Narrative criticism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Narrative criticism focuses on the stories a speaker or a writer tells to understand how they help us make meaning out of our daily human experiences. Narrative theory is a means by which we can comprehend how we impose order on our experiences and actions by giving them a narrative form. According to Walter Fisher,[1][page needed] narratives are fundamental to communication and provide structure for human experience and influence people to share common explanations and understandings (58). Fisher defines narratives as “symbolic actions-words and/or deeds that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them.” Study of narrative criticism, therefore, includes form (fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry), genre (myth, history, legend, etc.), structure (including plot, theme, irony, foreshadowing, etc.) characterization, and communicator’s perspective.

Characteristics of narrative criticism[edit]

Characteristics of a narrative were defined as early as Aristotle in his Poetics under plot.[2] He called plot as the “first principle” or the “soul of a tragedy.” According to him, plot is the arrangement of incidents that imitate the action with a beginning, middle, and end. Plot includes introduction of characters, rising action and introduction of complication, development of complication, climax (narrative), and final resolution. As described by White (1981)[3][page needed] and Martin (1986),[4][page needed] plot involves a structure of action. However, not all narratives contain a plot. Fragmentation occurs as the traditional plot disappears, narratives become less linear, and the burden of meaning making gets shifted from the narrator to the reader.[5][page needed]

Narratives can be found in a range of practices such as novels, short stories, plays, films, histories, documentaries, gossip, biographies, television and scholarly books.[6][page needed] All of these artifacts make excellent objects for narrative criticism. When performing a narrative criticism, critics should focus on the features of the narrative that allow them to say something meaningful about the artifact. Sample questions from Sonja K Foss[7]:312-313 offer a guide for analysis:

  • Setting – How does the setting relate to the plot and characters? How is the particular setting created? Is the setting textually prominent – highly developed and detailed – or negligible?
  • Characters (Persona) – Are some of the characters non-human or inanimate phenomena, described as thinking and speaking beings? In what actions do the characters engage? Are the characters round (possess a variety of traits, some of them conflicting or contradictory) or flat (one or a few dominant traits making the character predictable)?
  • Narrator – Is the narrative presented directly to the audience, or is it mediated by a narrator? What makes the narrator intrusive or not? What kind of person is the narrator (examine his or her ethos)?
  • Events – What are the major and minor events? How are the events presented? Are the events active (expressing action) or stative (expressing a state or condition)?
  • Temporal relations – Do events occur in a brief period of time or over many years? What is the relationship between the natural order of the events as they occurred and the order of their presentation in the telling of a narrative? Is the story in past or present tense?
  • Causal relations – What cause-and-effect relationships are established in the narrative? Are events caused largely by human action, accident, or forces of nature? In how much detail are the causes and effects described?
  • Audience – Is the audience a participant in the events recounted? What can be inferred about the audience’s attitudes, knowledge, or situation from the narrative? What seems to be the narrator’s evaluation of the audience’s knowledge, personality, and abilities?
  • Theme – What is the major theme (general idea illustrated by the narrative) of the narrative? How is the theme articulated? How obvious and clear is the theme?
  • Limitations: Traditional narrative criticism focuses primarily on the narrative and does not take the socioeconomic and political background into consideration; however, it is not opposed to New Historicism theory. In addition, it does not take the narrator's motivations into consideration as it focuses on the narrative to generate the analysis. Also, as the critic looks at the overall unity of the narrative, the theory is not conducive to deconstruction techniques (19-20).[8]

New Testament narrative criticism[edit]

David Rhoads introduced the term "narrative criticism" in 1982 to describe a new literary approach to the New Testament gospels.[9] It analyzes narratives as complete tapestries, organic wholes, and attends to the constitutive features of narratives such as characters, setting, plot, literary devices (for example, irony), point of view, narrator, implied author, and implied reader.[10]

The first book-length treatment of a gospel from a narrative-critical perspective is Mark as Story.[11] Rhoads and Michie analyzed the Gospel of Mark in terms of the role of the narrator, literary devices, settings (cosmic, political-cultural, and physical), plot, characters and characterization, and audience. On the heels of Rhoads and Michie, R. Alan Culpepper published the first book-length treatment of the Gospel of John from a narrative-critical perspective.[12] Culpepper developed the role of the narrator and point of view in the narrative, the role of narrative time, plot, characters, literary devices such as misunderstanding and symbolism, and the role of the implied reader. Following these two seminal studies on Mark and John in the 1980s, several hundred narrative-critical and narratological studies have been published on the gospels, Acts, and the Book of Revelation.[13]

New Testament narrative criticism had its roots in Russian formalism, French structuralism, and New Criticism, but today has moved beyond its formalist beginnings and has applied other approaches. Examples include the role of politics in the first century world,[14][15] the influence of the social world of the first century on the New Testament,[16] feminist approaches to narrative criticism,[17][18] reader-response criticism and narrative criticism,[19] and cognitive narratology and New Testament narrative criticism.[20][21]


  1. ^ Fisher, Walter (1987), Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action, Columbia: U of South Carolina P.
  2. ^ Aristotle, "VI–VII", Poetics.
  3. ^ White, H (1981), Mitchell, WJT (ed.), "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Culture", On Narrative, Chicago: U of Chicago Press.
  4. ^ Martin, W (1986), Recent Theories of Narrative, Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP.
  5. ^ McGee, Michael Calvin; Nelson, John S; Sizemore, Michael (1990), Narrative Reason in Public Argument.
  6. ^ Jasinski, James (2001), Sourcebook on Rhetoric, California: Sage.
  7. ^ Foss, Sonja K (2004), Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, Illinois: Waveland.
  8. ^ Yee, Gale. Judges and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies. Minneapolis, Fortress, 2007.
  9. ^ David Rhoads, 1982. Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 50: 411–34.
  10. ^ James L. Resseguie, "A Glossary of New Testament Narrative Criticism with Illustrations" in Religions, 10 (3) 217), 1. [1]
  11. ^ Rhoads, David, and Donald Michie. 1982. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 3rd ed, David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie. 2012. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel, Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  12. ^ Culpepper, R. Alan. 1983. Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  13. ^ Steven A. Hunt, D. Francois Tolmie, Ruben Zimmermann. Character Studies in the Fourth Gospel: Narrative Approaches to Seventy Figures in John. WUNT 314. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 13; reprinted 2013, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  14. ^ Richard A. Horsley. 2001. Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox.
  15. ^ Warren Carter. 2004. Matthew: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist, revised edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
  16. ^ David Rhoads. 2004. Reading Mark: Engaging the Gospel. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
  17. ^ Janice Capel Anderson. 1983. “Matthew, Gender and Reading,” Semeia 28: 3-28.
  18. ^ Elizabeth Struthers Malbon. 1983. “Fallible Followers: Women and Men in the Gospel of Mark.” Semeia 28: 29-48.
  19. ^ Mark Allan Powell. 2011. “Narrative Criticism: The Emergence of a Prominent Reading Strategy.” In Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect. Resources for Biblical Study 65. Edited by Kelly R. Iverson and Christopher W. Skinner. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, pp. 19-43; James L. Resseguie, “The Woman Who Crashed Simon’s Party: A Reader-Response Approach to Luke 7:36-50,” in Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts, ed. Frank E. Dicken and Julia A. Snyder, Library of New Testament Studies 548 (London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2016), 7-22.
  20. ^ Leif Hongisto. 2010. Experiencing the Apocalypse at the Limits of Alterity. Biblical Interpretation Series 102. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.
  21. ^ Joel B. Green. 2016. “A Cognitive Narratological Approach to the Characterization(s) of Zacchaeus.” In Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts. Library of New Testament Studies 548. Edited by Frank E. Dicken and Julia A. Snyder. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, pp. 109-20