Tzvetan Todorov`s Narratology

por: Gener José Avilés Alatriste
Universidad de Montemorelos
Preguntas generales
Narratología y Tzvetan Todorov
“La estructura de la Narrativa”
¿Cuáles son las estructuras básicas posibles
de la narrativa?
¿Cuáles son las funciones in getting las
estructuras básicas?
¿Y las limitaciones posibles?
Narratología – la ciencia de la narrativa;
popularizada en los 1970’s.
narratología comparativa, teorías la autoría,
enunciacion, acción, historia y narración,
Narratología Aplicada: psicoanálisis, estudios
1. Contextos sociales,
Convenciones culturales
3. Punto de vista
2. Formalistas
5. Semiólogos, marxistas
narrativa lector
4. Respuesta del lector
Marco teórico del análisis formal
(literario,lingüistico, interdisciplinario)
Levi Strauss – 4 términos (2 conjuntos binarios)
V. Propp –7 esferas de acciones (Villano, héroe, falso
héroe, sought-for person, etc.)y 31 funciones fuera de
Russain fairy tales
TzvetanTodorov –centrado más en la sintaxis;
A. J. Greimas –centrado en la semántica (actantes—
Sujeto/Objeto, Emisor/Receptor, Ayudante/Oponente,
and 3 estructuras—contractual, performative,
Claude Bremond -- virtualidad una situación abierta, una
posibilidad); actualización o no actualización de la
posibilidad; achievement or nonachievement.
Roland Barthes – 5 diferentes códigos (S/Z).
too static and unable to characterize the very engine that
drives a narrative forward to its end, the very dynamics that
dictate its shape.
Ignore context –depends on how it is used;
The possibility of a coherent narratology, one that
successfully integrates the study of the what and the way, has
been put into question by poststructuralist theorists and
critics invoking the so-called double logic of narrative (e.g.
story and discourse, event and meaning).
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3 aspects of the narrative: semantic, syntactic and
verbal (Todorov’s focus is more on syntax.)
 Grammar of narrative –sentence structure with the
following basic units:
 1. Propositions and sequences//sentences and
 2. parts of speech – characters as nouns; their
attributes as adjectives, actions as verbs.
1. Structural approach to literature defined;
2. Exemplified by his analysis of plot in
3. The nature of narrative and the principles of
its analysis.
Theoretic but not descriptive, logical but not spatial. (2099)
Different from both Marxism (external, an abstract structure
out side of the work) and New Criticism (internal).
Structuralism – “its object is the literary discourse rather
than works of literature, literature that is virtual rather than
real.” (2100).
New Criticism (description)—articulates a paraphrase;
Structuralist (poetics) – lit. works  abstract literary
Henry James – p. 2101 -- disagrees with 1) isolating a text’s
dialogue, description for analysis; 2) disregarding the novel
as ‘a living thing, all one and continuous.’
T’s responses –
A theoretical concept (e.g. temperature) does not need to
exist in ‘a pure state’;
The fact that we find them (blood, muscle, etc) together
does not prevent us from distinguishing them.)
Subjectivity is inevitable in studies of humanities (or social
science) but we can limit it.
From some stories he finds
Plot unit shown as a clause;
Characters as proper nouns; with adjectives; three actions
as verbs – violate, punish, avoid;
Actions with different statuses (e.g. negation)
Modality – legends –imperative, fairy tale– optative, a wish;
Relations between clauses (e.g. causal, temporal, spatial);
common sequence of a group of stories (punishment
8. further analysis:
a. more concrete analysis of syntax -- each
clause can be written as an entire sequence;
b. thematic study: study the concrete
c. rhetoric study: examines the verbal
His goal – not knowledge of Decameron but
an understanding of literature and plot.
1) avoid punishment: From equilibrium to a
new equilibrium.
2) conversion
The story illustrates the superiority of the
individual over the social, or nature over
Literature and poetics
(2106) Ambiguity in moving back and forth
between the two poles: auto-reference and
its object
e.g. 3 adjectives – states, interior properties and
exterior conditions (status)
3 verbs – to ‘modify’ a situation, to ‘transgress,’ and to
(3 modes—indicative, predictive and obligatory, 3
relations between propositions, 3 sequences)
Ambiguity – at both the levels of proposition and
 Boccaccio – a defender of free enterprise and
even, . . . , of nascent capitalism.
Peronella’s story (of hiding her lover in a
barrel) –
X commits a misdeed  X modifies the
situation  X is not punished.
Given by Robert Scholes
X – A+ (XA) opt X  Xa  XA
X = Boy
A = Love, to be loved by someone
A = to seek love, to woo
Opt X = Boy (X) wishes (opt)
- = negation of attributes: -A lack love
Given by Robert Scholes
XA + XB  X-C + YaX + (X-A+X-B  XC) predX
(XbY)predX+XA!  (XB+X-C)!imp
X –Eveline, Y – Frank,
A—a Dubliner, B—Celibate,
C—happy—respected, secure,
a – to offer an elopement; b-to accept elopement
-- negative of attribute, not negative of verb
pred –predicts or expects, imp – is implied by
What could be the advantages of scientific
and abstract descriptions?
Can we use Todorov’s method on a novel
such as Heart of Darkness? Or a story from
The Dubliners? A Hollywood film, The Titanic?
Chinese-American uses of traditional legends (e.g.
Fox, Tang-Ao) to re-write canonical history  as
initial causes for disequilibrium; later confirmed to
bring up a new equilibrium;
 How/where modification of situation is possible.
 The Heart of Darkness: no equilibrium, or in the final
sympathy between Kurtz and Marlow.
 The Titanic: transgression  obstacles (human and
natural)  a new equilibrium in spiritual love and death.
 The Working Girl: transgression by the women (first the
boss and the secretary), mutual punishment, modification
by the man.
Jonathan Culler’s critique in Structuralist Poetics
 – Modification can be done without the use of ruse or
 -- anything which modifies a situation will receive the same
structural description.
 “Todorov has not considered what facts his theory is
supposed to account for and so has not considered the
adequacy of the implicit groupings which it establishes” (217)
 Another example – ‘the sentence “The man out of the last
house passed on his way home” can be excluded from any
account of the plot’ -- since it has no consequences.
(Barthes kernels + satellites)
Seymour Chatman’s Story and Discourse
 p. 92 to transfer Propp’s and Todorov’s method to any
narrative macrostructure whatsoever is questionable. Most
do not have the necessary overarching recurrences. The
worlds of modern fiction and cinema are not two-valued,
black and white, as are the Russian tales and the Decameron.
 P. 93 Whatever success Scholes achieves in his analysis of
‘Eveline’ depends on his knowledge of the overriding
thematic framework of the Dubliners. “Why a Dubliner
instead of an Irishwoman or a European or a female? Why
celibate instead of poor. . .?”
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