, or feel, or do not know, think or feel. [...] Indeed, it is an invention of modern novelists and playwrights to create a world made up entirely of the psychic realities of the protagonists, leaving knowledge of the "real" world in the realm of the implicit. (1986: 13-14)

S.I. Hayakawa relates tellability to offering the potential of identification and empathy. Hayakawa distinguishes identification by self-recognition and identification for wish-fulfillment:

There are two kinds of identification which a reader may make with characters in a story. First, he may recognize in the story-character a more or less realistic representation of himself. (For example, the story-character is shown misunderstood by his parents, while the reader, because of the vividness of the narrative, recognizes his own experiences in those of the story-character.) Secondly, the reader may find, by identifying himself with the story-character, the fulfillment of his own desires. (For example, the reader may be poor, not very handsome, and not popular with girls, but he may find symbolic satisfaction in identifying himself with a story-character who is represented as rich, handsome, and madly sought after by hundreds of beautiful women.) It is not easy to draw hard-and-fast lines between these two kinds of identification, but basically the former kind (which we may call "identification by self-recognition") rests upon the similarity of the reader's experiences with those of the story-character, while the latter kind ( "identification for wish-fulfillment" ) rests upon the dissimilarity between the reader's dull life and the story-character's interesting life. Many (perhaps most) stories engage (or seek to engage) the reader's identification by both means. (Hayakawa 1964: 141)

N4.4. In the poetry section we saw that units often combine to form more complex units. Just like a number of syllables may form a metrical 'foot' (P1.7) so action units usually group into 'episodes':

  •  episode A group of action units consisting of three parts: an exposition, a complication, and a resolution (Kintsch 1976). Hence a story can be described both as a sequence of action units (as above) and as a sequence of episodes.

This definition of episodes nicely dovetails with two graphic models of narrative trajectories that have become famous: Freytag's 1863 (!) 'triangle' and Bremond's 1970 'four-phase cycle'. Freytag's triangle originally describes the action and suspense structure of classical five-act tragedy; Bremond's model originally aims at the system of possible state changes in French folk tales. Obviously, however, both models have a far more general relevance.

Regarding his corpus of fairy tales, Bremond adds that "the cycle starts from a state of deficiency or a satisfactory state" and "ends usually with the establishment of a satisfactory state" (1970: 251), i.e., the "they lived happily ever after" formula. For a more detailed account of Freytag's model look up D7.5; for the present, however, Barth's explication is quite sufficient:

AB represents the exposition, B the introduction of conflict, BC the 'rising action', complication, or development of the conflict, C the climax, or turn of the action, CD the denouement, or resolution of the conflict. While there is no reason to regard this pattern as an absolute necessity, like many other conventions it became conventional because great numbers of people over many years learned by trial and error that it was effective [...]. (Barth 1968: 99)

N4.5. Exercise. Use the definition of 'episode' listed above as well as the two narrative progress models (Bremond and Freytag) to show that the following (proto-)stories are likely to have a relatively high degree of tellability.

  •  Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl. (Benson's law of romantic comedy, cp. D7.9)
  •  A community is threatened by a dragon. A youthful hero rides out to find it. He meets the dragon in the woods and kills it. Returning home, he is richly rewarded. [The action frame of the dragon-slayer myth; for a fully realized version see Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky".]
  •  A young woman lives in stifling domestic circumstances. She falls in love with a sailor who promises her a new life in a far-away country. But, torn between love to her friend and duty to her family, she is unable to escape. [A synopsis of Joyce's "Eveline".]
  •  After the 4077th supply of hydrocortisone is hijacked by black marketeers, Hawkeye and Trapper concoct a deal with a local black marketeer (Jack Soo) to get some more. The catch: Henry's antique oak desk, which is whisked away by chopper as Henry watches in disbelief. [Unedited summary of M*A*S*H episode 2, "To Market, To Market", broadcast September 24, 1972; quoted from http://www.faqs.org/faqs/tv/mash/guide/ . Note the type and amount of background information that needs to be supplied here to make this comprehensible to the uninitiated.]

N4.6. The terms 'story' and 'plot' were originally introduced in E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel (1976 [1927]). Ideally, one should distinguish three action-related aspects: (i) the sequence of events as ordered in the discourse; (ii) the action as it happened in its actual chronological sequence (= story); and (iii) the story's causal structure (= plot).

  •  story The chronological sequence of events. Story analysis examines the chronological scale and coherence of the action sequence. The basic question concerning story structure is "What happens next?" (Forster's example: "The king died, and then the queen died"). Note that a narrative's discourse does not have to present the story in purely chronological fashion: a narrative may easily begin with action unit M, execute a flashback to G, jump forward to P, etc. (See flashforwards, flashbacks, anachrony in section 5.2, below).
  •  plot The logical and causal structure of a story. The basic question concerning plot structure is "Why does this happen?" (Forster's example: "The king died, and then the queen died of grief"). Texts can have widely differing degrees of plot connectivity: some are tightly and linearly plotted (typically, every action unit is the causal consequence of something that happened before -- the characters want to fulfill dreams, go on a quest, realize plans, overcome problems, pass tests etc.); others make use of 'mosaic plots' (Scanlan 1988: ch. 7) whose causal coherence is not immediately obvious; others again are loosely plotted, episodic, accident-driven, and possibly avoid plotting altogether. To illustrate, fairy tales are usually linearly and tightly plotted following the pattern A does X because B has done (or is) Y. The Queen is jealous because Snow-White has become more beautiful than she is. So she orders a huntsman to kill her. But the huntsman does not do it because he takes pity on Snow-White (because she's so beautiful). . . etc. Forster (1976 [1927]); Bremond (1970); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: ch. 1); Pavel (1985a); Ryan (1991); Gutenberg (2000).

N4.7. General summaries normally present a plot-oriented content paraphrase. For a detailed story analysis, one usually works out a story's time line so that all main events can be situated in proper sequence and extension. Generally, a time-line model is a good point of departure for surveying themes and action units; it also helps visualize events that are presented in scenic detail as opposed to events that are merely reported in, e.g., a narrator's exposition. A time-line model can also show up significant discrepancies between story time and discourse time (N5.5.2, below). See Pfister (1988: ch. 6, ch. 7.4.3); Genette (1980 [1972]: ch. 1-3).

Here is a time-line and action-unit model of Sillitoe's "The Fishing Boat Picture". For a more detailed analysis using this model see the case study essay in section N9.



Textual detail



various references to Harry's youth

story line


Harry's and Kathy's walk up Snakey Wood
Harry aged 24; Kathy is 30


married life (six years)


book-burning incident
Kathy leaves Harry (Harry aged 30)


10 years pass; very few references to Harry's single life


Kathy comes back for occasional meetings
picture is pawned several times


Kathy is run over by a lorry
Kathy's funeral



life after Kathy's death (six years)



1951; "Why had I lived, I wonder."

N4.8. Beginnings and endings.

  •  incipit The opening passage of a text. Bonheim (1982: ch. 6).
  •  point of attack The event chosen to begin the primary action line. There are three main options: (1) a story beginning ab ovo typically begins with the birth of the protagonist and a state of equilibrium or non-conflict; (2) for a beginning in medias res, the point of attack is set close to the climax of the action; (3) for a beginning in ultimas res, the point of attack occurs after the climax and near the end. Modern short stories typically begin in medias res. (Schwarze 1989: 160 [on Latin terms])
  •  closure The type of conclusion that ends a text. Formally, narratives often conclude with an epilogue or a scene (usually, a final dialogue). In traditional, plot-oriented texts, the main conflict is usually resolved by marriage, death, or some other aesthetically or morally satisfactory outcome producing a state of equilibrium. Many modern texts, however, lack closure; they may be open-ended (Weldon, "Weekend"), simply stop (Hemingway, "The Killers"), conclude enigmatically (Fowles, "The Enigma"), or ambiguously (Wells, "The Country of the Blind"), or even offer alternative endings (Bradbury, "Composition"). Kermode (1965); Bremond (1970); Torgovnick (1981); Bonheim (1982: chapters 7-8).

N5. Tense, Time, and Narrative Modes

N5.1. Narrative Tenses

N5.1.1. There are two major narrative tenses: the narrative past and the narrative present. Normally, a text's use of tenses relates to and depends on the current point in time of the narrator's speech act. Naturally, the tense used in a character's discourse depends on the current point in time in the story's action. Hence,

  •  discourse-NOW The current point in time in discourse time (N5.5.2): the narrator's NOW.
  •  story-NOW The current point in time in story time (N5.5.2); usually, a character's NOW.

N5.1.2. Here is how one determines a text's narrative tense:

  •  Pick a sentence presenting action and identify the tense of its full verb. If this is the past tense or a related tense like the past progressive, the narrative tense is the narrative past. If it is the present, the narrative tense is the narrative present (surprise). The narrative tense usually remains constant over long stretches or all of a text. Stanzel (1984: 23-28); Cohn (1993: 21).

"James," said [= narrative past] Aunt Emily harshly, "you must run off to bed . . . . Mother needs perfect quiet." (Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer)

Shaking from head to foot, the man [...] at length rises [= narrative present], supports his trembling frame upon his arms, and looks around. (Dickens, Edwin Drood)

  •  tense switch / tense shift A switch from the current narrative tense to the complementary narrative tense (i.e., narrative past to narrative present and vice versa). A tense switch is normally used to produce an effect of intensification or distancing (moving into/out of focus), change of perspective, etc.

N5.1.3. The present tense in a narrative text can have a number of functions:

  •  narrative present One of the two narrative tenses (see above). The narrative present foregrounds the story-NOW and backgrounds the discourse-NOW.
  •  historical present A local present tense in a past tense context, usually producing an effect of immediacy or signaling a climax (perhaps comparable to the use of slow motion in film?).
  •  The gnomic present/generic present presents (seemingly) common truths or statements claiming general validity, often in the form of a proverb. See Chatman (1978: 82); Stanzel (1984: 108); Wales (1989: 219, 375). Examples:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. [Ironic gnomic statement used at the beginning of Austen's Pride and Prejudice.]

Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to England. Everything changes [gnomic present]. Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home. (Joyce, "Eveline" 29)

  •  synoptic present Use of the present tense in a chapter summary, the title of a chapter, etc. "Mr. Pickwick journeys to Ipswich and meets with a romantic adventure" (qtd. Stanzel 1982: 42).

N5.1.4. Tense-categorized narratives. Depending on the anteriority or posteriority relationship between discourse-NOW and story-NOW, one can distinguish three major cases:

  •  retrospective narration produces a past-tense narrative whose events and action units have all happened in the past.
  •  concurrent narration produces a present-tense narrative whose action takes place at the same time as it is recounted (discourse-NOW and story-NOW are identical). Typical case: diaries, on-the-scene reporting; see simultaneous narration, N3.3.11, for examples.
  •  prospective narration produces a future-tense narrative which recounts events that have not yet occurred. Example: prophetic narrative.

See Margolin (1999) for a detailed comparative survey.

N5.2. Time Analysis

Time analysis is concerned with three questions: When? How long? and How often? Order refers to the handling of the chronology of the story; duration covers the proportioning of story time and discourse time; and frequency refers to possible ways of presenting single or repetitive action units. Genette (1980 [1972]: 33-85, 87-112, 113-160); Toolan (1988: 48-67); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 43-58).

N5.2.1. Order (When?). The basic question here is whether the presentation of the story follows the natural sequence of events. If it does, we have a chronological order. If not, we are facing a form of 'anachrony':

  •  anachrony A deviation from strict chronology in a story. The two main types of anachrony are flashbacks and flashforwards. If the anachronically presented event is factual, it is an objective anachrony; a character's visions of future or memory of past events are subjective anachronies. Repetitive anachronies recall already narrated events; completive anachronies present events which are omitted in the primary story line. External anachronies present events which take place before the beginning or after the end of the primary story line; anachronies that fall within the range of the primary story line are internal anachronies. See Genette (1980 [1972]: 35-85); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 46-51); Toolan (1988: 49-50); Ci (1988) [a critical account].

The first chapter of Lowry's Under the Volcano postdates the rest of the action by one year, making it either a flashforward or the rest of the action a flashback. The discourse of Graham Swift's Waterland deviates considerably from the chronology of the story. Martin Amis's Time's Arrow reverses the chronology of the story (tells the story backwards).

  •  flashback/retrospection/analepsis The presentation of events that have occurred before the current story-NOW. An external flashback presents an event occurring before the beginning of the primary story line (i.e., in the pre-history).
  •  flashforward/anticipation/prolepsis The presentation of a future event before its proper time. An external flashforward involves an event happening after the end of the primary story line. An objective flashforward or certain anticipation presents an event that will actually occur; a subjective flashforward or uncertain anticipation is just a character's vision of a likely future event. Genette (1980 [1972]: 40, 48-79); Lintvelt 1981: 53-4; Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 46-51); Toolan (1988: 50-54); Ci (1988). Examples:

An hour later Fielding had still appeared neither at the party office nor Tetbury Hall. The faithful had been sent away, with apologies, little knowing that in three days' time the cause of their disappointment was to be the subject of headlines. (Fowles, "The Enigma" 190) [certain anticipation]

I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy, in that England which I shall see no more. I see Her with a child upon her bosom, who bears my name. I see her father, aged and bent, but otherwise restored, and faithful to all men in his healing office, and at peace. I see the good old man, so long their friend, in ten years' time enriching them with all he has, and passing tranquilly to his reward. (Dickens, Tale of Two Cities 404) [A subjective, external, and completive flashforward.]

  •  achrony A sequence of temporally wholly unordered events (Genette 1980 [1972]: 84).

N5.2.2. Duration (How long?). The basic distinction that needs to be established first is that between 'story time' and 'discourse time'.

  •  discourse time The time it takes an average reader to read a passage, or, more globally, the whole text. Discourse time can be measured in the number of words, lines, or pages of a text. (A rule of thumb used by radio announcers is that one line of text equals 1.5 seconds.)

Typical discourse-time oriented questions are, "Can the text be read at one sitting?" (Poe's definition of a short story); "How does discourse time relate to story time?", i.e., "How long does it take to tell/read this episode" versus "How long does its action last?". Genette (1980 [1972]: 33-34); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 44-45).

  •  story time The fictional time taken up by an action episode, or, more globally, by the whole action. To determine story time, one usually relies on aspects of textual pace, intuition, and text-internal clues.

Some useful questions concerning story time are "What is the global time scale of the text?" (the 'amplitude' of story time) and "How does story time differ from discourse time?". For instance, while the story time of Joyce's Ulysses (650 pages of text) is 18 hours, the following few lines cover a story time of no less than ten centuries:

The years passed. The sun swept through its majestic cycles. The moon waxed and waned, and tides rushed back and forth across the surface of the world. Ice crept down from the north, and for ten thousand years [text-internal clue] covered the islands, its weight and power breaking down rocks and forming earth. (Michener, Hawaii 7)

N5.2.3. In order to assess a narrative passage's speed or tempo, one compares story time and discourse time. The following major types of relationship occur:

  •  In isochronous presentation ('of equal duration'; also congruent presentation, isochrony), story time and discourse time are approximately equal or rhythmically mapped. This is normally the case in passages containing lots of dialogue or detailed action presentation. Isochrony is a defining feature of the scenic narrative mode (N5.3.1.). Genette (1980 [1972]: 94-95, 109-112); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 54-55); Toolan (1988: 57-61).

     "I have your call to New York now, Mrs. Glass," the operator said.

     "Thank you," said the girl, and made room on the night table for the ashtray. A woman's voice came through. "Muriel? Is that you?" The girl turned the receiver slightly away from her ear. "Yes, Mother. How are you?" she said. (Salinger, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" 7-8)

  •  In speed-up/acceleration, an episode's discourse time is considerably shorter than its story time. Speed-up typically characterizes a 'summary' or 'panoramic' mode of presentation. Genette (1980 [1972]: 94-95, 95-99); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 53-54); Toolan (1988: 57-61).

     Set loose, Sybil immediately ran down to the flat part of the beach and began to walk in the direction of Fisherman's Pavilion. Stopping only to sink a foot in a soggy collapsed castle, she was soon out of the area reserved for guests of the hotel.

     She walked for about a quarter of a mile and then suddenly broke into an oblique run up the soft part of the beach. She stopped short when she reached the place where a young man was lying on his back. (Salinger, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" 14)

  •  In slow-down/deceleration, an episode's discourse time is considerably longer than its story time. Slow-down is a rare phenomenon; many cases classified as slow-down are probably more properly interpreted as congruent presentations of subjective time. Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 53); Toolan (1988: 57).
  •  ellipsis/cut/omission A stretch of story time which is not textually represented at all. "The discourse halts, though time continues to pass in the story" (Chatman 1978: 70). Some critics consider ellipsis a special case of speed-up. Genette (1980 [1972]: 93, 95, 106-109); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 53); Toolan (1988: 56).

Roses, green grass, books and peace. [Martha's last thoughts before she falls asleep.]

     Martha woke up with a start when they got to the cottage, and gave a little shriek which made them all laugh. Mummy's waking shriek, they called it. (Weldon, "Weekend" 314) [Story time has been cut during Martha's sleep.]

  •  pause During a pause, discourse time elapses on description or comment, while story time stops and no action actually takes place. Genette (1980 [1972]: 95, 99-106); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 53); Toolan (1988: 56).

N5.2.4. Frequency (How often?). Frequency analysis investigates a narrator's strategies of summative or repetitive telling. There are three main frequential modes:

  •  singulative telling Recounting once what happened once.
  •  repetitive telling Recounting several times what happened once.
  •  iterative telling Recounting once what happened n times.

Genette 1980 [1972]: 113-160; Rimmon-Kenan 1983: 46, 56-58; Toolan 1988: 61-62. Consider also the amusing metanarrative comment given by the self-conscious authorial narrator of Lodge's How Far Can You Go?:

As a contemporary French critic has pointed out in a treatise on narrative [an allusion to Genette 1980], a novelist can (a) narrate once what happened once or (b) narrate n times what happened once or (c) narrate n times what happened n times or (d) narrate once what happened n times. [The occasion for this comment is the narrator's problem of how to recount the sexual experiences of his characters.]

N5.2.5. Conduct a frequency analysis of the following excerpts:

  •  He goes to the McDonald Hamburger stand, and to graduate student parties to smoke pot, and to political meetings. He writes letters home to the girl with the abortion, and washes his clothes in the laundry down in the basement of the graduate dormitory, shown the way by Ting. He eats Fardiman's apple cake and grades many themes. He stands behind his desk in the Chemistry Building, three days a week, and tells his students about Carnaby Street and Portobello Road. He goes to the Teaching Round Table, where all the graduate assistants sit around a square table and discuss their problems. (Bradbury, "Composition" 293-94) [An example of summarizing iterative narration]
  •  It was winter. Jess and Lorraine sat in movie theatres and held hands, then they sat in restaurants where they drank hot chocolate and held hands. They walked in the snowy, deserted Common, shivering, and held hands. (Metalious, The Tight White Collar 159)
  •  Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved, was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.

     This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling; and although there is plenty of space on a gravestone to contain, bound in moss, the abridged version of a man's life, detail is always welcome. (Incipit of Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark; qtd. Rimmon-Kenan 1983: 53-54)

N5.3. Narrative Modes

N5.3.1. The main narrative modes (or ways in which an episode can be presented) basically follow from the frequential and durational relationships identified above. First, however, let us make the traditional distinction between 'showing' and 'telling' (often correlated with 'mimesis' and 'diegesis', respectively):

  •  showing In a showing mode of presentation, there is little or no narratorial mediation, overtness, or presence. The reader is basically cast in the role of a witness to the events.
  •  telling In a telling mode of presentation, the narrator is in overt control (especially, durational control) of action presentation, characterization and point-of-view arrangement.

There are only two major narrative modes: scene and summary:

  •  scene/scenic presentation A showing mode which presents a continuous stream of detailed action events. Durational aspect: isochrony. Bonheim 1982: 20-24; Genette 1980 [1972]: 94-95, 109-112; Rimmon-Kenan 1983: 54-55.

He glanced at the girl lying asleep on one of the twin beds. Then he went over to one of the pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he took out an Ortgies caliber 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple. (Salinger, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" 21)

  •  summary A telling mode in which the narrator condenses a sequence of action events into a thematically focused and orderly account. Durational aspect: speed-up. Bonheim (1982: 22-24). Example:

Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved, was not loved; and his life ended in disaster. (Nabokov, Laughter in the Dark; qtd. Rimmon-Kenan 1983: 53-54)

N5.3.2. In addition to the two major modes, there are two minor or supportive modes: description and comment. These modes are supportive rather than constitutive because no-one can tell a story using description and comment alone.

  •  description A telling mode in which the narrator introduces a character or describes the setting. Durational aspect: pause. As Chatman (1978: 43-44) points out, descriptive sentences are typically predicated on 'stative verbs' like be and have ("His hair was white. He had no friends or relatives"). See also block characterization (N7.4). Examples:

He had numbered ninety years. His head was completely bald -- his mouth was toothless -- his long beard was white as snow -- and his limbs were feeble and trembling. (G.W.M. Reynolds, Wagner the Were-Wolf)

In the centre of the square stands the courthouse itself, a Victorian building of no distinction, with defensive cannon at every corner. In front of the courthouse stands a statue, of a soldier, his rifle in a negative position, a Henry Fleming who has been perpetuated as he ducks out of the Civil War. (Bradbury, "Composition" 286)

  •  comment/commentary A telling mode in which the narrator comments on characters, the development of the action, the circumstances of the act of narrating, etc. Durational aspect: pause. Comments are typical narratorial intrusions and often indicative of 'self-conscious narration'. See Bonheim (1982: 30-32). Example:

I've been a postman for twenty-eight years. Take that first sentence: because it's written in a simple way may make the fact of my having been a postman for so long seem important, but I realize that such a fact has no significance whatever. After all, it's my fault that it may seem as if it has to some people just because I wrote it down plain; I wouldn't know how to do it any other way. (Sillitoe, "The Fishing-Boat Picture" 135)

N6. Setting and fictional space

N6.1. No-one, so far, has given literary representations of space the same kind of scrutiny that has been expended on time, tense, and chronology. For a long time, scholars simply followed Lessing's dictum that literature was a 'temporal' art as opposed to 'spatial' arts like painting and sculpture. Thus, for a long time, the general assumption was that a verbal narrative's setting simply is not as important as its temporal framework and chronology.

This was an unfortunate conclusion, however. In an important article on 'chronotopes' (literally, 'time spaces'), Bakhtin (1981 [1973]) drew attention to the fact that time and space in narrative texts are actually very closely correlated (see Riffaterre 1996 for a practical application of the concept). In 1948, Josef Frank isolated a number of stylistic techniques that create an effect of what he termed 'spatial form'. According to Stanzel (1984: ch. 5.2), space in fiction is distinct from space in the visual arts because space in fiction can never be presented completely. Describing the entire interior of a room, to the smallest visible detail, is an impossible (and rather boring) task, but the full depiction of a room in the medium of film clearly poses no problem at all. In verbal narrative, a room can only be described by referring to a small selection of more or less 'graphic' detail -- luckily, in the process of reading, readers will complete the 'verbal picture' by imagining the rest.

N6.2. For a point of departure, one might as well begin by noting that there is a close relationship between objects and spaces. A fishbowl is an object from our human point of view, but to the goldfish it is a space; similarly, a house is an object in a larger environment (a district, a city), but to its inhabitants it is a space to move or be in. In other words, what's space and what's an object in space is a matter of adopted perspective and environmental embeddedness. Hence our definition of literary space:

  •  literary space The environment which situates objects and characters; more specifically, the environment in which characters move or live in.

Literary space in this sense is more than a stable 'place' or 'setting' -- it includes landscapes as well as climatic conditions, cities as well as gardens and rooms, indeed, it includes everything that can be conceived of as spatially located objects and persons.

See Kahrmann et al. (1977: C.4) and Hoffmann (1978). Along with characters, space belongs to the 'existents' of a narrative (Chatman 1978). Bakhtin (1981 [1973]), Chatman (1978: 96-106, 138-145), Bronfen (1986), Ronen (1994: ch. 6).

N6.3. Paralleling the distinction between 'story time' and 'discourse time' (N5.5.2), Chatman differentiates between 'story space' and 'discourse space':

  •  story space The spatial environment or setting of any of the story's action episodes; or more globally, the ensemble or range of these environments.
  •  discourse space The narrator's current spatial environment; more globally, the whole range of environments in which the narrative situation is located. For instance, hospitals and psychiatric wards are popular modern discourse spaces (J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Günter Grass's The Tin Drum).

More specifically still, the terms 'story-HERE' and 'discourse-HERE' can be used to identify the current deictic 'point of origin' in story space and discourse space, respectively.

  •  story-HERE The current point in space in story space; functionally, the deictic point of origin for deictic expressions such as here, there, left, right, etc., often used in register with the physical position of an internal focalizer (N3.2.2).
  •  discourse-HERE The current point in space in discourse space, equivalent to the physical position of the narrator. Example:

The solid wood desk, on which I am writing, formerly a jeweler's workbench, is equipped with four large drawers and a top whose surface, slightly sloping inwards from the edges (no doubt so that the pearls that were once sifted on it would run no risk of falling to the floor) is covered with black fabric of very tightly woven mesh. (Georges Perec, "Still Life/ Style Leaf")

Story-HERE and discourse-HERE in conjunction with story-NOW and discourse-NOW identify the story's current 'deictic center', i.e. the origin or zero point of the text's spatio-temporal co-ordinate system.

N6.4. As Ronen (1986; 1994) has pointed out, any description of space invokes a perception of space: apart from the reader's imaginative perception, this is either a narrator's perception, or a character's perception; both can be either actual perception or imaginary perception. For this reason, fictional space is evidently strongly correlated to focalization (N3.2).

Most important among the linguistic clues to spatial perception are expressions that signal the 'deictic orientation' of a speaking or perceiving subject (representing the current 'deictic center', N6.3) -- on the most basic level, expressions like near and far, here and there, left and right, up and down, come and go, etc. Significant oppositional spaces are city vs. country, civilization vs. nature, house vs. garden, transitional space vs. permanent space, and public space vs. private space. All these spaces are culturally defined (Baak 1983: 37) and therefore variable; often, they are also very clearly associated with attitudinal stances and value judgments.

Methodologically, the most promising approach towards the semantics of fictional space is to gather the isotopies (P3.6) correlating deictic expressions, spatial opposites, and value judgments, and to identify the propositions that link the common semantic denominators involved. To practice this type of analysis, try your hand on some of the examples quoted below.

N6.5. Semantically charged space. What makes an inquiry into the semantics of literary space so promising is the fact that spatial features can significantly influence characters and events. This is often referred to as the 'semanticization' or semantic charging of space. Here are some examples:

  •  In Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill", Miss Brill's room is likened to a "cupboard", a simile that not only captures the dimensions of the room but also expresses its cramped atmosphere and the protagonist's isolation.
  •  I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street towards the station. The sight of the streets thronged with buyers and glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of my journey. I took my seat in the third-class carriage of a deserted train. After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly, crept onward among ruinous houses and over the twinkling river. At Westland Row Station a crowd of people pressed to the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back, saying that it was a special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the train drew up beside an improvised wooden platform. I passed out on to the road and saw by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. In front of me was a large building which displayed the magical name. (Joyce, "Araby")

In the Joyce passage, the spatial details of the boy's journey to the bazaar named "Araby" (a name that signifies an exotic foreign space) foreshadow his frustrating experience there. The emotive connotations of "Araby" ("the magical name") are partly mirrored, and partly contrasted in the drab Dublin environment through which he passes. (Hint: consider also the initiation aspects of this story -- N3.3.4)

  •  About half-way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes -- a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight.

This is the famous introductory description of the "valley of ashes" in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (ch. 2), later the scene of a tragic car accident.

N6.6. Representations of space should always be related to the story's underlying narrative situation. Consider the two examples below:

[Coketown] was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes would have allowed it; but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. (Dickens, Hard Times ch. V) [an authorial narrator's panoramic view (a highly critical one) of the novel's main setting.]

[T]hey were clanking through a drive that cut through the garden like a whip-lash, looping suddenly an island of green, and behind the island, but out of sight until you came upon it, was the house. It was long and low built, with a pillared veranda and balcony all the way round. The soft white bulk of it lay stretched upon the green garden like a sleeping beast. And now one and now another window leaped into light. Someone was walking through the empty rooms carrying a lamp. (Mansfield, "Prelude" 17) [space seen through the moving point of view of an internal focalizer -- significantly, some aspects of space only become visible as the cart approaches the house]

N7. Characters and Characterization

Characterization analysis investigates the ways and means of creating the personality traits of fictional characters. The basic analytical question is, Who (subject) characterizes whom (object) as being what (as having which properties). For a general introduction, see Chatman (1978: 107-133); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 59-70); Pfister (1988: ch. 5); Bonheim (1990: ch. 17); Nieragden (1995); Schneider (2000) [cognitive approach towards character].

N7.1. Characterization analysis focuses on three basic parameters: (1) narratorial vs. figural characterization (identity of characterizing subject: narrator or character?); (2) explicit vs. implicit characterization (are the personality traits attributed in words, or are they implied by somebody's behavior?); (3) self-characterization (auto-characterization) vs. altero-characterization (does the characterizing subject characterize himself/herself or somebody else?).

N7.2. For a reasonably complete model of the system of dramatic characterization techniques, we will use a modified version of Pfister's famous tree diagram (1988: 184). (See D8.3 for a discussion of the modifications made.)

N7.3. In figural characterization, the characterizing subject is a character. On the level of explicit characterization, a character either characterizes him- or herself, or some other character. The reliability or credibility of a character's judgment largely depends on pragmatic circumstances. (1) Auto-characterization is often marked by face- or image-saving strategies, wishful thinking, and other "subjective distortions" (Pfister 1988: 184 -- consider, e.g., lonely hearts ads, letters of applications etc.). (2) Altero-characterization is often heavily influenced by social hierarchies and "strategic aims and tactical considerations" (Pfister 1988: 184), especially when the judgment in question is a public statement made in a dialogue (as opposed to when it is made in a character's interior monologue -- N8.9), and even more so when the person characterized is present (in praesentia -- obvious case: how advisable is it to criticize a tyrant?).

N7.4. An explicit characterization is a verbal statement that ostensibly attributes (i.e., is both meant to and understood to attribute) a trait or property to a character who may be either the speaker him- or herself (auto-characterization), or some other character (altero-characterization). Usually, an explicit characterization consists of descriptive statements (particularly, sentences using be or have as verbs) which identify, categorize, individualize, and evaluate a person. Characterizing judgments can refer to external, internal, or habitual traits -- "John has blue eyes, is a good-hearted fellow, and smokes a pipe". Note that while an 'explicit' characterization is a verbal characterization, the expressions used may be quite vague, allusive, or even elliptical (as in "he is not a person you'd want to associate with"). See Srull and Wyer (1988) for a theory of character attribution in social cognition, especially their use of the concepts 'identification', 'categorization', and 'individualization'. Example:

She [Katie] pecked Martha on the forehead. "Funny little Martha," she said. "She reminds me of Janet. I really do like Janet." (Weldon, "Weekend" 320)

On the one hand, this is Katie's explicit characterization of Martha ("funny", "little"); at the same time it is also an implicit self-characterization, indicative of Katie's patronizing arrogance.

  •  block characterization The introductory description of a character, by the narrator, usually on the character's first appearance in the text; a special type of explicit characterization. (Term introduced by Souvage 1965: 34-36).

He was personable and quick-minded, which might, with his middle-class manner and accent, have done him harm; but he was also a diplomat. [. . .] His name was Michael Jennings. (Fowles, "The Enigma" 198)

N7.5. An implicit characterization is a (usually unintentional) auto-characterization in which somebody's physical appearance or behavior is indicative of a characteristic trait. X characterizes him- or herself by behaving or speaking in a certain manner. Nonverbal behavior (what a character does) may characterize somebody as, for instance, a fine football player, a good conversationalist, a coward, or a homosexual, while verbal behavior (the way a character speaks, or what a character says in a certain situation) may characterize somebody as, for instance, having a certain educational background (jargon, slang, dialect), as belonging to a certain class of people (sociolect), or as being truthful, evasive, ill-mannered, etc. Characters are also implicitly characterized by their clothing, their physical appearance (e.g., a hunchback) and their chosen environment (e.g., their rooms, their pet dogs, their cars).

"I give every man his due, regardless of religion or anything else. I have nothing against Jews as an individual," I says, "It's just the race." (Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury) [Cited by Rimmon-Kenan 1983: 63 as a statement showing a character's bigotry.]

Generally speaking, all explicit characterizations are always also implicit auto-characterizations (why?). Occasionally, an implicit auto-characterization can sharply clash with an explicit auto-characterization.

N7.6. The implicit self-characterization of a narrator is always a key issue in interpretation. Is the narrator omniscient? competent? opinionated? self-conscious? well-read? ironic? reliable? See Genette (1980: 182-185); Lanser (1981); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 59-67, 100-103); Stanzel (1984: 150-152); Nünning (1997; 1998; 1999).

  •  reliable narrator A narrator "whose rendering of the story and commentary on it the reader is supposed to take as an authoritative account of the fictional truth" (Rimmon-Kenan 1983: 100).
  •  unreliable narrator A narrator "whose rendering of the story and/or commentary on it the reader has reasons to suspect. [...] The main sources of unreliability are the narrator's limited knowledge, his personal involvement, and his problematic value-scheme" (Rimmon-Kenan 1983: 100). Many first-person narrators are unreliable.

True! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am! but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses - not destroyed - not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily - how calmly I can tell you the whole story. (Poe, beginning of "The Tell-Tale Heart") [Not at all a "healthy" and "calm" way of beginning a story!]

Some theorists make an explicit distinction between 'mimetic (un)reliability' and 'evaluative' or 'normative (un)reliability': "a narrator may be quite trustworthy in reporting events but not competent in interpreting them, or may confuse certain facts but have a good understanding of their implications" (Lanser 1981: 171). According to Cohn (1999: ch. 8), Thomas Mann's Tod in Venedig is told by a mimetically reliable but normatively unreliable narrator. See also Nünning (1999); Yacobi (2000).

N7.7. E.M. Forster's distinction between flat characters and round characters concerns the psychological depth or sophistication of a person's perceived character traits:

  •  flat character/static character A one-dimensional figure characterized by a very restricted range of speech and action patterns. A flat character does not develop in the course of the action and can often be reduced to a type or even a caricature (e.g., "a typical Cockney housewife", "a bureaucrat" etc.). Flat characters are often used for comic effect.-- Mrs. Micawber in Dickens's David Copperfield is characterized by keeping on saying "I never will desert Mr. Micawber".
  •  round character/dynamic character A three-dimensional figure characterized by many, often conflicting, properties. A round character tends to develop in the course of the action and is not reducible to a type. Forster (1976 [1927]); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 40-42); Pfister (1988: 177-179). Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 41) identifies Stephen in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Strether in James's The Ambassadors as round characters.

N7.8. Here is a brief list of functionally determined character types (to be expanded):

  •  confidant (fem., confidante) Somebody the protagonist can speak to, exchange views with, confide in -- usually a close friend. -- Dr. Watson is Sherlock Holmes's confidant (and also his 'foil', see below). Sam is Frodo's confidant in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
  •  foil character A foil is, literally, "a sheet of bright metal that is placed under a piece of jewelry to increase its brilliancy" (Holman 1972); one meaning of to foil is 'to enhance by contrast'. In literature, a minor character highlighting certain features of a major character, usually through contrast. -- In Weldon's "Weekend", Janet is a foil for Katie and Katie is a foil for Martha. Sherlock Holmes's cleverness is highlighted by Dr. Watson's dullness.
  •  chorus character Originally a convention in drama, an uninvolved character ("man in the street") commenting on characters or events, typically speaking philosophically, sententiously, or in clichés.

"One time we had a mayor of Chicago punched your King George right in the snoot [...]. Don't forget now," says the cabbie, "It's better here, so if you don't like it go back where you came from." (Bradbury, "Composition" 289) [The American taxi driver who takes William, a British student, to the campus.]

N7.9. A text's system of denomination or naming conventions is the specific set of naming strategies used to identify and subsequently to refer to its characters. Since naming patterns often dovetail with characterization, point of view or focalization, they merit close stylistic analysis. Key questions are:

  •  How (with what sequence of expressions) does a text establish a character's identity? (Cf. block characterization, N7.4, above.)
  •  Are the characters mainly referred to by first name, nickname, last name, with or without a (honorific) form of address (Mr., Mrs., Dr., Father, Senator, Colonel, ...), or by a descriptive referring expression? (For instance, in Joyce's Ulysses, the younger protagonist is "Stephen", while the older protagonist is "Mr Bloom"; Dickens often uses descriptive expressions such as "his eminently practical friend" etc.)
  •  When and with what implications or presuppositions does the text use personal pronouns? (Cf. use of referentless pronoun', N3.3.10).

Uspensky (1973) [first close analysis of point-of-view aspects of naming]; Genette (1988: 68-71) [discussion of character identification in 19C and 20C story incipits]; Moore (1989) [naming conventions in James's What Maisie Knew]; Fludernik (1996: 246-48); Emmott (1997) [major study especially focusing on pronouns]; Collier (1999) [naming in Patrick White).

N8. Discourses: representations of speech, thought and consciousness

N8.1. With respect to verbal narratives, narrative discourse is the oral or written text produced by an act of narrating. As Dolezel puts it, "Every narrative text T is a concatenation and alternation of DN [narrator's discourse] and DC [character's discourse]" (Dolezel 1972: 4). In principle, therefore, a narrative text can be subdivided into

  •  the narrator's discourse, comprising all 'diegetic statements' telling the 'narrative of (nonverbal) events'; also, the narrator's evaluative or commentatorial statements, if any; and
  •  the characters' discourses, making up the 'narrative of verbal events/words'.

Although this is a useful distinction, there are many transitional and borderline phenomena such as 'narrative report of discourse', 'psychonarration', 'narrated perception' etc. (see below). Dolezel (1973: Introduction); Cohn (1978: 21-57), Genette (1980: 164-169; 1988 [1983]: 18, 43, 61-63, 130); Lintvelt (1981: ch. 4.6.2).

N8.2. When the narrative of events includes (or shifts to) a narrative of words we encounter a patchwork structure that is addressed by quotation theory:

  •  quotation theory The theory of the narrative options of rendering a character's speech or thought. The primary relationship is one of framing or embedding: a character's discourse or inset is presented within a narrator's discourse or frame. The simplest kind of frame is a clause of 'attributive discourse' (She said [frame], Good morning [inset]). Attitudinal forces between frame and inset range from 'wholly consonant' via 'neutral' to 'wholly dissonant' (ironical). Each instance of quoted discourse is either self-quotation or 'alteroquotation' (quotation of somebody else's speech). The inset represents either actual words or virtual words (hypothetical utterances as well as verbalized mental events), and the inset's mimetic quality (or accuracy) ranges from rough approximation to verbatim reproduction. See Cohn (1978); Sternberg (1982b) [frame and inset]; Genette (1988 [1983]: ch. 9); Plett (1988).

According to Genette (1988 [1983]: 60-63), a character's consciousness can either be rendered as narrative of events or, via conventionalized 'verbalization', as narrative of words.

N8.3. A special subset of diegetic statements is 'attributive discourse':

  •  attributive discourse A diegetic phrase or 'tag' identifying an agent and an act of speech, thought, or perception. Syntactically, there are two main forms: (a) an 'introductory tag' is a discourse tag in initial position (Jane thought (that)); (b) a 'parenthetical tag' is a discourse tag in either medial or final position (That, she thought, was it; "That is it", she thought). Semantically, attributive discourse tags are constructions based on (a) 'verba dicendi' or 'inquits' (she said, asked, replied, muttered, confessed, claimed, remarked, promised, announced, ...), (b) 'verba cogitandi' or 'cogitats' (she thought, realized, felt, ...), and (c) 'verba sentiendi/percipiendi' or 'percepits' (she saw, heard, felt, remembered, imagined, dreamed, ...). Note, Latin verbum means 'word' (i.e., not just 'verb'), so a phrase like "The thought struck him that" can easily count as an introductory 'cogitat tag'.

In general, introductory tags co-occur with 'direct' and 'indirect discourse', and parenthentical tags co-occur with direct and 'free indirect discourse' (see examples below). See Page (1973: ch. 2); Prince (1978); Bonheim (1982: ch. 5 [historical and stylistic features of inquits]; Banfield (1982: ch. 1.3.1, 2.2, 2.3); Neumann (1986 [ambiguous forms in Austen]); Collier (1992b: ch. 11 [comprehensive survey, but restricted to direct discourse inquits]); Fludernik (1993a: ch. 5.2 [tag phrases and free indirect discourse]).

N8.4. As regards styles of discourse representation, we are going to distinguish the three traditional basic forms: the 'direct' style, the 'free indirect' style, and the 'indirect' style. The following table lists the general characteristics of each style; more detailed definitions and some subforms follow below.




direct discourse

Mary said/thought: "What on
earth shall I do now?"

quoted speech formally independent of
quoting frame

free indirect
discourse (FID)

What on earth should she do

mixture of deictic elements: original
expressivity combines with person/tense
system of framing discourse


Mary wondered what she should do.

diegetically oriented report; the quoted part
is a subordinate clause controlled by the
narratorial frame

N8.5. Direct discourse styles.

  •  direct discourse A direct quotation of a character's speech ('direct speech') or (verbalized) thought ('direct thought'). Direct speech is often placed within quotation marks, explicitly signaling the transition from quoting to quoted discourse (= frame/inset, see 'quotation theory', N8.2). Tagged direct discourse is framed by a clause of attributive discourse; untagged direct discourse (alternatively, free direct discourse) is free of attributive discourse. The main property of direct discourse is that the deictic elements of the quoted inset, especially its tenses and pronouns, are wholly independent of the deixis of the quoting discourse.

[...] only I myself am novel, he thinks, the experience is not.. . . But what, he thinks, next? (Bradbury, "Composition") [Tagged direct thought].

Wonderful! The best husband in the world: look into his crinkly, merry, gentle eyes; see it there. So the mouth slopes away into something of a pout. Never mind. Gaze into the eyes. Love. It must be love. You married him. (Weldon, "Weekend" 313) [Untagged direct thought].

See Cohn (1978: 58-98); Quirk et al. (1985: ch. 14.28-14.29); Leech and Short (1981: ch. 10); Bonheim (1982: ch. 4); Sternberg (1982b); Short (1991); Fludernik (1993a: ch. 8).

N8.6. Free indirect discourse styles.

  •  free indirect discourse A representation of a character's words ('free indirect speech') or verbalized thoughts ('free indirect thought') which is (a) 'indirect' in the sense that pronouns and tenses of the quoted discourse are aligned with the pronoun/tense structure of the current narrative situation, and (b) 'free' to the extent that the discourse quoted appears in the form of a non-subordinate clause. While free indirect discourse changes and shifts some of the words of the original utterance, it retains subjective constructions and expressions, question forms, exclamation marks, speaker emphasis, etc. Free indirect discourse is generally a less mimetic (i.e., a less accurate) rendering than direct discourse, but more mimetic than indirect discourse.

Note: Although many theorists understand 'free' to mean free of a reporting clause, recent commentators recognize that free indirect discourse does in fact often collocate with 'parenthetical' attributive discourse. It seems appropriate, therefore, to distinguish between 'tagged' and 'untagged' free indirect discourse (cf. Wales 1989: 189; Collier 1992b: 168).

See Bally (1912 [f.i.d. and French imparfait]); Pascal (1977 ['dual voice' theory]); McHale (1978 [excellent overview]); Banfield (1982 [a generative-grammar account]); Rimmon-Kenan (1983: 110-116); Cohn (1978: 99-140 [consonant and dissonant uses of f.i.d.]); Toolan (1988: 119-137); Short (1991 [speech-act parameters]); Fludernik (1993b [the most comprehensive account to date]). Examples:

What was he to do? Ridiculous to try driving it away. And to leave the wood, with the rain still coming down full pelt, was out of the question. (Hughes, "The Rain Horse" 129) [Untagged free indirect thought in a third-person context.]

This was a lonesome post to occupy (I said), and it had riveted my attention when I looked down from up yonder. A visitor was a rarity, I should suppose; not an unwelcome rarity, I hoped? (Dickens, "The Signalman" 12) [Tagged free indirect speech in a first-person text.]

     He will write to her?

     He will write to her every alternate day, and tell her all his adventures. (Dickens, Edwin Drood 174) [Untagged free indirect dialogue in a heterodiegetic present tense context.]

N8.7. Indirect discourse styles.

  •  indirect discourse A form of representing a character's words ('indirect speech') or (verbalized) thoughts ('indirect thought') which uses a reporting clause of introductory attributive discourse, places the discourse quoted in a subordinate clause bound to the deictic orientation of the narrator, and generally summarizes, interprets, and grammatically straightens the character's language. Indirect discourse adjusts pronouns, tenses, and referring expression to the point of view of the reporting speaker (the narrator), and paraphrases rather than reproduces the original's expressivity and illocutionary force. Example:

Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself (Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway).

  •  narrative report of discourse A narrator's summarizing report of a character's words ('narrative report of speech') or thoughts ('narrative report of thought'). Using a strategy of 'departicularization' (Sternberg 1982b: 93-100), the technique's aim is to capture the gist of the character's discourse, but renders it in the narrator's own language. Differentiating increasing degrees of mimesis and concreteness, McHale (1978) discerns three subtypes: 'diegetic summary' (which mentions a speech/thought event without further specification), 'summary report' (which names the topics only), and 'indirect content-paraphrase' (which reports propositional content in the form of indirect discourse).

Discussion very active indeed [diegetic summary]. I talk to plain young man with horn-rimmed glasses, sitting at my left hand, about Jamaica, where neither of us has ever been [...] [summary report]. Go into the drawing room, and all exclaim how nice it is to see the fire [indirect content-paraphrase/ indirect discourse]. (Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady)

See Quirk et al. (1985: ch. 14.30-14.35); McHale (1978: 258-260); Leech and Short (1981: ch. 10); Banfield (1982: ch. 1); Short, Semino and Culpeper (1996); Toolan (1999).

N8.8. To conclude this section, we will briefly turn to terms that specifically identify certain styles of representing 'inside views' (Booth 1961: 163-168) into a character's mind. Presenting the mental processes of characters, their thoughts and perceptions, their memories, dreams, and emotions became a prime challenge for late 19C and early 20C novelists. Among the authors who became strongly interested in what was soon called 'stream of consciousness art', 'literary impressionism', 'novel of consciousness', etc, were D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Dorothy Richardson, Patrick White (and many others). See Cohn (1978) for an excellent introduction to the subject.

  •  stream of consciousness Originally, a term coined by the American psychologist William James (the brother of Henry James) to denote the disjointed character of mental processes and the layering and merging of central and peripheral levels of awareness. Appropriated into literary criticism by May Sinclair in 1918, stream of consciousness is often used as a general term for the textual rendering of mental processes, especially any attempt to capture the random, irregular, disjointed, associative and incoherent character of these processes.

See W. James (1950 [1890]: ch. 9), Sinclair (1990 [1918]); Humphrey (1954); Steinberg (1973); Cohn (1978), Chatman (1978: 186-195); Toolan (1988: 128).

N8.9. The main techniques of representing the sound and rhythm of a character's stream of consciousness are 'interior monologue', 'direct thought', and 'free indirect thought'. Direct thought and free indirect thought have already been defined in N8.5 and N8.6, above. Interior monologue is a special case of direct thought:

  •  interior monologue An extended passage of 'direct thought', sometimes also considered an independent text type ('autonomous monologue'), e.g. by Cohn (1978). Examples are chapter 18 of Ulysses (Molly's monologue), Schnitzler's stories "Leutnant Gustl" and "Fräulein Else", Dujardin's novella The Bays Are Sere (orig. Les lauriers sont coupés [1887]). As Edouard Dujardin, often identified as the inventor of the style, puts it, "The essential innovation introduced by interior monologue consists in the fact that its aim is to invoke the uninterrupted flow of thoughts going through the character's being, as they are born, and in the order they are born, without any explanation of logical sequence and giving the impression of 'raw' experience (Dujardin 1931: 118). Examples:
    •  The waiter. The table. My hat on the stand. Let's take our gloves off; drop them casually on the table; these little things show a man's style. My coat on the stand; I sit down; ouf! I was weary. I'll put my gloves in my coat pockets. Blazing with light, golden, red, with its mirrors, this glitter, what? the restaurant; the restaurant where I am. I was tired. (Dujardin, The Bays Are Sere) [Interior monologue representing the thoughts of a man entering a restaurant.]
    •  I think Ill get a bit of fish tomorrow or today is it Friday yes I will with some blancmange with black currant jam like long ago not those 2 lb pots of mixed plum and apple from the London and Newcastle Williams and Woods goes twice as far only for the bones . . . (Joyce, Ulysses). [Thoughts of Molly Bloom lying in bed thinking about tomorrow's supper. The text continues in this manner, without a single full stop or comma for over 40 pages.]

See Humphrey (1954); Steinberg (1973); Chatman (1978: 178-195); Cohn (1978: 58-98); Cohn and Genette 1992 [1985].

N8.10. Earlier forms of extended direct thought are usually identified by the term 'soliloquy' (originally a term in drama theory meaning a monologue uttered aloud in solitude, D3.4):

  •  soliloquy An early (16-17C) style of directly presenting a character's thoughts. In contradistinction to the more modern form of the 'interior monologue' (see above), the epic soliloquy is characterized "both by a dialogical structure and by a highly rhetorical language" (Orth 2000; cf Fludernik 1996: 147-148). Example:

I had thought that women had bene as we men, that is true, faithfull, zealous, constant, but I perceiue they be rather woe vnto men, by their falshood, gelousie, inconstancie. I was halfe perswaded that they were made of the perfection of men, & would be comforters, but now I see thev haue tasted of the infection of the Serpent [...]. The Phisition saythe it is daungerous to minister Phisicke vnto the patient that hath a colde stomacke and a hotte lyuer. least in giuing warmth to the one he inflame the other, so verely it is harde to deale with a woman whose wordes seeme feruent, whose heart is congealed into harde yce, least trusting their outwarde talke, he be betraied with their inwarde trechery. (Lyly, Euphues [1578], qtd Orth 2000: 441)

N8.11. Psychological states are usually rendered by diegetic statements, especially the two forms known as 'psychonarration' and 'narrated perception':

  •  psychonarration The textual representation of a character's conscious or unconscious mental states and processes, mainly by using forms of 'narrative report of discourse' or 'narrated perception'. A borderline case is the 'report of what characters do not know, think, or say' (Chatman). See Cohn (1978: 21-57); Chatman (1978: 225-226 [report of what characters do not think or say]); Stanzel (1984: ch. 7.1.8 [on "not knowing that" vs. "not knowing why"]).
    •  They had married in 1905, almost a quarter of a century before, and were childless because Pilgram had always thought [iterative summary, presently supplemented by indirect content-paraphrase:] that children would be merely a hindrance to the realization of what had been in his youth a delightfully exciting plan but had now gradually become a dark, passionate obsession. (Nabokov, "The Aurelian")
    •  All this Gudrun knew in her subconsciousness, not in her mind. (Lawrence, Women in Love, qtd Cohn 1978: 49).
    •  The youth might have taken Baglioni's opinions with many grains of allowance had he known that there was a professional warfare of long continuance between him and Dr. Rappacini (Hawthorne, "Rappacini's Daughter", qtd. Chatman 1978: 226) [report of what a character does not know].
  •  narrated perception The textual representation of a character's perception, often using a form of psychonarration, or a rendering in indirect discourse or free indirect discourse. See Fehr (1938); Chatman (1978: 203-205).

N8.12. Finally, 'mind style' is a general term for a character's or a narrator's typical patterns of mentation:

  •  mind style The textual evocation, especially by typical diction, rhetoric, and syntax, of a narrator's or a character's mindset and typical patterns of thinking. See Fowler (1977: 76); Leech and Short (1981: ch. 6); Nischik (1991).

"Corto y derecho," he thought, furling the muleta. Short and straight. Corto y derecho. (Hemingway, "The Undefeated" 201) [A bullfighter thinking in bullfighting terms.]

Ah, to be all things to all people: children, husband, employer, friends! It can be done: yes, it can: super woman. (Weldon, "Weekend" 312) [The weary exclamation, the enumeration of stress factors, and the ironical allusion are typical features of Martha's mind style.]

N9. A Case Study: Alan Sillitoe's "The Fishing Boat Picture"

(In the following, all page number references are to the reprint of Sillitoe's story in The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories, ed. Malcolm Bradbury, London: Penguin, 1988, 135-149. The story was originally published in 1959.)

N9.1. Like many first-person narratives, Sillitoe's "Fishing-Boat Picture" is a fictional autobiography. Harry is a mature narrator who looks back on his past life. Although he is only fifty-two at the time of writing the story, he feels his life is all but over. Like many first-person narrators, he has become not only older but also wiser. Looking back on his life, he realizes that he made many mistakes, especially in his behavior towards his wife Kathy. The story's first-person narrative situation is uniquely suited for presenting Harry's insights about his wasted life.

N9.2. The story is told in a straightforwardly chronological manner, and its timeline can be established quite accurately. The story's action begins with Harry's and Kathy's "walk up Snakey Wood" (135). Kathy leaves Harry after six years, when he is thirty (136); so, at the beginning he must be twenty-four. Since "it's [...] twenty-eight years since I got married" (135), the narrating I's current age must be fifty-two. Kathy's weekly visits begin after a ten-year interval (139), when Harry is forty. Kathy's visits continue for six years (147), and when she dies, terminating the primary story line, the experiencing I is forty-six. A number of historical allusions indicate that Harry's and Kathy's final six years are co-extensive with World War II (140, 147). The narrative act itself takes place in 1951, six years after Kathy's death .

N9.3. The story's action episodes focus on Kathy, picking out their first sexual encounter, the violent quarrel that makes her run away, her return ten years later, her ensuing weekly visits, the repeated pawnings of the fishing-boat picture, and her death and funeral. Throughout their relationship, Harry "doesn't get ruffled at anything" (136), and he remains unemotional and indifferent to the point of lethargy. To the younger Harry, marriage means "only that I changed one house and one mother for a different house and a different mother" (136). Although he never sets foot from Nottingham (139), his main idea of a good time is reading books about far-away countries like India (137) and Brazil (139). He cannot even cry at Kathy's funeral ("No such luck", 148). And yet, her ignoble death -- in a state of drunkenness she is run over by a lorry -- causes a change in him. Now he cannot forget her as he did after she left him (139-140); the only thing he can do is obsessively review the mistakes he has made. In the final retrospective epiphany, he realizes three things with devastating clarity: that he loved Kathy but never showed it, that he was insensitive to her need for emotional involvement and communication, and that her death robbed him of a purpose in life.

N9.4. The theme of becoming aware of one's own flaws can be treated well in a first-person narrative situation. Unlike the ordinary well-spoken authorial narrator, who cannot himself be present as a character in the story, Harry's working-class voice and diction is a functional and characteristic feature in Sillitoe's story. His self-consciousness in telling the story ("I'd rather not make what I'm going to write look foolish by using dictionary words", 135) and his involvement in the story support the theme of developing self-recognition. Whereas Harry's story is an account of personal experience, an authorial narrator knows everything from the beginning and cannot normally undergo any personal development (unless this is caused by the act of telling itself).

N9.5. The theme of recollection and reflection that runs through Sillitoe's story would, however, be well manageable in a figural narrative situation , in which Harry could serve not as a narrator, but as a third-person character (an internal focalizer, a reflector figure) in the act of recollecting his past life. In fact, in a modernist short story, both main characters could be used for purposes of variable and multiple focalization. A figural beginning would filter the action through Harry's consciousness and would begin medias in res, perhaps using an incipit such as the following:

As always, after coming home from his round and lighting his pipe, his glance fell on the wedding picture on the sideboard. As always, the memory of that autumn evening twenty-eight years ago struck him when he had asked Kathy for a walk up Snakey Wood. That day he had landed the job at the P.O. and ...

N9.6. This is clearly a more immediate beginning than Harry's self-conscious metanarrative commentary ("Take that first sentence", 135); on the other hand, a figural story usually proceeds in a more associative and less controlled manner than a first-person story. Moreover, while a figural story tends to focus on a scenic slice of life, "The Fishing-Boat Picture" spans a story-time of at least twenty-two years. In fact, Harry's telling his own story helps him think about his life and clarify his own thoughts and judgments. A reflector figure, in contrast, is not a narrator, and cannot address a narratee. It is important to Harry not only to tell his story to an anonymous audience but in a sense also to himself. The text's dialogic quality comes out in one of its key passages:

I was born dead, I keep telling myself. Everybody's dead, I answer. So they are, I maintain, but then most of them never know it like I'm beginning to do, and it's a bloody shame that this has come to me at last when I could least do with it, and when it's too bloody late to get anything but bad from it. (149)

Here Harry explicitly "keeps telling himself", "answer[s]" his own indictment, and "maintain[s]" a position, stressing the self-reflective and auto-therapeutic function of his narrative. In fact, the devastating judgment "I was born dead" takes up Kathy's calling him a "dead-'ed" (137) in the quarrel that leads to their separation. Unfortunately, now that he has learned his lesson, it is "too bloody late".

N9.7. As a working-class story with occasional snippets of slang and dialect, its references to the characters' ordinary lives, their brief bouts of passion, aggression and violence ("this annoyed me, so I clocked her one", 137), Sillitoe's story is neither sentimental nor overly didactic, nor does it offer an idealized portrayal of working-class characters; it certainly does not allow the reader to feel superior. On the contrary, the protagonist's matter-of-fact account creates a strong sense of empathy, and his reflections on a wasted past and a meaningless future clearly express a general human condition.

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