To tell a tale-5

-Chandra Latha



The Native American Indian story tellers like Benjamin Whorf ( Franz Boas(https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Franz_Boas), think that the native narrators do not experience themselves, or life as narrative grammar, or pattern or Euro-American space and time. Discussing the vibrant role of story, beyond fabula, and in resistance to Euro-American formalist and structuralism narrative, Native American authors like Lesil Marmon Silko (Lesil Marmon Silko, Story Teller. Arcade observed “that Native story traditions were “erroneously altered by the European intrusion – principally by the practice of taking the children away from the tellers who had in all past generations told the children an entire culture, an entire identity of a people” In The Truth About Stories, Thomas King (King, Thomas. (2003). The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative. Toronto: House of Ananasi. Pg.6) argues that narrative compromises story and the fabula of story, the social fabric of story, loses its voice. According to him that story shapes identity differently from the narrative.  Native American Indian writers challenged the use of the couplet fabula and syuzhet in the narratological   analysis as “tools of domination: (King, Thomas (2003). The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative. Toronto: House of Ananasi. Pg. 24), and a “colonial incursion” (King, Thomas, (2003). The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative. Toronto: House of Ananasi.Pg. 25).of the ‘Indian identity concocted in American-European ethnology, folklore, anthropology, history, and literature.’(Cox, James. (2006). Muting White Noise: The Subversion of Popular Culture Narratives of Conquest in Sherman Alexie’s Fiction. University of Oklahoma Press).

       But, as the structuralists focus was on the framework, Post structuralists like Barthes argued that any literary text has multiple meanings, and that the author was not the prime source of the work’s semantic content. With his remarkable work, The Death of the Author” Barthes shifts the narratological focus from Writerly text to Readerly text. (Roland Barhtes. The Death of the Author. Aspen, no. 5-6. 1967, Pg.1) The same idea is further developed by Umberto Eco as The Open Work, which implies that a text which is not limited to a single reading or range of readings; it admits complexity. It actually encourages or requires a multiplicity of readings. 

Thus Narratology passed through two important phases namely Classical and Post- Classical. The classical Narratology deals with the mid-1960s to the early 1980s during which period Narratologists focused on identifying and defining narrative universals where as Formalists concentrated on the sequential structure with mono–linear logic of action.  In the Post- classical Narratology, Narratology was alternatively described as   a theory (Prince 2003: 1), a method (Kindt & Müller 2003: 211) and a discipline (Fludernik & Margolin 2004: 149). (Jan Christoph Meister. The living hand book of narratology. 2011. article/narratology) The concept of discipline subsumes theory and method, acknowledging narratology’s dual nature as both a theoretical and an application-oriented academic approach to narrative.

The contemporary “post-classical” Narratology is no longer a single theory, but rather comprises a group of related theories (David A.Hermon.Cognitive Narraotlogy Marshall University.1999.Pg.26) And it “cannot be lessened to a text theory”. There is an increasing focus paid to the study of the ‘historicity and contextuality of modes of narrative representation as well as to its pragmatic function across various media, while research into narrative universals has been extended to cover narrative’s cognitive and epistemological functions. The sequential and mono-linear logic of action are replaced with the combinatory, multi linear models (Levi–strauss, 1973, Structural Anthropology, Vol.II, trans. Monique Layton, 1976). Propp’s functional model is open for such revisions.

That openness in turn becomes the fundamental point of reference for the elaboration of Story grammars. Noam Chomsky’s generative grammar is the most significant story grammar in linguistics. (Noam Chomsky. Syntactic Structures. Mouton & Co.1957)

The idea of the story grammar is further adapted by narratologists like Gerald  Prince (Gerald Prince 1973, A Dictionary of Narratology. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln & London),  and also by Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers. 

Artificial Intelligence researchers have been trying to evaluate designs for artificial story telling systems This line of reasoning is further developed by Ryan who links story grammar to the simulation paradigm of Artificial Intelligence. (Marie-Laure Ryan, Possible Worlds,Artificial Intelligence ,and Narrative Theory.Indiana University Press 1992.

       The phenomenal shift during the post-classical Narratology is contextual narrative functions to the cognitive functions. The focus from text based narratives to the oral and non-literary narratives was the pioneering initiation and thought by Fludernik (Monika Fludernik. An Introduction to Narratology. Taylor & Francis. 2006)

It called as the Cognitive Narratology, Chatman  (Seymour Benjamin Chatman Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Cornell University Press, 1980) studies the narratives of particular cultural, historical, thematic, and ideological contexts based on the respective concepts of issues raised in those specific narrative structures. Cognitive Narratology (David A.Hermon.Cognitive Narraotlogy Marshall University.1999.Pg.26) focuses on the human intellectuality and emotional process involved those narratives.

            The post-classical phase of Narratology witnessed the exporting of narratological concepts and theorems to other disciplines (Narration in Various Disciplines), thus contributing to the narrative turn (White 1980; Kreiswirth 1995). This approach is not restricted to literary narratives: natural everyday and oral narratives are considered to represent an underlying anthropological competence in its original form (Fludernik Monika Fludernik.  An Introduction to Narratology. Taylor & Francis, 2006). Cognitive approaches also play a crucial role in Artificial Intelligence research, the aim of which is to model or simulate human narrative intelligence.  Trans-generic approaches (Narration in Poetry and Drama) and inter-medial approaches (Narration in Various Media) explore the relevance of narratological concepts for the study of genres and media outside the traditional object domain of text-based literary narrative. 

           David Hermann (David A.Hermon.Cognitive Narraotlogy Marshall University, 1999, Pg.26) observes that the first, research focuses on the organization of the narrated or the story, second on the events of the story addressing the relation between the narrated and the narrative and the third on the rhetorical analysis of the fiction that studies discourse level features of narratives.  Thus, it is a basic shift from the formal to the functional models and both these are seen to operate, individually and simultaneously.

         Narratology, which is usually applied to literary theory and criticism, is also applied in socio-linguistic studies of storytelling, conversation analysis or discourse analysis that deal with narratives arising in the course of spontaneous verbal interaction. Narratological study is still emerging and evolving, exploring and enriching with every story and the narration. 

       Spielhagen (1876) who addressed the formal features of narrative observed that “the ideal narrative never alerts the reader to the ongoing process of narration.” (Spielhagen, Friedrich ([1876] 1967). “Novelle oder Roman?” F. Spielhagen. Beiträge zur Theorie und Technik des Romans. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 245–57.) 

This natural phenomena of narration is often experienced by readers or audience. 

Story–telling can occur at many levels. As Barthes puts is, there are tales within tales within tales. Intertexuality can be expressed in a mirror in the mirror in the mirror image suggesting the possibilities of infinite narratives within a contextual matrix. (Jahn, Manfred. 2005. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative. English Department, University of Cologne. Version: 1.8. Pg. N2.4.7 )

          The model presented above, provides a general framework which can easily be adapted to more complex circumstances. One such circumstance arises when the character in a story begins to tell his/ her story, creating a narrative within a narrative, tale within a tale. The original narrative then becomes a frame or a matrix narrative, and the story told by the narrating character becomes and embedded or hypo narrative.

        In the basic narratology, the standard structure of fictional narrative communication, participants and those levels are usually shown in a ‘Chinese boxes’ model. Basically, communicative contact is possible between author and reader on the level of nonfictional communication, secondly, between the narrator and audience or addressee(s) on the level of fictional mediation, and later, between the characters on the level of action. The first level is an ‘extra-textual level’; levels two and three are ‘intra- textual’. (Jahn, Manfred. 2005. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative. English Department, University of Cologne. Version: 1.8. ame02/pppn.htm. Pg.N1.7)

The narrative levels are further illustrated with basic structure of embedded narratives with the help of a naïve drawing using stick-figure narrators and speech-bubble narratives.  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.

A is a first-degree narrative, B1 and B2 are second-degree narratives, and                                C is a third-degree narrative.

(Jahn, Manfred. 2005. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative. English Department, University of Cologne. Pg.N2.4.3.)

     Modern research is focused on the organization of the narrated or the story and then on the events of the story addressing the relation between the narrative and the narrated. And, finally, on the rhetorical analysis of the fiction that studies discourse level of features of narratives. The basic shift has been from the formal        to the functional models and both these are seen to operate independently and simultaneously.

       Novel is a long and a contextual narrative involving fictional and non-fictional prose featuring people i.e., characters. Hence, the story and the discourse co-exist. By nature, the novel includes all forms of narrative assimilating different genres into the text.  Thus novel challenges the narratologists to solve many puzzles. 

A broader view of development of characterization within the framework of novel or story can be pictorially presented like this: (Jahn, Manfred. 2005. Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative. English Department, University of Cologne. Version: 1.8.Pg.N7.2.)

Most theorists and interpreters consider that the dialogic text is a more sophisticated, interesting and challenging form. And, novel is considered to be a combined text of mono-logical and dialogical, and always evolutionary.   

          The present thesis makes a humble attempt of the narratological study of the selected novels. It presents an analysis of different narrative techniques, both contextual and cognitive, of the novel, arguably the most popular genre of literature today.

        With this open shift for prose writings like essays, pamphlets, anecdotes, letters, travelogues, histories and so on, provided wider space for experimentation of prose writing, in general and created an ambience for the emergence and evolution of the modern novel.  In a way, novel is an outcome of the world where for the first time in the history of mankind, one can truthfully say, nihil humanum alienum est (Nothing human is foreign to me) 

Jose Ostega Y Gasset perceptively questions, “Is not human life in its most human dimension a work of fiction?  Is man a sort of novelist of himself?” (José Ortegay Gasset Toward a Philosophy of History. 1941. W.W.Norton&company Inc. Pg.108)

 Even though it is often considered that the Novel is pre-figured in 14th century Italian Novella (tale, piece of news), M.M.Bhaktin thinks that the Novel is rooted further deeper in the early folklore and eventually strengthened in the leisure of the agrarian human settlements. In “The English Novel” Walter, Allen points out, “Nothing that preceded it in the way of prose fiction can explain it. There were no classical models for it.”(Walter Ernest Allen. The English Novel. Penguin.1954.Pg.11)

        M.M.Bhaktin observes that “The basic characteristics of the novel are all organically interrelated and all have been powerfully affected by a very specific rupture in the history of European civilization, its emergence from a socially isolated and culturally deaf semi-patriarchal society and it’s entrance into the international and inter-lingual contacts and relationships. A multitude of different languages, cultures and times became available to Europe, and this became a decisive part of daily life and thought.”(M.M.Bhakthin. The Dialogic Imagination Four Essays.  Edited by Michael Holquilst; translated by Cary Emerson and Michel Holquist, University of Texas Press Slavic Series, No.1, January 1982, Pg.17)

      Even though, there are several attempts to define a novel, there is no specific definition or meaning. However, M.M.Bhaktin observes how “the experts have not managed to isolate a single, definite, stable characteristic of the novel as a genre.’ Such failure in figuring out a normative definition is ‘a reflection of the novel’s struggle with other genres. The novel is the sole genre that continues to develop, that is yet in-completed”

     Even though, several hundred works of fiction of some literary merit get published every year, very few can be categorized as novels. Because most of those works are “tangible objects which can be read.” On the other hand, “Novels cannot be read,” observes Allen Massie, “The Novel is an idea, an abstraction”. He adds, “The novel is an exploratory form, seeking out routes by which author and reader can together come to a understanding of the word.”  (Allan Massie. The Novel Today –A critical guide to the British novel 1970-1989. Longman Inc, 1990. Pg.1)

     However, in the formal description of the genre, a novel is a long narrative that is a long prose narrative that depicts the experiences of fictional characters in created situations that eventually develop into a form of a sequential story. And also, novel is an invented prose narrative of considerable length and a certain complexity that deals imaginatively with human experience, usually through a connected sequence of events involving a group of persons in a specific setting. Within its broad framework, the genre of the novel has encompassed an extensive range of types and styles: picaresque, epistolary, Gothic, romantic, realist, historical – to name only some of the more important ones.

          Boccaccio’s prose narrative Decameron (c.1349-51) influenced the European literary world at a time when the romances and chivalries were extremely popular. A detailed narrative study of Decameron is important to understand the evolution of the novel as a literary genre, because Decomeron‘s influence on European literary world is immense. Decameron or Ten Days (Greek to English translation) deals with ten characters, seven women and three men, who flee during black death from Florence to a deserted villa in the country side of Flesole, Italy. To pass their time, every member of the party tells a story each night and Ten–Days or Decameron completes one hundred tales. Through these tales Boccaccio documents the diversity of life at that time. Written in vernacular Florentine language, Boccaccio brings the nuances and the beauty of the common man’s language to literature.  He had appreciable compassion for women who were deprived of free speech and social liberty, confined to their homes and, at times love sick. He contrasts the life of women to that of men-folk who enjoy respite in sport such as hunting, fishing, riding and falconry. 

          Boccaccio’s frequent narrative technique was to make the already existing tales more complex and interesting. Many details of Decameron reflect medieval sense of numerological and mystical aspects. The title, the number of characters and the mercantile ethics are all based on them. Besides the unity of the narrative frame, Decameron also has a unity of philosophical outlook. 

          Decameron has richly woven inter-textual narratives embedded and framed in a single matrix of a narrative situation, as it is told by the multiple narrators. The unity of narration is achieved through the plurality of the text which made it more tangible and curious to look forward. It served the immediate purpose of critical portrayal of personal and social issues and also deeper psychological and philosophical quests. The oral narrative is given textual form and it enriched the prose narratives with its delicacy and diversity of the objective approaches of storytelling and thus, influencing the narrative techniques of the fiction.



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