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Go Higher Language Semester II

Week 5: Plots, characters and Functions

Mary E. Clinton School of English

Aims and Objectives

Introduction to
narrative theory Genre Theory Plots and Characters RST Narremes Schemata

Learning Outcomes
By the end of this session you should be able to
Discuss plots based on archetypal features Understand and pick out social and cultural aspects of these archetypes Recognise schemata and make your own

Narratological Theory: E-Resources atology/modules/introduction.html

A quote from Gerald Prince

A reader is a decoder, decipherer, interpreter of written (narrative) texts or, more generally, of any text in the broad sense of signifying matter.

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.

A sequence of events involving characters. 'Events' include both natural and non-natural happenings (such as floods and car accidents). Characters get involved by being agents (causing an event), victims (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 non-volitional acts or experiences (What does X experience? -- falling from a bridge, seeing an accident).

Genettes embedded Narratives

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), 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).

Specific problem
Discourse genres are defined as nonlinguistic phenomena Swales (1990): genres are attributes of discourse communities genres serve typical communicative intentions salient in such communities It is not clear whether genres can be attributed any linguistic properties

Linguistic definition 1: Genre schemata

The story schema (Chafe 1994) Orientation Complication Climax Denouement Coda Additional elements in Labov 1972 Abstract Evaluation

Too large-scale approach: It is unclear how one can make any predictions of the linguistic form of a genre specimen

Linguistic definition 2: Morphosyntactic and lexical features

Biber 1989 481 texts in corpus 67 morphosyntactic and lexical features 5 dimensions: groups of covarying features 8 clusters of texts in the 5-dimensional space 8 text types with tentative labels, such as intimate interpersonal interaction limited correlation to established genres Example: 62% texts of the genre of personal telephone conversation belong to the text type intimate interpersonal interaction The conclusion is that genres are linguistically irrelevant

Linguistic definition 2 fails, as demonstrated by Biber

Too small-scale approach: Individual morphosyntactic and lexical features are uncomparable and not measurable with discourse genres as wholes
Hmmmmmm But why do discourses of the same type fail to have consistent characteristics?

A possible clue: types of passages


Expository (explanatory) Instructive and hortatory (sermons) Persuasive (argumentative)

(see e.g. Longacre 1992)

Selected features of discourse passages

Type of passage
Descriptive Expository Instructive

Characteristic morphosyntactic and lexical phenomena

Past tense, perfectives
Stative predicates ??? Imperatives


Modal verbs

Reasons for Bibers results

Morphosyntactically and lexically identifiable discourse units are passages rather than discourses as wholes Genres are not internally homogeneous in terms of passage types; they consist of more than one passage type Therefore, discourses as wholes cannot be expected to be consistent in terms of morphosyntactic and lexical features

Genre Schemata
Genres can be defined in terms of genre schemata. Genres schemata can be defined as combinations of passage types
Passage types can be defined in terms of rhetorical relations

Rhetorical structure theory (RST)

Originally formulated by Mann and Thompson (1988) A Functional

Exploration of how texts stick together

Schemata: diagrams

Bulgarian theorist Tzvetan Todorov discovered that folk tales and fairy stories all followed a similar structural pattern. This is known as the Classic Narrative Pattern, and is directly applicable to mainstream films and TV dramas today. Vladimir Propp proposed that there are distinctive character types and actions in all fairy tales and this is often applied to other stories as well although both theories are not always applied successfully.


Classical Narrative Pattern


Restored Order

New Equilibrium

Vladimir Propp
Vladimir Propp is a Russian structuralist who studies fairy stories and established character types and events associated with them. He called the events Functions and their numbers were limited to 31. He developed a character theory for studying media texts and productions, analyzing 100 tales and indicated that there were 7 broad character types, which he thought could be applied to other media products.

The Hero-Legend a man of great strength and courage.

In every story there is a major character with whom the reader will normally associate most strongly and who is the key person around which the story is told. Although this person is often a hero in some sense, they may also take another form, such as a victim or a seeker after some treasure or knowledge. Or maybe they are all of these.

The Helper Aids Hero

The Hero is supported in his or her quest by a Helper, often a wise old man or magician, who appears at critical moments to provide support. Thus Obi Wan Kenobi appears to help Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, even after Kenobi's death. The Helper may also be found in a support role, such as Sherlock Holmes' Dr. Watson or Don Quixote's Sancho Panza. The contrast between the limitations of this person and the hero may provide a further elucidation of the hero's defining characteristics such as intelligence, determination, courage, etc. Other helpers appear along the way as friends or random people who act pro-socially to support the Hero.

The Villain-A wicked or evil person

The sharpest contrast against the hero is the villain, who struggles directly against the hero. This is the clearly bad-guy person such as Darth Vader in Star Wars or Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes. The Villain typically is morally bad, highlighting the goodness of the Hero. The Villain may seek to prevent the Hero from achieving the goal or may quest after the same artefact. The Villain may also be a tempter, such as when Darth Vader tries to seduce Luke Skywalker over to the 'dark side'.

The False Hero- claims to be the hero, often seeking and reacting like a real hero.
A variant on the villain and a potential complication within the plot is the False Hero, who appears to act heroically and may even be initially mistaken for the real Hero. The False Hero will try to steal the Hero's thunder, grabbing the credit and perhaps trying to marry the princess instead. The False Hero is thus an usurper, a thief perhaps of the worst kind, who plays on people's good nature to boldly steal in broad daylight. The False Hero may also gain the respect or other control of the Princess's Father, thus frustrating the Hero's ability to gain the hand of the Princess.

The Donor offers gift with magical properties.

The Donor is a person who gives the Hero something special, such as a magical weapon or some particular wisdom. They may typically be Gods, Oracles or Wise Persons, although they may also be as simple as gatekeepers. This role may be combined with that of a Helper. The Donor may also be capricious and not easily swayed and may not give up their gift without setting the Hero another task, from a simple riddle to a whole other quest.

The Dispatcher Sends hero on mission.

An early role in the story is that of the Dispatcher who sends the Hero on the mission. This may be a family member such as a mother or father. It can also be the Princess's Father, who gives the Hero a set of quests to be completed before he gains the hand of the Princess. The Dispatcher may also be combined with another role, for example the False Hero who then trails along behind (perhaps disguised as a Helper).

The Princess Hero's reward

The Princess may take two forms. First, she may be the object which is deliberately sought by the Hero, perhaps finding where the Villain has taken her. Secondly, she may be the reward, such that after completing some other mission, he gains her affections or hand in marriage. The Princess may be seen very little in the story, perhaps appearing only at the end, or may be an integral character, for example where she accompanies the Hero on his mission, where he may win her heart by the courage and determination of his actions. The Princess may be wooed by many, in particular by the False Hero. When we see the Princess being won by the False Hero we may rail and rant in frustration as we see her falling unwittingly into her clutches.


Based on Christopher Booker The Seven Basic Plots

Overcoming The Monster Star Wars The Call or anticipation stage Initial Success

Final Ordeal The Miraculous Escape

Rags to Riches

Meet the hero/heroine in childhood The Dark Figures The Brief Glimpse of Glory The Central Crisis The Reversal of Fortune (bad to good) The Glorious State of Completeness

The Quest The Call: The Iliad, The Hobbit, Watership Down The heros companions

The Journey: Replete with temptation, deadly opposites, a statutory visit to the underworld The helpers
The final ordeals The life-renewing goal

Voyage and Return: Alice in Wonderland, Brideshead Revisited, Gone With The Wind, Goldilocks and The Three Bears, The Wizard of Oz The Fall into the other world Initial Fascination the dream stage

Frustration Stage mood of adventure turns to one of difficulty

Nightmare Stage the shadow so great it seems to pose a serious threat to the hero/heroine

Thrilling escape and return back to where the hero started

Comedy: The Marriage of Figaro, Alls Well That Ends Well, pretty much anything by Jane Austen, Singin In The Rain, Four Weddings And A Funeral In comedy, the plot is brought to light through a process of recognition A key character (maybe the hero/heroine) is revealed to be someone quite different to what had been supposed The characters must discover who they belong to their other half Where there has been division, separation and loss, it shall be repaired

Tragedy: Macbeth, Lolita, Carmen, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary

The Call towards a desire Dream Stage commitment to the course of action Frustration Stage the hero finds no point of rest Nightmare stage the hero loses control Destruction or death wish stage the hero is destroyed

Rebirth: A Christmas Carol, The Snow Queen, the Secret Garden The hero/heroine falls under the shadow of a dark power For a while, all appears well The dark shadow returns, imprisoning the hero in a state of living death The dark power appears triumphant The miraculous redemption through the help of another (hero, young woman or child)

Propp's Character

French Anthropologist
Says storytelling is used as a means of coping with the fundamental contradictions and irresolvable difficulties of a society. Each culture therefore produces its myths: a story which is not true, but something which is repeated so many times it becomes part of a cultures reality or common sense

hero/villain rich/poor male/female fear/happiness.
Westerns Cowboys/Injuns Sheriff/Outlaws Nature/ The Railroad Wilderness/ Town Peace/ Fighting

Propps Narrative Functions

Preparation (or 1st Sphere, the Introductory Sequence )

(2nd sphere The Body of the Story)

(3rd Sphere: the donor sequence, magic agent is obtained)

(4th Sphere: the heros return)

(still the 4th Sphere)


Good site:

Preparation for Next Week

Portfolio: Homework
Read any version of The Fisherman and His Wife in the D.L. Ashlimans anthology at type0555.html.

Then: Work out the sequence of peaks and episodes, in table form. Create a schema for the story you have chosen. Hand in the schema with the order of events/episodes.