Narrative Theory

Production Theories

Narrative Theories

Tzvetan Todorov suggested that conventional narratives are structured in five stages:

  1. a state of equilibrium at the outset;
  2. a disruption of the equilibrium by some action;
  3. a recognition that there has been a disruption;
  4. an attempt to repair the disruption;
  5. a reinstatement of the equilibrium

Vladimir Propp suggested that characters took on the role of narrative ‘spheres of action’ or functions. The eight spheres of action are:

  • The hero, usually male, is the agent who restores the narrative equilibrium often by embarking upon a quest (or search), saves the princess and wins her hand. Propp distinguishes between the victim hero, who is the centre of the villain’s attentions, and the seeker hero who aids others who are the villains’ victims. The hero is invariably the texts protagonist or central character.
  • The villain creates the narrative disruption.
  • The donor gives the hero something; it may be an object, information or advice, which helps in resolution of the narrative.
  • The helper aids the hero in the task of restoring equilibrium.
  • The princess (the victim) is usually the character most threatened by the villain and has to be saved, at the climax, usually by the hero.
  • The father’s (who in fairy tales is often the king) role is usually to give the princess away to the hero at the narrative’s conclusion. He may also dispatch the hero
  • The dispatcher sends the hero on her or his task (who can also be the princess father) – not applicable to East is East.
  • The false hero appears to be good but is revealed, at the narrative’s end, to have been bad – not applicable to ‘East Is East’.

Characters can fulfil more than one sphere of action and spheres of action can be made up of more than one character; so a princess may also be a helper and a text may have several villains.

Our Narrative

When considering Propp and Todorov’s narrative theories and our film, the integration of both theories has been used in order to compose the structure of our film. As the film is of the drama/social realism genre the use of disequilibrium is clear throughout the film, with the sense of an equilibrium only used in the beginning of the film to connote the couple’s happiness together. When talking about the trailer however, the structure is more fractured as it involves a series of imbalance in the relationship which cuts between flashbacks of times when the couple were happy together – a balanced relationship. This structure allows the audience to understand the narrative and genre of the film in more depth.

Looking at Propp’s narrative theory with the notion that every film adopts a number of seven characters, it is evident in the making of our film that our characters can be labelled by Propp’s theory. The female protagonist takes on the role of the ‘princess’ in the way that she is the main victim of the film, as she is victimised by her boyfriend; the main male antagonist, who could be referred to as Propp’s ‘villain’ character.



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