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Recent Trends in Narratological Research

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John Pier

Order and Narrative

Jon-K Adams

Résumé

One established task of narrative theory is to describe the order of events in narrative or, to be more specific, to describe the principle that determines it. The problem is well-known: although we assume that narrative represents events that occur in a world, the order of presentation in a narrative need not match the order of occurrence in the world. Faced with this situation, most structuralists assume that narrative order consists of these two orders: the order defined by the occurrence of events in the world and the order defined by the presentation of events in the text. This assumption leads to at least two difficulties for a description of narrative. The first is the structuralist belief that temporal chronology and textual presentation are linear concepts, i. e. that each is independent and complete in itself, a single uninterrupted sequence of events. But this linear concept of order cannot account for the order of events in a narrative that consists of multiple sequences of events because in such cases the narrative order forms a hierarchy in which one sequence of events dominates the others that are woven through it. The second difficulty is the belief that it is not only possible but also necessary to recover the chronological order of events in narrative. But when the events in a narrative are rearranged in their chronological order, major aspects of the narrative, including the plot, are often destroyed. Logically, rearranging the events in a narrative means constructing a different plot because plot is the arrangement of events. I present an alternative to the structuralist view of narrative order, and my major assumption is that chronology determines the order of events in a main story sequence but not in its embedded episodes. Since the purpose of narrative is to show how one event leads to another, it is crucial that the events in a main story sequence appear in their chronological order. But since the purpose of an embedded episode is to show how events in the narrative past explain an event in the narrative present, i. e. in the main story sequence, an embedded episode need not appear in its chronological order. As a result, there may be various types of order in a narrative, but there is only one narrative order, the order of the narrative explanation. Embedded sequences are linked to this order, but they do not form alternative orders; in particular, they do not form a purely chronological order

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  • 1 Tomashevsky points out the distinction between chronological and textual order that underlies the (...)
  • 2 One exception is Sternberg in his discussion of narrative order in terms of “preliminary” and “del (...)

1The order of events is a property of narrative. Since narrative represents a sequence of events, the events must have an order: one event must follow another. For a theory of narrative, the task is to describe that order of events, or to be more specific, to describe the principle that determines it. The problem is well-known: although we assume that narrative represents events that occur in a world, whether fictional or nonfictional, the order of presentation in a narrative need not match the order of occurrence in the world it represents. Faced with this problem, structuralists assume that narrative order consists of these two orders: the chronological order, the order defined by the occurrence of events in the world; and the textual order, the order defined by the presentation of events in the text.1 The structuralist concept of narrative order focuses on the contrast between temporal chronology and textual presentation, and as a result, when the textual order does not follow the chronological order, the narrative order is assumed to be deviant. Gérard Genette refers to the contrast between chronological and textual order as a “dissonance” and “discordance,” and he calls the various relations that this contrast produces “anachronies” (Genette, 1980, 49-50).2

  • 3 Smith argues that the structuralist concept of order—and structuralist theory in general—is based (...)

2In the structuralist description of narrative order, temporal chronology and textual presentation are linear concepts, that is, each is independent and complete in itself, a single uninterrupted sequence of events. This linear concept of order is too simplistic. It cannot account for the order of events in a narrative that consists of multiple sequences of events because in such cases the narrative order forms a hierarchy in which one sequence of events dominates the others that are woven through it. In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the order of events is a major aspect of the narrative, and it consists of three sequences: the main story sequence defined by the narrative present, and two subordinate story sequences made up of past episodes. The main story sequence begins with Offred’s arrival at the Commander’s house and ends with her departure. Embedded within this main story sequence are a number of episodes from Offred’s past, and when we put these episodes together, they form two subordinate sequences of events. The earlier sequence consists of events from Offred’s life before she attempts to escape from Gilead, and the other sequence consists of events from Offred’s experience at the Red Centre. Two points need to be made about the order of events in such narratives: first, the order is based on a hierarchy dominated by the main story sequence, and second, the events in the main story sequence are presented in their chronological order while the events in the subordinate sequences are not. The structuralist description of order cannot account for either of these points, mainly because it is based on a linear concept of order, in which events are gathered into either a purely chronological series or a purely textual one.3

  • 4 See Adams (1996, 3-8,109-21).

3In contrast, a pragmatic description of narrative can account for both the hierarchical nature of narrative order and for the difference between the chronological main story sequence and its achronological subordinate sequences. But first I need to indicate what I mean by a pragmatic description of narrative. In what follows, the concept of narrative that I employ derives from the assumption that a narrative, like every other type of discourse, is used for a reason. Which means that narrative is not just a text and its semiotic structure, but also an act and its pragmatic purpose. The purpose of narrative, the reason that a speaker or writer takes up narrative as a type of discourse, is to explain past events. I call this concept of narrative, somewhat redundantly, “narrative explanation”4 From this pragmatic perspective, chronology determines the order of events in a main story sequence but not in its embedded episodes. Since the pragmatic purpose of narrative is to show how one event leads to another—which constitutes a narrative explanation—it is crucial that the events in a main story sequence appear in their chronological order. But since the purpose of an embedded episode is to show how events in the narrative past explain an event in the narrative present, that is, in the main story sequence, an embedded episode need not appear in its chronological order. As a result, there may be various types of order in a narrative, but there is only one narrative order, the order of the narrative explanation. Embedded sequences are linked to this order, but they do not form alternative orders; in particular, they do not form a purely chronological order.

Narrative Order

  • 5 For an extended discussion of narrative and in medias res, see Sternberg (1978, 35-41).

4In Ars Poetica, Horace notes approvingly that Homer begins his epics in medias res (Horace, 1929, line 148). The Odyssey does not begin with the birth of Odysseus but with the tenth year of his wandering. As the story of Odysseus continues, the narrator reaches into the past to tell us about events that occurred before the beginning of the story, that is, before the Trojan War. When we describe the Odyssey in this way, the expression in medias res becomes ambiguous, for as the expression has been used, it is not clear what the narrator begins in the middle of.5 First of all, it cannot mean one thing: it cannot mean that the narrator begins in the middle of the text. The text begins at the only place it can begin, at its beginning. And since the text represents the narrative, the narrative also begins at the beginning. In contrast, in medias res could mean the narrator begins either in the middle of the hero’s life, or in the middle of the chronological series of events that are presented in the narrative. The first meaning is closer to Aristotle, who criticizes poets for constructing epics around the life of a man, for “among the actions one man performs there are many that do not go together to produce a single unified action” (Aristotle, 1982, 1451a). At the same time, Aristotle praises Homer for constructing the Odyssey “around a single action” (Aristotle, 1982, 1451a). The second meaning assumes a linear conception of the chronological order of events in a narrative. If to begin in the middle means in the middle of the chronological order of the events, then all of the events in a narrative must be on the same temporal level, simply rearranged. But when we examine this assumption more closely, we find that rearranging the events in narrative leads to altering the narrative order rather than describing it.

  • 6 See Chatman (1978, 63-67); Prince (1982, 48-50); Rimmon-Kenan (1983, 46-51), Bal (1984, 51-68); an (...)

5Genette’s analysis of narrative order in Narrative Discourse is the most extensive discussion of the topic we have. He focuses on the relations between the chronological order of events and their textual order. These relations are referred to as anachronies, “the various types of discordance between the two orderings” (Genette, 1980, 36). Genette then proceeds with a description of these anachronies. Most subsequent narratologists have adopted Genette’s analysis of anachronies, either explicitly or implicitly, and none have extended it.6 However, Genette’s anachronies rest on two conflicting views of narrative order. The first view presents two orders in narrative, a chronological order and a textual order. The second view presents a single order in narrative, the order in which the chronological and the textual orders converge and in which deviations from this order become “various types of discordance.” These two views of narrative order are similar to the two senses of Horace’s expression in medias res. To begin in the middle of the chronological order of events assumes that there are two orders, chronological and textual. To begin in the middle of the protagonist’s life assumes that there is one order, the order at which chronology and text converge and which represents “a single action.” For example, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King begins in medias res; the problem in this case is deciding which of these two views we want to adopt. If we adopt the view that there are two orders, and if we rearrange the narrative of Oedipus the King in its chronological order, beginning with the prophecy that Laius hears, then we destroy the plot, the single action around which the events are organized in the narrative. And if we adopt the view that there is one order, then Jocasta’s tale about the inadequacy of prophecy and Oedipus’s tale about killing a man at the crossroads both become “types of discordance.” This view of order does not show how deviations from the chronology of events are integrated into the narrative, which is a serious failure because the tales of Oedipus and Jocasta are crucial to the plot of the drama.

6When he takes the view that there are two orders in narrative, Genette argues that it is “necessary” to recover the chronological order of events (Genette, 1980, 35). Chatman elaborates on this necessity: “The discourse can rearrange the events of the story as much as it pleases, provided the story-sequence remains discernible. If not, the classical plot fails in’unity’” (Chatman, 1978, 63). But when the events in a narrative are rearranged in their chronological order, major aspects of the narrative, including the plot, are often destroyed. If we reorder the events in a story like Bret Harte’s “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” we do not confirm the unity of its plot, but violate it. Bret Harte’s story consists of a simple chronological sequence with only one minor interruption or chronological deviation. After Oakhurst and the others have been banished from Poker Flat, they head for the next camp, Sandy Bar, which lies over a steep mountain range. About half-way there, they meet Tom Simson, who is coming from Sandy Bar. At this point in the narrative, the narrator reaches back into the past to tell us about Tom Simson:

A horseman slowly ascended the trail. In the fresh, open face of the newcomer Mr. Oakhurst recognized Tom Simson, otherwise known as “The Innocent,” of Sandy Bar. He had met him some months before over a “little game,” and had, with perfect equanimity, won the entire fortune— amounting to some forty dollars—of that guileless youth. After the game was finished, Mr. Oakhurst drew the youthful speculator behind the door and thus addressed him: “Tommy, you’re a good little man, but you can’t gamble worth a cent. Don’t try it over again.” He then handed him his money back, pushed him gently from the room, and so made a devoted slave of Tom Simson. (Harte, 1896, 1: 17-18)

7This chronological deviation is needed to explain why Tom Simson decides to help Oakhurst and the other destitute outcasts. After this explanation, the story continues on its chronological course. Since the events in this explanation occurred “some months before,” they must have occurred before the story opened, for Oakhurst must travel from Sandy Bar to Poker Flat before he can be banished from Poker Flat. But if we rearrange the events in the story chronologically, first with the events at Sandy Bar and then with the events at Poker Flat, the story becomes episodic, and the unity of its plot is not enhanced but reduced. Logically, rearranging the events means constructing a different plot because plot is the arrangement of events. Structuralists account for this rearrangement of events by appealing to the concept of story or histoire, but even if we allow this appeal, we still need to be aware that since the purely chronological order of events violates the structure of the narrative, it cannot describe that narrative.

8Plot is not the only aspect of narrative that is affected when events are rearranged chronologically. If we rearrange the events in the opening paragraph of Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” then we alter the narrative perspective:

The Grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here, Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.” (O’Connor, 1955, 9)

9In an attempt to change Bailey’s mind, the Grandmother seizes on the newspaper report about The Misfit. Obviously, The Misfit escaped from prison before the story opens, but if we rearrange the events to reflect this chronology, we lose the limited point of view. In the story’s limited point of view, the Grandmother is the focal character, which is to say that the events are presented from her perspective. But if the events are rearranged to reflect the chronology of The Misfit’s prison escape, then the events cannot be told from the Grandmother’s point of view, mainly because she did not experience the occurrence of these events. Instead, she learned of the events from the newspaper report, and separating the events of The Misfit’s prison escape from her reading about them in the newspaper results in separating her point of view from the representation of those events. The problem of using a purely chronological order to describe narrative order should be clear: if rearranging events into their chronological order changes a narrative, then that rearrangement cannot be used to describe the narrative.

10The particular problem of using pure chronology to describe narrative order should not be confused with the general problem of analysis. When we analyze narrative, we focus on one aspect of it, forcing other aspects outside of our field of vision. This focusing is unavoidable, but at the same time it does not in itself violate the structure of narrative. Only if the principle we use to analyze narrative is a non-narrative principle does the analysis violate the narrative. Pure chronological order, in other words, is a non-narrative principle. It is defined by the occurrence of events in the world rather than how the narrator uses those events. It is there, in the text, but not everything in the text is part of narrative.

11The view that narrative order consists of a chronological and textual order is not the only possible one. Genette, who devotes the bulk of his analysis to anachronies, tends to favor the view that narrative order forms a hierarchy that consists of a single order, which he calls “first narrative,” and deviations from that order:

Every anachrony constitutes, with respect to the narrative into which it is inserted—onto which it is grafted—a narrative that is temporally second, subordinate to the first in a sort of narrative syntax.... We will henceforth call the temporal level of narrative with respect to which anachrony is defined as such, “first narrative.” (Genette, 1980, 48)

  • 7 Cf. Martin’s “time-line” and “main story line” (1986, 123-24).

12The “first narrative” is a sequence of events that preserves both chronological and textual order.7 Anachronies are deviations from this first narrative, that is, events whose textual order departs from the chronological order. Since these anachronies are subordinate to the first narrative, they are embedded within it. In this view, chronological order is not played against textual order; so narrative order can be described without rearranging the events. Instead, there is a single order that is both chronological and textual, and this single order is interrupted by anachronies that depart from the chronological order in various ways.

  • 8 See Genette’s linear diagrams of order (1980, 37-45).

13This description of narrative order goes beyond Genette’s stated view, but it is implicit in the hierarchy that Genette uses to relate his anachronies to his first narrative. But although Genette’s description implies a hierarchy, he does not abandon the principle that contrasts chronological and textual orders because this contrast is the basis for his concept of anachrony. Anachronies are related to the first narrative not only by “syntax,” but by a syntax that turns out to be linear. The concept of anachrony, like the structuralist concept of order itself, assumes that events are on a single plane, so that their order can be simply reversed.8 And in his analysis, Genette links the anachronies to the first narrative in purely relational terms, such as “reach,” which refers to the temporal distance between an anachrony and the first narrative (Genette, 1980, 48). As a result, although Genette defines anachronies in hierarchical terms, that is, as subordinate to the first narrative, he analyzes them in linear terms. And when we turn to examples in narrative, the linear concept of anachrony becomes inadequate. Consider an anachrony from Hawthorne’s story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” which appears when Professor Baglioni attempts to warn Giovanni about Rappaccini and his daughter:

“I have been reading an old classic author lately,” said he, “and met with a story that strangely interested me. Possibly you may remember it. It is of an Indian prince, who sent a beautiful woman as a present to Alexander the Great. She was as lovely as the dawn, and gorgeous as the sunset; but what especially distinguished her was a certain rich perfume in her breath—richer than a garden of Persian roses. Alexander, as was natural to a youthful conqueror, fell in love at first sight with this magnificent stranger. But a certain sage physician, happening to be present, discovered a terrible secret in regard to her.”
“And what was that?” asked Giovanni, turning his eyes downward to avoid those of the Professor.
“That this lovely woman,” continued Baglioni, with emphasis, “had been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole nature was so imbued with them, that she herself had become the deadliest poison in existence.” (Hawthorne, 1962-87, 10: 117)

14In terms of Genette’s analysis, the important point about this example is that the events in Baglioni’s story occurred long before the opening of the first narrative. Saying only this, however, is the same as placing the two sequences of events side by side, as if they were on the same linear plane. But this is not the case, or at least not the whole case, for Baglioni’s story is embedded in the first narrative. Anachronies, like all embedded events, have two aspects: a text and an act. Genette’s analysis of narrative order focuses on the text, the events told, but not on the act, the event of telling. Much later, Genette takes up the issues that derive from the act of narrating, which he organizes under the heading of “voice.” It is here that he discusses embedded narratives, including their narrative use or “explanatory function” (1980, 232). But Genette’s discussions of order and embedding in narrative are not coordinated or cross-referenced. As a result, Genette does not develop the impact that the act of narrating has on narrative order. For example—to return to the illustration from Hawthorne—as a text, Baglioni’s story is an anachrony, but as an act, his story is presented in its chronological order in the first narrative. And as an act, Baglioni’s story is an event in the first narrative.

15First narrative, which is the main story sequence, is hierarchical rather than linear, and it consists of one order, the order in which temporal chronology and textual presentation converge. All other orders found in narrative are not orders of narrative; that is, they are not based on narrative principles. Deviations from narrative order are embedded events, but since they appear at a subordinate level, they cannot be reordered chronologically without destroying the fabric of the narrative. This becomes clear in narratives that are organized around recognition. In Oedipus the King, Jocasta tells Oedipus not to worry about the prophecy because prophecy can fail, and then she tells him a story that illustrates her point. When we take Jocasta’s story in purely chronological terms, then we view the narrative as a text that can be reordered in a linear manner. This textual view destroys not only the narrative order but the narrative itself. In contrast, when we take Jocasta’s story in relative chronological terms, we view narrative as discourse that embeds other discourses. This discourse view preserves the narrative order, and therefore the narrative, because Jocasta’s act of telling her story is an event in the narrative order.

16Jocasta’s act of telling is a crucial event in the drama because the events that she reveals to Oedipus are, as he soon recognizes, the events of his own birth. The point here is that there is no other way Oedipus can learn about these events than by having someone tell him: the events have to be told in order for Oedipus to recognize both his fate and the power of prophecy. Oedipus’s recognition is also an event, the main event that the narrative explains. So the plot that Aristotle admired is organized around the recognition of events rather than their occurrence, and therefore the anachronies that occur are necessary for the unity of the plot.

Chronological Order

17Narrative order is derived from narrative explanation, the attempt to bring about the understanding of an event by presenting a sequence of events that leads up to it. Since narrative explanation requires a chronological order, in the sense that one event leads to another, narrative order is chronological. Departures from this order are not deviations but supplemental explanations, such as embedded stories. Embedded stories are told, and thus are events in the chronology of the sequence of events that forms the basis of the explanation, but at the same time they provide information about events that have occurred earlier. It is the textual order of these embedded events that departs from a purely chronological order.

18Narrative maintains a chronological relation between narrative order and embedded events, but not between different sequences of embedded events. Saul Bellow’s novel Seize the Day has a narrative order or main story sequence that consists of actions that occur on a single day in the life of Wilhelm, from leaving his hotel room in the morning to attending a funeral in the afternoon. In some parts of the story, Wilhelm reminisces about the past. In others, the narrator relates past events. Although it is simple to place these past events in relation to the main story sequence, it is not always possible to place them in relation to one another. We know that the past events always occur before the main story sequence, but we do not always know if one past event occurs before or after another past event. Consider two subordinate sequences or past episodes, both involving conversations between Wilhelm and his father, Dr. Adler. The first is placed in the past with the adverb of time “Recently” and the other with “Not long ago”:

Old Dr. Adler had retired from practice; he had a considerable fortune and could easily have helped his son. Recently Wilhelm had told him, “Father—it so happens that I’m in a bad way now. I hate to have to say it. You realize that I’d rather have good news to bring you. But it’s true. And since it’s true, Dad—What else am I supposed to say? It’s true.”
Another father might have appreciated how difficult this confession was—so much bad luck, weariness, weakness, and failure. Wilhelm had tried to copy the old man’s tone and made himself sound gentlemanly, low-voiced, tasteful. He didn’t allow his voice to tremble; he made no stupid gesture. But the doctor had no answer. He only nodded. You might have told him that Seattle was near Puget Sound, or that the Giants and Dodgers were playing a night game, so little was he moved from his expression of healthy, handsome, good-humored old age. (Bellow, 1961, 11; emphasis added)

19This conversation interrupts the main story sequence just before Wilhelm meets his father at breakfast. In the second example, the conversation interrupts the main story sequence just after Wilhelm leaves his father at the breakfast table:

Not long ago his father had said to him in his usual affable, pleasant way, “Well, Wilky, here we are under the same roof again, after all these years.”
Wilhelm was glad for an instant. At last they would talk over old times. But he was also on guard against insinuations. Wasn’t his father saying, “Why are you here in a hotel with me and not at home in Brooklyn with your wife and two boys? You’re neither a widower nor a bachelor. You have brought me all your confusions. What do you expect me to do with them?” (Bellow, 1961, 27; emphasis added)

20The adverb “Recently” and the adverb phrase “Not long ago” place these conversations in the past, but they do not place them in relation to each other. These temporal adverbs are not specific enough to allow us to establish a purely chronological order, which indicates that such an order is not part of the narrative.

21The relative chronology of narrative order is more complex than the examples from Seize the Day indicate. When there are multiple sequences of events, there are four possible types of chronology: 1) the chronology of the events in the main story sequence; 2) the chronology of the events in the embedded sequences; 3) the chronology of one embedded sequence in relation to another embedded sequence and; 4) the chronology of the events in one embedded sequence in relation to the events in another embedded sequence. The chronology of the first two types are always recoverable, but the chronology of the latter two types is not. As the examples from Seize the Day illustrate, we cannot always determine when one embedded sequence occurred in relation to another. Jack London’s story “The Law of Life” provides a more complex illustration, one in which we can determine the order of one embedded sequence in relation to another, but in which we cannot determine the chronology of the events in one embedded sequence in relation to the events in another. London’s story is about an old Yukon Indian who, during the last few hours of his life, thinks about his past. Thus, events in the main story sequence, or narrative present, become mixed with various episodes from the Indian’s childhood and early manhood:

He remembered how he had abandoned his own father on an upper reach of the Klondike one winter, the winter before the missionary came with his talk-books and his box of medicines. Many a time had Koskoosh smacked his lips over the recollection of that box, though now his mouth refused to moisten. The “painkiller” had been especially good. But the missionary was a bother after all, for he brought no meat into the camp, and he ate heartily, and the hunters grumbled. But he chilled his lungs on the divide by the Mayo, and the dogs afterwards nosed the stones away and fought over his bones. (London, 1906, 42-43)

22This episode from the past occurs during Koskoosh’s early manhood because from the context of the story we know that for a man to have abandoned his father he must have reached manhood. The next episode from the past occurs during Koskoosh’s childhood, and therefore further back in the past:

He remembered, when a boy, during a time of plenty, when he saw a moose pulled down by the wolves. Zing-ha lay with him in the snow and watched—Zing-ha, who later became the craftiest of hunters, and who, in the end, fell through an air-hole on the Yukon. They found him, a month afterward, just as he had crawled halfway out and frozen stiff to the ice. (London, 1906, 44)

23The phrase, “He remembered, when a boy, during a time of plenty,” starts an episode that is also linked to the chronological scheme of the character’s life. This allows us to place this episode from Koskoosh’s childhood before the one that begins with Koskoosh’s early manhood. We can also determine the chronology of the events within this episode. But we cannot determine the chronology of the events in this episode in relation to the events in the episode from Koskoosh’s early manhood. The episode that begins with Koskoosh’s childhood contains the events: “Zing-ha, who later became the craftiest of hunters, and who, in the end, fell through an air-hole on the Yukon.” The chronology of these events about Zing-ha is explicitly marked with the adverbs of time “later” and “in the end,” but this chronology is relative to this current episode. In contrast, we cannot determine the chronology of these events in relation to events in the episode from Koskoosh’s early manhood. We do not know, for example, if Zing-ha fell through the air-hole before or after the missionary died and whether the dogs fought over his bones.

24The conclusion to be drawn from this inability to determine the absolute or purely chronological order of events is that such an order is not important for our concept of narrative. It may be that we do not even notice the achronological relations between episodes and events unless we consciously search for them. So although chronology is part of narrative, because it is part of narrative explanation, a purely chronological order is not. A purely chronological order belongs to our concept of how events occur in the world. And since narrative is not a copy of the world, it need not copy the chronology of the world. Narrative explanation determines narrative order, and narrative explanation is not in the world but in the discourse about the world.

Textual Order

25Narrative order is the chronology of events necessary to form a narrative explanation. Other chronological orders may appear in narrative—orders that contribute to the narrative explanation. The most obvious chronological order in narrative is the one defined by a character’s experience. This tends to be an absolute chronological order, for it is derived from the order in which events occur in the world. But there is another important chronological order, based not on the character’s experience but on the narrator’s knowledge of them. The narrator’s knowledge of the events is related to his learning about them, and since a narrator can learn about events without directly experiencing them, he can learn about later events before he learns about earlier ones. This produces a chronology that is different from the one defined by the character’s experience. In other words, there are two types of chronological order in narrative that can depart from the textual order: the order of a character’s experience, and the order of the narrator’s knowledge of that experience. Neither of these orders needs to appear in the text in its chronological order.

26The order in which a narrator learns about the events he tells can become an important feature of a narrative. Sherwood Anderson’s story “Death in the Woods” is told in the chronological order that parallels the order in which the events occur. In the first half, the narrator tells the story of a woman’s life and death. In the second half, the narrator tells how he came to know the events of the woman’s life and death. The second half of the story then implies another type of chronological order, one based on the narrator’s experience or knowledge of the events. In this order, the narrator, as a young boy, first witnesses the discovery of the woman’s body, and then over a number of years, the narrator pieces together what led up to the woman’s death from what he hears and what he experiences. We thus have two chronological orders: the order of the woman’s experience, and the order of the narrator’s knowledge of her experience.

27There are three main episodes in the woman’s life. As a girl she is a hired-girl on a German farm, where her task is to feed the family and the farm animals. Later, as the wife of Grimes, her treatment is similar, for Grimes leaves her for long periods, with inadequate resources, and she is forced to feed the farm animals in whatever way she can. In the end, as she struggles home with a sack of supplies, she decides to rest under a tree on a winter night. She falls asleep and freezes, and the farm dogs, in their hunger, tear the sack from her back, dragging her body into the middle of a clearing and stripping her clothes to her waist. It is in this position that her body is found. This is the end of the story, in terms of the woman’s life; but it is the beginning of the story for the narrator who, as a boy, is with the men who go to the woods to retrieve the body:

I had seen everything, had seen the oval in the snow, like a miniature racetrack, where the dogs had run, had seen how the men were mystified, had seen the white bare young-looking shoulders, had heard the whispered comments of the men. (Anderson, 1933, 21)

28At the point where the woman’s story ends, the narrator’s knowledge of the story, that is, of the events that led up to her death, begins. At this point, the story is a mystery, for the men do not know who she is or how she died. This becomes the story of what the narrator learns.

29Later, the narrator learns about Grimes and his treatment of his wife from town gossip and from visiting the abandoned Grimes house. As a young man, the narrator works on the farm of a German, where there is also a hired-girl. The narrator sees how she is treated, and relates this to the treatment of the woman. And finally, as a man, the narrator spends a winter night in the woods, in which a pack of dogs wait for him to die. The narrator does not die, but the experience allows him to understand what the woman must have experienced on her last night in the woods. Without this experience, which occurs when he is a man, the narrator could not tell the story of the woman, which occurred when he was a boy.

30The textual order, the order in which events are presented in narrative, need not follow either the chronology of the character’s experience or the chronology of the narrator’s knowledge of that experience. An example of this appears in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises. For the most part, the order of events in Hemingway’s novel follows the chronology set by the experience of Jake, the first-person narrator. However, Jake does not experience the climactic scene in which Cohn physically beats Romero but is unable to break his spirit. Jake was knocked out by Cohn earlier, and by the time he arrives back at the hotel, the fight between Cohn and Romero is over. The next day, Jake learns about the fight from Mike and Bill, who learned about it from Brett, who was there. So there are two chronological orders: the order in which the events occur, and the order in which the narrator learns about them. But between these two orders, the text interposes a third order, the order of presentation. After the fight occurs—in fact the next morning—but before Jake meets Mike and Bill and learns about the fight, the following passage appears:

The bull who killed Vicente Girones was named Bocanegra, was Number 118 of the bull-breeding establishment of Sanchez Taberno, and was killed by Pedro Romero as the third bull of that same afternoon. His ear was cut by popular acclamation and given to Pedro Romero, who, in turn, gave it to Brett, who wrapped it in a handkerchief belonging to myself, and left both ear and handkerchief, along with a number of Muratti cigarette-stubs, shoved far back in the drawer of the bed-table that stood beside her bed in the Hotel Montoya, in Pamplona. (Hemingway, 1926, 199)

31When this passage appears in the narrative, Jake has just watched the running of the bulls, in which Vicente Girones is killed. But it is still morning, and the bullfight has not yet occurred and Romero and Brett have not yet left Pamplona. There are then three orders in the narrative: the chronology of Brett’s experience, the chronology of the narrator’s knowledge of that experience, and the order in which the narrator presents his knowledge of that experience in the text.

32These three types of order in narrative raise a question: How are these different orders related to the narrative order? We can take up this question by turning to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, for here the three types of order are spread across the entire novel. Three important episodes in Gatsby’s life can be ordered in three different ways. According to the chronological order of Gatsby’s experience, these episodes are: 1) Gatsby as a youth before meeting Daisy; 2) Gatsby at the height of his powers and reunited with Daisy and; 3) Gatsby after the loss of Daisy and the death of Myrtle. The narrator describes Gatsby’s youth, his meeting with the self-made Dan Cody and his transformation from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby: “he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end” (Fitzgerald, 1925, 99). But this description of Gatsby’s youth comes in Chapter 6, after Gatsby and Daisy are reunited in Carraway’s house in Chapter 5. So there is a simple reversal of the chronological order of events, common in narrative. However, it is only in Chapter 8, on the last night of Gatsby’s life, that Gatsby actually tells the narrator about his youth: “It was this night that he told me the strange story of his youth with Dan Cody—told it to me because ‘Jay Gatsby’ had broken up like glass against Tom’s hard malice, and the long secret extravaganza was played out” (Fitzgerald, 1925, 148). In between, much happens, including the confrontation between Gatsby and Tom, the accident in which Myrtle is killed, and Gatsby’s vigil outside Daisy’s house. The three types of order can be schematized as follows:

Character Order (order of Gatsby’s experience):
1. Gatsby before meeting Daisy
2. Gatsby reunited with Daisy
3. Gatsby loses Daisy

Knowledge Order (order of the narrator’s knowledge):
2. Gatsby reunited with Daisy
3. Gatsby loses Daisy
1. Gatsby before meeting Daisy

Textual Order (order of events in the text):
2. Gatsby reunited with Daisy
1. Gatsby before meeting Daisy
3. Gatsby loses Daisy

33The first point about these three types of order in the novel is that neither the order defined by Gatsby’s experience nor the order defined by the narrator’s knowledge of that experience is used to present the episodes in the text. Carraway knows all the events before he begins to narrate, so he can present them in any order he wants, which means he does not need to follow either the order of Gatsby’s experience or the order in which he learned about that experience. Since these are both chronological orders, the question becomes: Why does the narrator invent a third order for his narrative? The answer is found in the narrative explanation. The narrative order represents the way in which the narrator wants us to see Gatsby, for seeing Gatsby is what the narrative is about, as the narrator indicates at the opening of the novel:

When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament”—it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No—Gatsby turned out all right at the end. (Fitzgerald, 1925, 2)

34For the narrator, Gatsby is an exception, but a complex one. The narrator’s attitude toward Gatsby is marked by three stages: “unaffected scorn,” “romantic readiness,” and the attitude implied by “turned out all right at the end.” These three stages mark the stages of Gatsby’s character, as the narrator sees him: ridiculous, romantic, and— to keep within traditional terms—tragic. Gatsby’s character does not develop, but the narrator’s understanding of him does, and this development of his understanding is what the narrator explains in his narrative. In the episode in which Gatsby and Daisy are reunited, Gatsby appears ridiculous, with his initial embarrassment in Carraway’s living room and his later exuberance as he shows off his mansion. In the following chapter, the narrator emphasizes Gatsby’s romantic side, the character that “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself” (Fitzgerald, 1925, 99). And on the night before his death, when Gatsby tells the narrator about his past, he achieves, through self-recognition, a certain tragic stature. The narrator’s understanding of Gatsby follows neither the chronology of Gatsby’s experience nor the chronology of the narrator’s knowledge of that experience. It follows the chronology of the understanding he acquires after he learns all of the events of Gatsby’s life, and this is the order that is used to present the events in the narrative.

35Narrative order is more than the simple contrast between purely chronological and purely textual orders. In its simplest form, narrative order consists of the convergence of the chronological and textual orders. In the case of multiple sequences, where textual order departs from chronological order, narrative order forms a hierarchy in which one sequence dominates the others. The dominant sequence is chronological and defines the order of the narrative explanation. The subordinate sequences contribute to the narrative explanation, but they do not produce an alternative order; in particular, they do not produce a purely chronological order that can be used to provide a description or measurement of the dominant sequence of events. Finally, what constitutes the chronological in narrative order is not self-evident. Sometimes it is the chronology of the character’s experience; sometimes it is the chronology of the narrator’s knowledge of that experience; and sometimes it is the chronology of the narrator’s understanding of his knowledge of that experience. These all form chronological orders because the principles on which they are based—experience, knowledge, and understanding—are determined by what happens in the world, for as Paul Ricceur points out, narrative “is grounded in a preunderstanding of the world of action, its meaningful structures, its symbolic resources, and its temporal character” (1984, 54). And which temporal character is found in a narrative depends not on a chronology of events, but on the purpose and structure of its explanation.

Bibliographie

Works Cited

Primary sources

Anderson, Sherwood, 1933. Death in the Woods and Other Stories. New York: Liveright.

Bellow, Saul, 1961. Seize the Day. New York: Viking.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 1925. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner’s.

Harte, Bret, 1896. The Writings of Bret Harte. 19 vols. Boston: Houghton.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1962-87. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. 18 vols, n. p.: Ohio State UP.

Hemingway, Ernest, 1926. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner’s.

London, Jack, 1906. The Children of the Frost. New York: Macmillan.

O’Connor, Flannery, 1955. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories. New York: Harcourt.

Secondary sources

Adams, Jon-K, 1996. Narrative Explanation. Frankfurt: Lang.

Aristotle, 1982. Aristotle’s Poetics.” Trans. James Hutton. New York: Norton.

Bal, Mieke, 1985. Narratology. Trans. Christine van Boheemen. Toronto: U of Toronto P.

Chatman, Seymour, 1978. Story and Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell UP.

Genette, Gérard, 1980. Narrative Discourse. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Oxford: Blackwell.

Horace, 1929. Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica. Trans. H. Rushton Fairclough. London: Heinemann.

Martin, Wallace, 1986. Recent Theories of Narrative. Ithaca: Cornell UP.

Prince, Gerald, 1982. Narratology. Berlin: Mouton.

Ricoeur, Paul, 1984. Time and Narrative. Trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer. Vol. 1. Chicago: U of Chicago P.

Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith, 1983. Narrative Fiction. London: Methuen.

Ronen, Ruth, 1994. Possible Worlds in Literary Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Smith, Barbara Herrnstein, 1980. “Narrative Versions, Narrative Theories.” Critical Inquiry 7, 213-36.

Sternberg, Meir, 1978. Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP.

Tomashevsky, Boris, 1965. “Thematics.” Trans. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis. Russian Formalist Criticism. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P.

Notes

1 Tomashevsky points out the distinction between chronological and textual order that underlies the conception of order in narratology (1965, 66-67).

2 One exception is Sternberg in his discussion of narrative order in terms of “preliminary” and “delayed” expositional material (1978, 35-36). Although Sternberg provisionally accepts the idea of chronological and textual orders (1978, 15), his focus on narrative exposition entails a position that is my point of departure, namely, that events that are not presented in their chronological order have an expository or, more generally, an explanatory function.

3 Smith argues that the structuralist concept of order—and structuralist theory in general—is based on “a number of dualistic concepts” (1980, 213); Ronen argues that it is based on “an essentialist conception of chronology understood as an absolute order“ (1994, 216).

4 See Adams (1996, 3-8,109-21).

5 For an extended discussion of narrative and in medias res, see Sternberg (1978, 35-41).

6 See Chatman (1978, 63-67); Prince (1982, 48-50); Rimmon-Kenan (1983, 46-51), Bal (1984, 51-68); and Toolan (1988, 49-55).

7 Cf. Martin’s “time-line” and “main story line” (1986, 123-24).

8 See Genette’s linear diagrams of order (1980, 37-45).

Auteur

Teaches American Studies at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. His article "Hacker Ideology (aka Hacking Freedom)" appeared in Bildschirmfiktionen: Interferenzen zwischen Literatur und neuen Medien (1998). His edition "The Phrack Editorials of Eric Bloodaxe" appeared in Node9: An E-Journal of Writing and Technology (1997). His most recent book is Narrative Explanation: A Pragmatic Theory of Discourse (1996)

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