Friday, April 8, 2011

Option 2- Propp on Butler

I decided that I want to do something completely new instead of revising an older blog entry. My idea might be somewhat unconventional, but I still believe it is interesting and worth looking at. Hopefully it is not too out there. I would like to do a Proppian (Vladimir Propp) analysis of one of the longer novels we read. I was thinking “Moby Dick,” just because we read it later than “Parable of the Sower,” and we have not finished reading “Invisible Man,” but “Parable of the Sower” is my favorite book we have read this semester so I decided to use that one. My proposed argument is to go through “Parable of the Sower” and explain how even though Propp’s functions were written regarding fairy tales, they can be applied to every day novels as well.

Propp claims that the 31 functions he identified are not always in each story, but three certain ones are always present. These three are Villainy, Liquidation, and “Wedding.” The Villainy sequence is when Robledo first came under attack destroying her community and killing all her family. Liquidation, in which the “villainy” function is remedied, would be Lauren escaping Robledo’s disastrous life and finding new people who are more like her, such as the sharers. Lauren spends a majority of the remainder of the book on a quest to liquidate the villainy. Finally, Propp defines the “Wedding” function for fairy tales as the hero/heroine acquiring either traditionally a wife or husband, or in this case, acquiring wealth or power. By the end of “Parable of the Sower,” Lauren is gaining power with her new friends/family through her “Earthseed” verses.

Listed below I have included some of the functions I believe apply to “Parable of the Sower,” with the corresponding function letters and symbols given to them by Propp.

Alpha = Initial situation. This is the beginning of the novel, where Lauren talking with her stepmother outside. We get the feel for how the story is going to go.

Beta = absentation. We see a large gap between entries from Lauren, specifically from page 27 to page 31, where three months are skipped.

A = villainy/lack. As I mentioned above, this is when the Paints raid Robledo. I think for the purpose of this analysis I will refer to the villainy Lauren encounters later on to be conjoined with this original villainy.

B = mediation. Lauren comes home to find the villainy that has occurred.
C = counteraction. This is where Lauren consents to taking action and decides leaves Robledo.

↑(up arrow) = departure or dispatch of the hero. Lauren actually leaves Robledo here, deciding to go with Zahra and Harry.

G = spatial transference between two places, guidance. While travelling along the highway, Lauren and her new friends pick up some stragglers along the way, including Grayson Mora, Allie, and Bankole.

H = struggle. Lauren’s encounters with the thieves along her road trip to Bankole’s old home represent a further struggle in her pursuit of liquidation.

J = Branding of the hero. Like her travel companions, and actually most of the people in the novel, Lauren does not escape without some battle wounds. These marks are generally used in fairy tales as a means for recognizing the hero.

K = initial villainy or lack liquidated. I am not all too sure if you could consider the initial villainy to be liquidated, but by escaping to Bankole’s land, Lauren is getting rid of the violence in her life.

↓ (down arrow) = return. A not exact translation as what Propp had in mind in “Parable of the Sower,” but I view Lauren returning home as going to Bankole’s property, which is now her new home. It may not be as ideal as her house before all hell broke loose, but that home is destructed, so Lauren cannot go back there. Instead, she starts her new life in a new home.

There are a few other functions out of Propp’s 31, but I haven’t decided if/how they would fit into “Parable of the Sower” yet.

I got the idea to write about Propp from Kermode’s Chapter IV, starting on page 80. Here Kermode introduces Propp, and introduces some of his functions. Kermode describes a Proppian analysis as “a useful way of thinking about the relation of character to narrative structure” (Kermode 81). Kermode then explains how Propp can be used to interpret the Bible. Well, instead of using it for the Bible, I will use it to interpret “Parable of the Sower,” using Kermode as a guide and another viewpoint supporting mine.

As a counterargument, someone could easily say that Propp’s functions are for fairy tales and fairy tales only. After all, he wrote them after analyzing approximately 100 Russian fairy tales. By using Kermode and my own research, I am to at least open the door to using Propp for other literary works besides fairy tales. What makes my argument so significant is that by shedding light on this topic, one can see that while the characters might be from different time periods or different places in the world, if you strip a plot down to its bare bones and give it an analysis using fixed functions, all stories are essentially the same, whether it is the Bible or a fairy tale or a science fiction novel. They all have the same common goals (a “wedding”), with some sort of villainy or lack occurring. All stories have hero(es) who liquidate the villainy. Understanding this can give readers a basic overall understanding of any piece of literature.

Sources I plan on using:

Butler, Octavia. “Parable of the Sower.” New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1993.

Kermode, Frank. “The Genesis of Secrecy.” Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Nathorst, Bertel. “Formal or structural studies of traditional tales. The usefulness of some methodological proposals advanced by Vladimir Propp, Alan Dundes, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Edmund Leach.” Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1969.

Propp, Vladimir. “Morphology of the Folktale.” Austin : University of Texas Press, 1968.

“The Functions of the Dramatis Personae.”

1 comment:

  1. The idea is extremely interesting. If you can pull it off, it'll be great - so I have no problem with anything you've written here, other than to simply wonder if you *can* make a good case for your argument.

    I would strongly suggest that you look hard for anyone who has tried to either theorize about, or actually do, what a Proppian analysis of a novel would look like. Failing that, any more general work relating novels and fairy tales would work.

    I'm actually going to be using a somewhat similar approach for some of class on Tuesday, using Lord Raglan's *The Hero* (which is focused on ancient heroic narratives in general, not fairy tales in particular) to think about Ellison. Thus, I'm prejudiced, but I'd urge you to be open to using Ellison; due to his explicit interest both in folk tales (Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, etc.) and heroic narratives, he's perhaps an easier target for this sort of analysis.

    This is a great plan, if you can do it. If you start, and it doesn't seem to be working, just be open to rethinking it.