CIRCA:Narrative Analysis


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Narrative Analysis


This term is used since 1969 to denote the branch of literary devoted to narratives analysis, and more specifically to study forms of narration and varieties of narrator. That is, defines what is the basic mechanism and procedures common to all acts of story telling and explain how narratives make meaning. As a modern theory, narratology is mainly associated with European structuralism, though studies of narrative forms go as far back as Aristotle's Poetics. In his Poetics, Aristotle already identified characters and actions as the essential elements in a story. The study of the narrative is a field that seems particularly appropriate for structuralist or semiotic approaches. Narratives can be determined in a range of media like film, cartoon, comic and novel and most of them (myths, popular tales, legends, epics, etc.) usually share basic structural components such as sequence, resolution, rhythm, patterns and reflections.

Vladimir Propp (1895-1970)

Vladimir Propp was a Russian formalist critic who analyzed the basic plot components of Russian folktale to identify their fundamental narrative elements. Modern narrative analysis may be dated from Propp's work Morphology of the Folktale published in 1928. He used concepts from Morphology (study of forms), especially those applied in Botany, in which the object of study (plants) should be divided in order to analyze the relationship among the parts and their relations to the entire object. Based on that Propp argued that it is possible analyze tales in the same logic, dividing it in parts and analyzing their relationship to each other and to the whole. In this work he affirmed that all tales are constructed by selecting item from a basic repertoire that he called functions. Even though Propp admits that can exist exception in the tale’s universe, his functions and especially his characters types can be applied successfully in almost any story, covering any genre such as literature, film, television, and game. In Morphology of the Folktale Propp analyzed a corpus of 115 Russian folktales breaking them into sections, defining criteria and character types in order to examine their narratives. He created a structural model based on the following criteria:

All fairy tales are constructed on the basis of one single string of actions or events called ‘function’; Function is a significant action or event; Function is more important than theme or plot as unit of analysis; Functions are independent of how and by whom they are fulfilled; The number of functions available to fairytale-tellers is thirty-one, with (codifiable) exceptions; Tales are organized in sequences: each sequence is composed of a selection of functions in the appropriate temporal order and constitutes a narrative episode; Characters available to fairytale-tellers usually are: hero, false hero, villain, donor, helper, dispatcher, princess and/or her father; Not every function appears in every tale; All fairytales share the same fundamental structure.

Propp’s functions (Spheres of action)


1. Absentation - One of the members of a family absents himself/herself from home

2. Interdiction - An interdiction [prohibition] is addressed to the hero

3. Violation - The interdiction is violated

4. Reconnaissance - The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance

5. Delivery - The villain receives information about the victim

6. Trickery - The villain attempts to deceive the victim in order to take possession of the victim or their belongings

7. Complicity - The victim submits to deception and thereby unwittingly helps his enemy

8. Villainy or Lack - The villain causes harm or injury to a member of the family – A member of a family lacks something or desires to have something

9. Mediation – Misfortune or lack is made known; the hero is approached with a request or command; he is allowed to go or he is dispatched

10. Beginning counteraction – The hero agrees to or decides upon counteraction

11. Departure – The hero leaves home

12. First function of the donor – the hero is tested, interrogated, attacked, etc., which prepares the way for his receiving either a magical agent or a helper

13. The hero’s reaction – The hero reacts to the actions of the future donor

14. Provision of a magical agent – The hero acquires the use of a magical agent

15. Guidance – Hero is led to the whereabouts of an object of search

16. Struggle – The hero and the villain join in direct combat

17. Branding – The hero is branded

18. Victory – The villain is defeated

19. Liquidation of lack – The initial misfortune or lack is liquidated

20. Return – The hero returns

21. Pursuit – The hero is pursued

22. Rescue – Rescue of the hero from pursuit

23. Unrecognized Arrival – Unrecognized, he arrives home or in another country

24. Unfounded Claims – A false hero presents unfounded claims

25. Difficult task – A difficult task is proposed to the hero

26. Solution – The task is resolved

27. Recognition – The hero is recognized

28. Exposure – The false hero or villain is exposed

29. Transfiguration – The hero is given a new appearance

30. Punishment – The villain is punished

31. Wedding – The hero is married and ascends the throne


Example 1

Tale The Swan-Geese - Morphology of the Folktale (p.96-98)

There lived an old man and an old woman; they had a daughter and a little son. 1 “Daughter, daughter,” said the mother, “we are going out to work and we will bring you back a little bun, sew you a little dress and buy you a little kerchief. Be wise, take care of your little brother, and do not leave the courtyard.” 2 The elders went away 3, and the daughter forgot what they had ordered her to do. She placed her little brother on the grass under a window and ran out into the street and became absorbed in playing and having fun. 4

The swan-geese flew down, seized the little boy and carried him away on their wings. 5 The little girl came back, looked, nut her brother wasn’t there. 6 She gasped and rushed hither and thither, but he wasn’t anywhere. She called out; she burst into tears, wailing that harm would come to her from her father and her mother, but her little brother did not answer. She ran out into the open field; the swan-geese sped away into the distance and disappeared beyond the dark wood. The swan-geese had long before acquired an ill fame, caused much mischief, and had stolen many a little child. The girl guessed that they had carrier off her little brother, and she set out to catch up with them. She ran and ran until she came upon a stove. 7

“Stove, stove, tell me: where have the geese flown?”

If you eat my little ryecake, I’ll tell.” 8 “Oh, we don’t even eat cakes made of wheat in my father’s house.” 9 (A meeting with an apple tree and a river follows. Similar proposal and similar insolent replies.) She would have run through the fields and wandered in the forest a long time if she had not by good fortune met a hedgehog. 10 She wished to nudge him, but was afraid of pricking herself. “Little hedgehog, little hedgehog,” she asked “did you not see where the geese have flown?” “Away, over there,” he pointed.

She ran and came upon a hut on chicken legs. It was standing and turning around. 11

In the hut sat Bába Jagá, hag-faced and with a leg of clay. The little brother also sat there on a little bench, playing with golden apples. His sister saw him, stole up, seized him and carried him away, 12 and the geese flew after her in pursuit; 13 the evildoers were overtaking them; where was there to hide?

(The river, the apple tree, and the stove hide the little girl. The tale ends with the little girl’s arrival home. 14)


1 – Initial Situation

2 - Interdiction

3 – Departure of the elders

4 – Violation of the interdiction

5 - Villainy

6 – Preliminary misfortune

7 – Appearance of the tester (donor)

8– Dialogue with the tester

9 – Negative reaction of the hero

10 – Appearance of the thankful helper

11 – Dwelling of the villain

12 – Return is implied but not mentioned

13 – The hero is pursued

14 – Rescue of the hero from pursuit/the task is resolved.

Example 2

Movie - Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Simpson, P.)

1. Hero absents himself Harry Potter [Hero] has been orphaned and is forced to live in the home of his cruel aunt and uncle, the Dursleys.

2. Hero receives interdiction Harry is told by the Dursleys not to go to Hogwart’s school of wizardry

3. Interdiction is violated Harry goes to Hogwart’s school of wizardry

6. Villain attempts to deceive or Unknown to all, Voldemort [Villain] has taken over the body of Professor Quirrel. to take possession

8. Villain harms member of Harry learns that Voldemort has killed his parents. Hero’s family

9. This harm made known: Hero Harry embarks on a mission to recover the philosopher’s stone. goes/ is sent on a mission

12. Hero gets helper and/ or Harry receives (unexpectedly) a top-of-the-range broomstick, a Nimbus 2000. magical agent

25. Difficult task set for Hero Harry is charged with retrieving the ‘golden snitch’ in a game of Quidditch.

14. Hero uses magical agent. Harry uses the Nimbus 2000 in the Quidditch game.

26. Task is accomplished. Harry successfully retrieves the golden snitch.

16. Hero and Villain join in combat Harry and Voldemort join combat.

17. Hero is branded Harry has acquired a lightning-shaped scar through an earlier encounter with Voldemort.

28. False Hero is exposed Quirrel exposed as the host of Voldemort.

29. False Hero is transformed Quirrel transformed into dust during the combat.

18. Villain is defeated Voldemort is defeated.

30. Villain is punished Voldemort forced to leave the body of his dead host.

19. Initial misfortune is set right. In the Hogwart’s school competition, Harry’s house Gryffindor is reinstated above their cheating rivals Slytherin.

20. Hero returns home Harry leaves Hogwart’s for the summer recess.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)

Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist and writer. He is known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion, in which he analyzed mythological heroes in order to prove that all hero myths are the same, also, all of them follow a psychological and a metaphysical approach. By comparison Campbell established a hero pattern describing 17 common stages of the hero's journey found in a sort of classic narrative. These stages are grouped in 3 main clusters called Departure, Initiation, and Return.

Joseph Campbell first describes the heroic monomyth in 1949 in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The notion of Campbell Hero’s Journey can be applied to analyze any stories and movies. Take for example popular movies such as the Matrix, Star Wars, and the Lord of the Rings.

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