Making sense in narrative

Just as we value and judge things in real life, we also do it when following stories.

For instance, just how bad are these pirates?

A more villainous-looking lot never hung in a row on Execution dock.

Peter Pan(1911)

Pretty bad! Thanks, narrator, for letting us know!

Evaluations like this aren't just a nice-to-have in a story; they can be critical for how we make sense of what's happening.

For example, what do you think of Stanley in this next snippet?

Stanley was arrested later that day.

He looked at the guard who sat slumped in his seat and wondered if he had fallen asleep. The guard was wearing sunglasses, so Stanley couldn’t see his eyes.


Is he good or bad?

It's hard to judge from the details we're given.

We know he's been arrested, but for what?

  • Violent murder?
  • Public protest?

The specifics would change our opinion, right?

Luckily, the narrator immediately jumps in:

Stanley was not a bad kid. He was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. He’d just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.


In the narrator's view:

  • Stanley is not bad, he's innocent.
  • The place and time were wrong.

These are all subjective judgments.

And we're happy to have them because these judgments help us decide how we as readers feel about Stanley's arrest.

But here's an interesting technical question: who is making these judgments? Stanley? The narrator?

That's what we'll explore in this lesson.