American Literature to 1900: Narrative Strategies

Narrative Strategies

Location: [Reed College] [Department of English] [Laura Arnold][ Nation and Narration]Narrative Strategies


For those who have not had either an Introduction to Fiction (or Narrative) course (or for those who would like a review), I have ordered the book, Essentials of the Theory of Fiction by Michael Hoffman and Patrick Murphy. It is in the bookstore and on reserve for the class in the library. In addition, here are some tips:

What ARE Narrative Strategies?

Narrative is a fancy word for an account of real or imagined events, in other words a story. Narrative Strategies are the techniques writers employ to tell stories. These include:


Here's How It Works:

Here's an example you can try on your own. Thomas Cole's two series The Voyage of Life and The Course of Empire tell two very basic stories about nations. Take a look at these series and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who is telling this story and why? (See the biography on Thomas Cole)
  2. What are the qualities of the protagonist? (In the Voyage of Life the protagonist is an individual and in The Course of Empire it is the city itself.)
  3. What is the plot of the individual/city's life? What does this imply is at least a possible trajectory for the United States, or you--a citizen/resident of the United States?
  4. How is the work and the details within the work organized? What is the significance of this organization? (For example why does Cole use a river at the center of each piece?)
  5. What is the genre of the work? What are our expectations for this genre? How does Cole play with our expectations? How does this relate to his message?
  6. What do you make of Cole's choice of detail?

    Cole's understanding of landscape and and "narrative" of the American narration influenced the writers of the American Renaissance greatly. As you read the literary and critical texts for our class, you should be asking yourself what stories the authors are telling about the nation and how they are telling them. Where do they say we began? Where will we end? We are we today?

    Click here to see a copy of the syllabus
    url of this page -- Revised: 1/14/96
    Copyright © 1996 Reed College