Narrative

2. Vladimir Propp (Character Types and Function)

Vladimir Propp is a good starting point for thinking about narrative structures, as his work (based around an analysis of fairy tales) suggests that stories use STOCK CHARACTERS to structure stories. That is not to say that all characters are the same, but rather to suggest that all stories draw on familiar characters performing similar functions to provide familiar narrative structures. It would be useful to consider why we need to have similar / familiar characters performing similar / familiar functions? Which may lead us to consider INSTITUTIONS and AUDIENCES (for example, the way in which we like familiarity as opposed to anything radically different and the cost-effectiveness of re-producing familiar products). But for now it is enough to recognise the set characters, understand their function and show this knowledge either through an essay or a piece of creative work.

You do not need to recognise all of these characters, but it is a good way to understand the way in which CHARACTERS FUNCTION TO PROVIDE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE:

  1. Hero
  2. Helper
  3. Princess
  4. Villain
  5. Victim
  6. Dispatcher
  7. Father
  8. False Hero

Often there is a villain who has done something to a victim. This means that we need a hero, who (often) accompanied by a helper is sent out (by a dispatcher) to fight the villain. The dispatcher or similar donor (such as a father figure) prepares the hero in his ‘quest‘ and gives the hero some magical object. The hero generally meets the princess as part of his quest / journey which usually provides a happy ending. During the narrative we (and the princess) may be presented by a false hero.

Spheres of Action

As Turner makes clear ‘these are not separate characters, since one character can occupy a number of roles or ‘spheres of action’ as Propp calls them and one role may be played by a number of different characters’ (2000:78). However, Propp proposed that his list of stock characters are structured into a narrative that has 31 different functions that play an important role in organising character and story into a plot. Without going into detail for each, overal they can be dvided into the following sections:

  1. PREPARATION
  2. COMPLICATION
  3. TRANSFERENCE
  4. STRUGGLE
  5. RETURN
  6. RECOGNITION
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