Key Concepts: Narrative

This weeks key concepts lesson looked at how important narrative is when looking at media pieces. It is commonly described as ‘a chain of events in a cause/effect relationship occurring in time and space’ (Bornwell and Thompson).

Gillespie and Toynbee both argued that there are 3 main ways to look at narratives:

  • examining narrative structure: how it begins and ends, what happens in the middle, what changes during the narrative etc.
  • exploring the process of narration: for example, the style of this joke (told in third person, not knock-knock joke), what information is given, left out or deferred, how it causes us to perform certain cognitive activities (to predict what might happen, to make inferences etc.)
  • exploring the social, political and ideological assumptions of narratives: how narratives represent groups in certain ways, how these are challenged and the effects of challenging them etc.

2 other key theorists, Tzvetzan Todorov and Vladimir Propp, both stated that narratives are structured  in certain ways.

Todorov went along with a simple ‘Hollywood’ 5 point structure. This can also be used for other narrative such as adverts etc.

  • Equilibrium
  • Disruption
  • Recognition
  • Attempt
  • Enhanced equilibrium

Propp however studied folklore tales and found that the same 7 characters with certain characteristics popped up time after time. Again, this can be used in other narratives.

  • Hero – The person who seeks something
  • Dispatcher – Sends the hero on his quest via a message
  • Villain –  Opposes the hero and tries to stop them
  • The false hero – Disrupts the hero’s quest, usually through a false claim
  • Donor – The provider of an object, most of the time magical
  • Helper – Aids the hero on their quest
  • Princess – Acts as a reward for the hero and is the object of the villain’s schemes
  • Father – Who rewards the hero

Even though written a long time ago (1928), the theory can still be used in todays media pieces. It is important to note however that most modern narratives challenge these theories by adding in different things to challenge the audiences expectations. This weeks task was to look at 3 different media texts and apply both theories to them.


  • Equilibrium – Bond becomes a MI6 agent (double 0) for the British Government.
  • Disruption – Le Chiffre plots to destroy a ‘skyfleet airbus’ plane to gain a huge uplift in shares in a rival company.
  • Recognition – Le Chiffre sets up a poker game to try and reclaim the money he loses.
  • Attempt – Bond enters the game and wins.
  • Enhanced equilibrium – Bond is captured and therefore has to kill Le Chiffre
  • Hero – James Bond
  • Dispatcher – M
  • Villain – Le Chiffre
  • The false hero – Rene Mathis
  • Donor – Felix Leiter
  • Helper – Rene Mathis/Felix Leiter
  • Princess – Vesper Lind
  • Father –


  • Equilibrium – Harry learns that he is a wizard and is to join Hogwarts.
  • Disruption – Harry and his friends learn about the Philosopher’s Stone and the power it possesses.
  • Recognition – Dumbledore/Snape talk about the Philosopher’s stone.
  • Attempt – Harry and his friends attempt to steal the Philosophers stone from deep within Hogwarts school.
  • Enhanced equilibrium – Voldemort (attached to Professor Quirell) tries to stop the trio, but Harry get’s there in time.
  • Hero – Harry Potter
  • Dispatcher – Hagrid/Professor Dumbledore
  • Villain – Voldemort
  • The false hero – Professor Quirell
  • Donor – Professor Dumbledore
  • Helper – Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger
  • Princess – (Doesn’t happen until later in the series)
  • Father – (Doesn’t happen until later in the series)


  • Equilibrium – Batman continues to fight crime on the streets of Gotham.
  • Disruption – The Joker returns to Gotham, tries to rob a bank and tries to kill Batman through a different series of events.
  • Recognition – The joker breaks into Bruce Wayne’s party looking to find Batman and attempts to kill people.
  • Attempt – Batman tries to stop the Joker again through a series of different events.
  • Enhanced equilibrium – After capturing the Joker, the move backfires and Joker escapes and kills Batman’s love.
  • Hero – Batman
  • Dispatcher – Alfred/James Gordon
  • Villain – Joker
  • The false hero – Harvey Dent
  • Donor – James Gordon
  • Helper – Alfred
  • Princess – Rachel Dawes (However, dies)
  • Father –


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