Propp`s Morphology (Narratemes)

The Structuralist Approach
 Saussere argues, “language is a complete, self-
contained system and should be studied as such.”
 Structuralism argues
 we do not need to know the historical influences
 we do not need to know the biographical history of the
 we do need to study the story’s structure
In other words…
By comparing the different renditions
of like elements, we learn what we
need to about mindset of author, era,
and deeper meaning of the story.
Carl Jung
 early 1900’s, Swiss psychologist
 rejected tabula rasa (the unformed, featureless mind in
the philosophy of John Locke) theory of
psychological development
 evolutionary pressure creates predestined patterns and
characteristics of experience = collective unconscious
 In short…
we develop in response to our unique relationship
with the collective unconscious we all share
Vladimir Propp
 1928: The Morphology of the Folk Tale
 morphology:
 morph = change
 ology = the study of
What was true for Russia
– it turned out –
was true for all stories
Propp’s Theory is built on four tenants
 The functions of characters serve as stable, constant
elements in a tale, independent of how and by whom
they are fulfilled.
 The sequence of functions is always identical.
 All tales are of one type in regard to their structure.
(i.e. romantic comedy, tragedy, coming-of-age)
 The number of functions is limited based on structure.
Four Spheres of Construction
 Introduction:
Body of the Story
 Donor Sequence
 Hero’s Return
Within those spheres…
…exist the 31 narratemes Propp defined.
For example:
Introduction: absentation, interdiction (warning), violation,
reconnaissance, delivery, trickery, complicity
Body: villainy and the lack, mediation, counteraction, and
Donor (mentor): testing, reaction, acquisition, guidance, struggle,
branding, victory, resolution
Return: pursuit, rescue, arrival, claim, task, solution, recognition,
exposure, transfiguration, punishment, wedding (ascension)
 Steps 1 to 7 introduce the situation
and most of the main characters,
setting the scene for subsequent
A family member leaves, the main character is warned of
impending danger, hero ignores the warning (this is where the
villain usually enters), villain goes on reconnaissance looking for
something (an advantage), the villain gets the information he/she
was looking for and attempts to deceive the victim to gain an
edge. The victim is tricked and inadvertently aids the villain.
Sphere-The Body
 The main story starts here and
extends to the departure of the hero
on the main quest.
 The villain causes harm to the hero’s family, the hero
discovers some lack or desire among his/her family
and chooses a positive action. The hero then departs
on the mission to retrieve what is desired.
3rd Sphere-Donor Sequence
 In the third sphere, the hero goes in
search of a method by which the
solution may be reached, gaining
the magical agent from the Donor.
Note that this in itself may be a
complete story.
The hero is tested, challenged, or attacked (this is where the
mentor shows up); he or she is victorious and is led to the
magical object by the mentor (donor); hero does battle with the
villain and is branded. The initial lack is resolved.
Sphere-Hero’s Return
 In the final (and often optional) phase
of the storyline, the hero returns home,
hopefully uneventfully and to a hero's
welcome, although this may not always
be the case.
Hero is chased home, arrives unrecognized to find a false hero
attempting to take his/her place by making false claims, one last task
is proposed to the hero and this is resolved, revealing the hero and
exposing the poser (okay that’s my word-the false hero), the hero is
exalted, the villain punished and the hero marries and ascends the
Finally, Characterization
deus ex machina (a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable
problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and
unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, etc.;)
an announcement of misfortune or a chance disclosure
Motivations (reasons and aims of personages)
Forms of appearance of dramatis personae (the flying arrival of a
dragon, a chance meeting with the donor)
Attributive elements or accessories (witch’s hut, clay leg, hoodie
Heroic types
 Hero as warrior: A near god-like
hero faces physical challenges and
external enemies.
Hero as lover
 A pure love motivates the hero to
complete his quest.
Prince Charming
Hero as scapegoat
 Hero suffers for the sake of others.
Jesus Christ
Transcendent hero
 The hero of tragedy whose fatal
flaw brings about his downfall, but
not without achieving some kind of
transforming realization or wisdom.
Macbeth, Oedipus, Hamlet
Romatic/Gothic hero
 hero/lover with a decidedly dark
Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre
Proto-feminist hero
 female heroes
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Apocalyptic hero
 hero who faces the possible
destruction of society.
Mad Max, in Road Warrior
 a non-hero, given the vocation of
failure, frequently humorous
Homer Simpson
Defiant anti-hero
 the opposer of society’s definition
of heroism/goodness
Heart of Darkness
(Apocalypse Now-movie)
Unbalanced hero
 The protagonist who has (or must
pretend to have) mental or
emotional deficiencies
Hamlet, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Other-the denied hero
 the protagonist whose status or
essential otherness makes heroism
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison,
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Superheroic
 Exaggerates the normal proportions
of humanity; frequently has divine
or supernatural origins. In some
sense, the superhero is one apart,
someone who does not quite
belong, but who is nonetheless
Types of Archetypal Journeys
The quest for identity
The epic journey to find land
The quest for vengeance
The warrior’s journey to save his people
The search for love
The search for knowledge
The tragic quest of penance or self-denial
The fool’s errand
The quest to rid the land of danger
The grail quest (for human perfection)
Your mission:
 Identify the archetypes in Frankenstein.
 Is the monster a hero or a villain?
 Is Frankenstein a hero or a villain?
 Identify they archetypal journey in Frankenstein.

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