One of the basic definitions of narrative is story, but if we want a more academic definition we can look at the one made by Bordwell and Thompson that says that: narrative is “a chain of events in a cause/effect relationship in time and space”. So narrative represents the way in which stories are told, structured and understood. In order to investigate and understand a narrative we should pay attention at the following concepts: examining narrative structure, exploring the process of narration and explaining the social, political and ideological assumptions of narratives.
Two theorists of narrative structure are:Tzvetzan Todorov and Vladimir Propp. Todorov says that most Hollywood movies are structured around 5 main stages: equilibrium, disruption, recognition, attempt and enhanced equilibrium. Moreover, Vladimir Propp analyse in his book Morphology of the Folk Tale (1928), many examples of a certain type of folk story. He discovered that we can group characters and their actions, and each of them will have key functions: hero, despatcher, villain, the false hero, donor, helper, princess, father.
The process of narration is not only about how narratives are structured, it is also about how the audience will react at that media project. In order for the audience to understand a text or any media objects they have to make a connection between events.
Shrek is a very successful comedy animated film, released in 2001 and directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson. Even from the first part of the movie we can identify one of the 5 main stages of the narrative structure investigated by Todorov. The first stage: equilibrium represents the quite life of a green ogre that always enjoyed living peacefully in his swamp. The next stage, disruption, is represented by the appearance of some fairytales beings like Pinocchio, donkey and the Three little pigs who are forced by the Lord Farqaad to enter in Shrek’s swamp. In this way, they disrupted the peaceful life that Shrek had. The next stage: recognition, is represented by the fact that Shrek tries to convince Lord Farqaad to give his swamp back. In order to give him the swamp back, Lord Farqaad, who wants to become a king, makes a deal with Shrek. Lord Farqaad’s only possibility of becoming a king is to marry Princess Fiona, so he puts Shrek to rescue her.
The next stage, attempt, is represented by Shrek’s and donkey’s attempts to save Princess Fiona and the challenges that come into their way in order to succeed. When they arrived at Lord Farqaad’s palace they find themselves in a tournament. The winner will then try to rescue princess Fiona. Shrek easily wins the fight, and then he travels to the palace where Fiona is being held prisoner. There they find a dragon and donkey sweet-talks with the beast in order to protect himself. Then, he discovers that the dragon is a female who falls in love with him. In this way, Shrek manages to rescue Fiona and saves the donkey from the Dragon’s clutches. On their way back, Shrek falls in love with Fiona but is afraid to tell her his feelings. In one night donkey discovers that Fiona turns into an ogress every night due to a curse, and the only chance for her to become who she really is, is to receive a kiss from her true love. Shrek thinks that Fiona is disgusted by him so he brings her to Lord Farqaad.
The final stage, enhanced equilibrium represents the end of the movie. Realising that he misses Fiona, Shrek decides to go and interrupt the wedding. He gets there until Farqaad kisses her, but not until the sunset, so she turns into an ogre. Disgusted by all that is happening Farqaad orders Shrek killed and Fiona imprisoned, but he is burst in flames by the Dragon. The end is a happy one, because Fiona and Shrek admit their love and they get married into the swamp living happily ever after.
Now, if we match Propp’s list of character roles with our narrative the list will look like this:
- hero: Shrek
- despatcher: Lord Farqaad
- villain: Lord Farqaad
- the false hero: Lord Farqaad
- donor: Dragon
- helper: Donkey
- princess: Princess Fiona
All of this characters have a tight connection between them because in one way or another they help at the development of the story. For example, even if Lord Farqaad is a negative character he helped in building the story by making him the one who send the hero on his way. By forcing Shrek to pass all the challenges, he helped in building the heroes character. He helped the main character to develop better, to exceed his expectations. The hero passed through an initiatory journey that had ultimately shaped his character. Donkey is also a very important character, because without him, Shrek would have not succeeded. He is the one who aid the hero into his quest and he is the one that made Shrek realise how good it is to have someone you can rely on. So all of this characters have a very important role in this story, and if one of this characters would have been missing, the story would have not been the same.
WALL-E is an American animated film, produced by Pixar Animation Studios and directed by Andrew Stanton and is one of my favourites. This is the second film that I choose in order to see if it has the same narrative structure as the one investigated by Todorov. The first part of the movie represents the first main stage, equilibrium. The film takes place in the year 2085, on the planet Earth that is now covered with trash due to the corporation Buy n Large. All the humanity was evacuated into space, and on Earth were left only trash compactor robots called Wall-e, in order to clean the planet. After 5 years the planet Earth became too toxic to maintain live. Only one robot remained active. The next stage, disruption, is represented by the appearance of Eve, a robot from outer space who was sent on Earth in order to find signs of plant life. Even if she was cold and hostile at the beginning Wall-e falls in love with her and brings her into his house. He shows her a plant that he discovered earlier in that day, and Eve who was programmed to find a proof of plant life stores it inside herself and shuts down. The ship returns to collect Eve, and Wall-e follows her into that ship.
The next stage, recognition, is represented in the movie by the life from outer space. Wall-e realise that all the people who were evacuated from Earth 700 years ago, are suffering now of obesity, and they are no longer used to communicate face to face. Their life is all about technology, they don’t know even how to walk. Wall-e starts to follow Eve and he sees that the captain of the ship is scanning the plant brought from Earth. However, Auto – the ship robotic autopilot – stoles the plant. With the plant stolen, Eve is considered now defective. The next stage, attempt, represents the attempt of Wall-e to save Eve, mistaking Eve’s inspection with a torture. Accidentally he release many malfunctioning robots. Eve believes now that Wall-e has a bad influence and she tries to send him back on planet Earth. Then, they see that the Auto’s robot assistant is placing the missing plant in one of the pods, in order to launch it and set it to self – destruct with Wall-e inside. Eve and Wall-e get back together and they bring the plant to the captain of the ship, who takes the decision that the humanity must return on Earth in order to restore their homes. Auto tasers Wall-e while he tries to protect the plant. Eve knows the only pieces that can save Wall-e’s life are in his truck, so she manage to send the ship back on Earth.
The enhanced equilibrium stage is my favourite because it represents a beautiful and happy ending of the story. Being back on Earth, Eve takes Wall-e to his home and she manage to repair and activate him, but unfortunately Wall-e’s memory is erased. Being very sad, Eve gives Wall-e a kiss which causes an electronic spark which brings Wall-e back to normal. Wall-e and Eve are now happily reunite and they help in restoring Earth’s environment.
Now I will match Propp’s list of characters to the characters from the movie.
- hero: Wall-e
- despatcher: Eve
- villain: Auto
- the false hero:
- helper: Captain
- princess: Eve
In this movie there are not to many characters, so every character has a very important role. Wall-e, is the hero of the story and even if he is not a human being he reacts, feels and acts as if he is one. Because he was alone for more than 700 years he developed a personality. He is very curious, sensible and friendly. When he sees Eve he automatically falls in love with her and he becomes very protective. Being so friendly he helps also other characters. For instance, he is the one who teaches TYP-E how to wave, he breaks John and Mary out of technology and he is the one who makes the captain of the ship becoming interested again in Earth. The most important thing from all is that he helps Eve to grow and develop from a cold and hostile robot, to a robot that feels love and compassion for him. So all the characters had an important role in building the main character’s entire personality.
The print based media object that i have chosen for this thask is Harry Potter and the Sorceres’s stone. This is a well known novel written by JKRowin, that drew children’s attention for the simple reason that defies reality.
The main character is a little wizard of eleven years, whose parents were killed after his birth. The Dark wizard named Voldemort killed his parents, and after that he also tried to kill their little baby named Harry. When he tried to kill him, he began to lose his power and ran away. Harry remained only with a scar on his forehead. Since then he has remained famous as being the only guy who kept the Dark Lord Chest.
After her parents were killed Harry was taken to his uncle house by Hagrid, a giant who worked at Hagrid Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He spends his first 10 years without knowing that he might have special powers.
Suddenly a letter arrives to his house from the Hogwart School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, announcing him that he was accepted as a student and he will begin his courses soon. His uncle Vernon is not happy about this news, and he destroys all the letters that came from that school. Suddenly, a huge man that works as a groundskeeper of Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft comes at Harry’s house and helps him to escape from his house in order to be able to study at Hogwarts School.
After he finds out the truth about his parent’s death and after he prepares himself for school, Harry starts his courses on September. He becomes very quickly friends with Ron and Hermione and before Christmas they break many rules of the school, inclusive they attack a troll and prevent it from killing Hermione. Harry is very busy with his homework and with his Quidditch practices, his favourite game.
The three friends want now to solve the mystery of the gigantic three-headed dog, thinking that a vary valuable object in hidden in the school, the Sorcerer’s stone. Then they see that one of the teachers starts acting strange, as if he wants to steal the stone. In order to save the stone, they go into the bowels of the school, where Ron and Hermione help Harry to pass some challenges in order to get to the place where the stone is hidden. Harry must go alone to battle the professor, but when he gets in the room he discovers there somebody else: Lord Voldemort. Now, Harry is forced to battle with the most powerful wizard. Even if he has very bad injuries he manages to save the stone and Dumbledore, the headmaster of the school, comes in just in time to save Harry.
At the end of the school year, Harry, Ron and Hermione are honoured for the service to the school, and Harry stays at Ron house on the summer holiday. There he feels like he founded a place where he belongs.
- hero: Harry Potter
- despatcher: Hagrid
- villain: Lord Voldemort
- the false hero: Draco Malfoy
- donor: Dumbledore
- helper: Ron, Hermione, Hagrid and Dumbledore
Media object that does not conform to Todorov’s linear narrative structure
Magazines and newspapers do not conform to Todorov’s linear narrative structure nor to Propp’s narrative functions due to the fact that they represent reality. For example, if you find an article in a newspaper regarding an event that happened in an artist’s life, you will not be able to recognise all the main stages of narrative structure mentioned by Todorov ( equilibrium, disruption, recognition, attempt, enhanced equilibrium), because that article does not present all the stages of that artist’s life and his background. Also in that article we won’t be able to group characters and their functions as Propp did, because the number of the characters will be smaller, and usually it is limitated to 2 or 3 characters. The meaning will be not so clear, due to the fact that the audience might not know exactly who is the person talking about and his background.