Every narrative is profoundly ideological. This is because every narrative presents a worldview (or set of worldviews). Built into this worldview is a perception of how the world works, what human beings are like, which elements of life are noteworthy and/or valuable, and so on. Many narratives present a worldview in order to question that worldview, to highlight its flaws, and even on occasion to demolish it entirely. This does not, of course, make them any less ideological. Yet neither does it make them more so. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is no more ideological in its narrative form than, say, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice simply because it is so obviously about ideology; it merely wears its ideological commitments more openly.
A narrative’s ideological commitments can be traced back and identified in relation to every one of the elements of narrative we have been exploring in this unit. A narrative’s plot, for instance, might distribute different roles and outlooks to its characters depending on such things as their gender, ethnicity or place in the social hierarchy. The standard ‘adventure plot’ of travelling far and wide, overcoming all kinds of obstacles, and returning finally to the patient and loyal arms of one’s loved ones has tended to be reserved almost exclusively for male protagonists. It has been observed that women in many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century narratives, by contrast, can expect to find themselves by the end of a narrative in one of only two places: death or marriage.
Much the same can also be said of a narrative’s choice of narrators and focalizers (who is given the right to speak and be seen?), its narratees or implied audience (whose opinions are being addressed?), its processes of characterisation (what is deemed to be important about particular characters – the way they look? the way they think?), and its storyworld (how important is our environment to who we are and how we behave?).
Return to Elements of Narrative