Sketching Out the Blueprint

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Chapter 2: Sketching Out the Blueprint


As discussed in the previous chapter, in this research I attempt to investigate form as narrative strategy in selected Amharic novels of contemporary Ethiopia with a wider view of adding to the theoretical discussion on the relationship among form, content, and social milieu in fictional narratives. In this chapter I attempt to present the research design, in which the theoretical position of the research and its methodological assumptions are explicated. This chapter comprises two sections that are devoted first, to the survey of narrative theory, and second to the discussion on methodology of the research.
The discussion on narrative theory in the first section of this chapter is an endeavour to give an insight into the theoretical position of the research. The section aspires to reflect the belongingness of the present research to this discipline, to delineate the circle in which it belongs in the wider scholarly world of narratology, and to outline the theoretical framework that this research uses as a basis for its discussion.
The view of having the methodological section in this chapter emanates from the overall nature of the research. Since the research endeavours to investigate the narrative strategies of selected Amharic novels, methodological issues such as research assumption, and analysis mechanisms should be determined at the outset to overcome inevitable methodological concerns that may affect the quality of the research. With this end in view, the section attempts to depict how and with what premise the research is carried out.
However, before probing to theoretical and methodological issues, it is essential to delineate the key term narrative strategy as applied to this research, for it may help us to insure the validity of the theoretical perspective utilized in the present research.

 Narrative Strategy Defined

It is interesting to note that the term narrative strategy has not been widely used in narrative studies. Nonetheless, a few scholars have conducted narrative studies using this terminology. Roston (2006) can be taken as the first example. In his book entitled Graham Green’s Narrative Strategies: a Study of the Major Novels, he attempts ―to identify the strategies where by [the novels] achieve their effects‖ (p, 5). While dealing with this task, Roston claims that he follows text based approach underpinning his discussion mainly on reader response theory. In Roston‘s work the term Narrative Strategy basically refers to the relation between the authorial craft such as the portrayal of characters and its intended effect on the readers.
Shen (2006) is another scholar who conducted a serious work under the term Narrative Strategy. In his dissertation Narrative Strategies in Robert Cormier’s Young Adult Novels, he ―explores the reciprocal relationship between Cormier‘s narrative techniques and his treatment of controversial themes in his young adult fiction.‖ Applying contemporary narrative theory, Shen studies Cormier‘s novels from the story, text and narration levels. Though his work is more of descriptive than analytical, it gives us an impression that authorial craftsmanship can be studied as a narrative strategy. To add one more work done on this topic, we can refer to an article written by Rahman (2001) entitled Narrative Strategies in Postcolonial ‘Return home’ Novels. In this article, Rahman considers form in ―a more encompassing conception of narrative Strategy including: Choice of protagonists and secondary characters, linearity or non-linearity in structure, setting, and voice or mode of storytelling.‖ With this wider conception of form he endeavours to unfold the content of the novels motivated through it.
These examples give us an impression that there is a possibility of using the term narrative strategy to study the relationship between form and content in literary texts. However, studying narrative strategies in a novel, as to my concern, does not only enable us to see the relationship between the form and content of the novels, but also help us to investigate the relationships among various literary features at the text and context levels. Therefore, in the present research form is accepted as a narrative strategy which is employed in a literary text with the writer‘s skilful manoeuvre to motivate the meaning of the texts at the textual and contextual levels. With this conception, an attempt is made to understand the nature of the selected Amharic novels by investigating the relation between the narrative form, the meaning it motivates at a text level and the social milieu from which the text emerges. These three are considered as pillars that make the being of the novels. Investigating how the form establishes the meaning of the text and how the social milieu affects the manipulation of the narrative form in the selected Amharic novels is what the present research aspires to deal with under the title narrative strategy.
Another lesson we get from the above example works is that there is no set criteria to select a theoretical approach to deal with narrative strategies in literary texts. Roston relies on reader response while dealing with Graham Green‘s narrative strategies, whereas Shen takes classical narrative theory as a basis for his discussions on narrative strategies in Cormier‘s novels. Though not clearly stated, while dealing with narrative strategies in Return Home novels, Rahman follows hermeneutic approach, as he is mainly interested on the meaning narrative techniques entail in the novels. This divergence in theoretical approaches informs us that in the course of investigating narrative strategy in a given literary text one can rely on a certain theoretical conception as per his/her intended goal.
This said, as the present research mainly deals with narrative texts, it understands form in its narratological conception; therefore, the theoretical orientation of this research is derived from narrative theory.


Narrative Theory: An Overview

Prince (2003:1) writes, I decided to survey narratology: not merely, because I had already reviewed, remoulded and revisited it a number of times … but mainly because surveying involves the examination of boundaries and because, from the beginning, the question of boundaries has played a significant role in narratology.
Surveying narrative theory is not a simple task, for it holds a number of complex and debatable theoretical issues. Its broadness and multidisciplinary nature, consequently, forces a research such as the present one, to mark, as Prince in the above quotation says its boundary and/or to determine the circle in which it belongs in the wider sphere of the discipline. This section therefore, attempts to delineate the circle in which the present research belongs in the wider scholarly world of narratology and to outline the theoretical framework of the research starting from asking about the theory itself.

The Ubiquitous Question: What is Narrative Theory?

The purpose of raising this question is not to come up with a new definition of narrative theory other than an endeavour to summarize what has been said so far about it as well as its subject of study.
Even though there seems to exist a kind of consensus among theorists to define narratology as ―a science of narrative‖ (Herman, 2005:1; Prince, 2008: 115), theorists in the field are still asking what narratology is about, and they are seeking explanation for its nature. Citing Meister (2003:56), for example, validates this statement. ―What is narratology?‖ Meister starts his question and extends it by asking: ―approach, praxis, project, school, sub-discipline, discipline, science? And/or which narratology is what?‖ Meister is not the only one who appears to be uncertain about the ‗what‘ of narratology. B. H. (1980:6), who is also seriously concerned with the nature of narratology, asks as: ―what is narratology? Is it a logical division of poetics? Does it constitute a clearly defined discipline with a specific object of study? Or is it a methodology?‖ A number of other scholars in the field have asked such a series of questions frequently and attempt to define narrative theory in different contexts albeit it lingers polemical throughout its history.
Significantly, as Schmid, (2003:36) observes, ―[m]ost definitions of narratology are derived from definitions of its object of study, which is typically seen as consisting of something referred to as ‗narrative‘.‖ This observation gives us an impression that theorists attempt to accomplish the task of defining narrative theory through defining its subject of study-narrative. It seems why scholars such as Herman and Vervaeck (2005:11) express their firm stand on the issue as, ―if narratology is the theory of the narrative text, then it should first come up with a definition of narrative‖.
Hence, in the ―narratological scholarship‖ where defining narrative ―has generally been the norm‖ (Rurdum, 2005: 2), a number of definitions of narrative subsist though none of them are taken as a definite one. David Rudrum (Ibid, 1-2), for instance, states around nine, excluding his, definitions of narrative forwarded by different theorists. These definitions have considerable similarities regarding their conception of the nature of narrative, however, their divergence is more pronounced. Prince (2003, 1) puts this fact as follows:
As we know, nothing like a consensus has been reached on that subject [what narrative is] […] some define narrative as a verbal recounting of one or more events and others as any kind of event representation (including non-verbal once). Some argue that it involves consecution, consequence, and even closure, that it must be populated with anthropomorphic individuals, that it must be anchored in every human experience; others do not agree with all, many, or any of these specifications.
Prince‘s observation on the theorists‘ divergence on their conception of the nature of narrative indicates the broadness of this concept and the complexity it entails.
Regardless of the divergence and complexity of the nature of narrative, since I mainly take it as my subject of discussion, it is undoubtedly essential to specify its definition applicable to my research, for it is as per the definition of narrative I accept that the theoretical as well as analytical discussions in the coming chapters are moulded. However, dealing with the polemical issues that exist in the field at the outset, I believe, helps me to reach at the appropriate definition that fits to the intended aim of the present research.


Opponents and Proponents: Polemical Issues in Narrative Theory

Classical and post-classical phases of narrative theory mark the two critical boundaries in its historical development. According to Herman and Vervaeck (2005, 103), ―in the case of narratology, there is definitely a classical structuralist and a post-classical phase.‖ Since its existence as a field of study in the literary scholarship, narrative theory has passed through these two major stages of development (Fludernik, 2003; Herman, 2007; Keen, 2003; McQuillan, 2000; Onega and Garcia Landa, 1996; Prince, 2003 & Shen, 2005). The polemical issues that characterize narratology, therefore, primarily emanate from the difference in the theoretical conceptions of theories categorized under these two phases.
Classical phase of narrative theory comprises theories of narrative that based their theoretical foundation on Saussurean linguistics. Being indebted to formalist and stracturalist thoughts of literature, these theories attempted to apply Saussurean linguistics for literary study in the view of formulating universally accepted ―systematic ways of studying narrative that would not be limited by the individual work‖ (Keen, 2003: 11). For them, narrative texts are constructs with different levels of analysis. Consequently, most prominent theorists of this phase of narrative theory start their theoretical discussion on narrative by defining these levels although they differ, as it often happens in the whole scholarship of narratology, in their way of defining these levels of analysis. For some of them, a narrative text has two levels of analysis, for others it has four (Onega & Garcia Landa, 1996:7). However, ―the three important structuralist narratologists‖ (Herman & Vervaeck, 2005: 45), Gèrard Genette, Mieke Bal and Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, elucidate three levels of narrative with different terminologies. Genette (1980) distinguished the levels as ―story‖, ―narrative‖, and ―narration‖; Bal (1985) calls them as ―fabula‖, ―story‖, and―text‖; whereas, Rimmon-Kenan (1983) puts them as ―story‖, ―text‖, and ―narration‖. As the terminologies they use for each level of narrative differ, their conceptions of the nature of each level and the levels‘ relation to each other also differ in so many ways. Their similarity, however, manifests itself in their treatment of these levels of analysis as textual components. For all of them, these levels are components of a text and have relational function to each other within the text itself.

Chapter 1: Research Problems, Goals and Assumptions
1.1. Introduction
1.2. Review of Previous Research Works on Amharic Literature
1.3. Text and Context: An Alternative to Understand Amharic Novels
1.4. The Selected Amharic Novels
1.5. Research Questions
1.6. Aim and Objectives of the Research
1.7. Chapters Organization
Chapter 2: Sketching Out the Blueprint 
2.1. Introduction
2.2. Narrative Strategy Defined
2.3. Narrative Theory: An Overview
2. 4. Methodology
Chapter 3: Functions at Story Level: Exploring Story as Narrative Strategy in Burka’s Silence 
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Story as a Textual Construct: Functional analysis
3.3 From Poetics to Politics: Contextualizing the Constructed Story
3.4. Conclusion
Chapter 4: Focalization as a Narrative Strategy: Perspective in Grey Bells 
4.1. Introduction
4.2. Story Line
4.3. Focalization: Conceptual Proviso
4.4. Reality in Focalization and Vice Versa: A Conclusion
Chapter 5: Individuals in the Text: Characterization as a Narrative Strategy in Dertogada.
5.1. Introduction
5.2. Story Line
5.3. Individuals in Dertogada: Their Textual Personhood
5.4. Characterization in Dertogada
5.5. Individualism as a Social Crisis: Conclusion
Chapter 6: Summary and Conclusions 
6.1. The Relationship among Form, Content and Social milieu
6.2. Amharic Novels of the Present Time: A Generalization

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