The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Storytelling analysis

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Characters[edit | edit source]

Direct characterization[edit | edit source]

These are ways that a storyteller explicitly describes the character. Aspects of direct characterization are detectable in the basic meaning of the text.


What does the name mean? Does it have any kind of symbolic reference to essentials parts of who the character is?

Sex and gender

Does the character fit into stereotyped roles assumed of certain sexes in the culture? Does their gender follow suit? Do they or others define their gender and refer to it? Or is it assumed?

Occupation/general state of life


How is the character described? What adjectives are used?

Social class


Are the parents named? Do they factor in to the basic identity of the character? Is there any kind of relationship of inherent traits?

Physical features

In many stories, the physical features of a character are not described in detail; in modern storytelling, such as novels, we are accustomed to having an author "paint" what the character looks like. Since this is not universally common in ancient text, pay close attention to any physical features that are named. Can they be interpreted as symbolic?

General description

Do we learn about the character from their own words, or those of others? Does the storyteller describe the character? How do other characters or the storyteller respond to the character? How do they treat her?

Indirect characterization[edit | edit source]

A character is defined not only by features and aspects created directly by the storyteller, but by what they do. Look for things that stand out and appear to be closely connected to the character's role in the story.


Are there things that the character does habitually? By necessity? Does their behavior ever change? Are they unpredictable? Do they ever surprise you?


How do they talk? In a certain dialect? Do they talk in different ways to different people? Are they honest? Are they verbose or taciturn? Do they communicate in non-verbal ways?


What kinds of characters are they associated with? Do they act alone, or in groups?


Does the character only appear in certain settings or types of settings (such as a boat, or on a beach, or in a palace)?


Is the character closely associated with something in the story, such as an object or setting? Is there a relationship of symbolism?

Role in the story[edit | edit source]

Introduction of the character

When do we first meet a character? Do we hear about them from other characters, or by the storyteller?

Storytelling role

Is the character a hero? A villain? A member of the supporting cast? Something else?

Relationship to the main events of the plot

Pay special attention to what a character does at important parts of the plot.


For every action (focusing on the most important for the story), consider what the character's motivation in acting is. Do they express it to others? Do they contradict it? Is it ultimately ambiguous?


How much does the character know about what is happening in the story and its important characters? Do they communicate important story-based knowledge to others?

Last appearance of the character

When do they disappear? Is it made obvious, or does the audience not even notice?

Setting in Time and Space[edit | edit source]

Types of space[edit | edit source]

For each of the following, notice the way that the storyteller or characters name the space. Try to draw on aspects of character analysis, especially direct characterization, when analyzing a space in the story.


A region is a defined space that includes numerous things within it. It can be as small as a room or as large as a country, or even larger.


A landmark is something specific within a region. Some landmarks define a region. Notice when a landmark is central to a part of the story. Landmarks can also have special relationships to characters.


When characters move between two regions or landmarks, trace the path that they follow and see how many specifics you can discern about it. There may be a more abstract path that underlies specific paths in the story, for example, the homeward journey (nostos) in the Odyssey.

General aspects of space[edit | edit source]

Inherent symbolism

Pay special attention to how the storyteller describes a region or landmark, and if it has any relevance to a character or other aspect of the story.

Boundary crossing

The idea of boundary crossing is especially important when studying paths.

Degree of convention

Some scenes are closely connected to different genres of storytelling. For example, in a Western, the street of a town is where the hero is often first seen by the townspeople, or where the climactic battle happens. Play close attention to if the scene evokes certain conventions, and consider whether the storyteller is trying to create certain expectations in his audience.

Relationship to story

Are there recurring types of scenes that are used by the storyteller to structure the story?

Relationship to character

Like the previous example, think carefully about how a certain scene is used to define a character. Objects within scenes are especially important. Some character may be defined according to regions, landmarks, or paths.

Specific spatial aspects of scenes[edit | edit source]

A scene is a specific setting for part of the story. The scene can be divided into regions and landmarks, and may also have certain paths that are defined within it.

General layout

Does the storyteller allow you to reconstruct in detail what the scene looks like? Imagine trying to film or stage it. Try and break the scene down into region, landmark, and path (see above).

Level of description

Which parts of the scene are given more emphasis in the description? Are there parts that connect closely to the story, or does the scene provide more of a visual backdrop?

General aspects of time[edit | edit source]


Is time always moving forward (as it naturally does)? Or are there times when the story moves into the past (flashbacks)?


Compare the time in which the story happens to the way you experience the world. Does it seem comparable? Is it faster or slower at certain parts?


Are there ways that the storyteller expresses events happening at the same time (simultaneity)? Are there certain chains of events (e.g. conception, birth, maturation) that are not told in the natural order?

Chronotope[edit | edit source]

This annoyingly complicated word, which literally means "time-space," identifies ways that a storyteller manipulates time and space together in certain scenes or across an entire story. If you can pinpoint ways in which certain features of the story's space interact with its time, you are discussing a chronotope. A martial arts movie, for example, has a certain chronotope: there is an alternation between parts where time moves quickly (for example, a montage scene where the hero is learning his fighting skill) and parts where time moves at an normal space, and often even slower than normal, during a fight scene ("bullet time"). Space is usually affected by the manipulation of time: in "bullet time," details of the world not normally seen (such as the shock wave that follows a speeding bullet, beads of sweat, etc.) are made unusually visible. You may be able to identify a chronotope in a specific type of scene, or might be able to define a chronotope for an entire an entire genre (like Homeric epic).

Themes[edit | edit source]

A theme is a central idea of a story (or a portion of it).[1] While, traditionally, it was held that a work of literature like a story or play had, or should have, a single theme, it is evident that multiple themes can be at play, both intended by the author or not.

A theme can be hard to discover! Some tips for how to identify a theme:

  • Look for repetition and for sequences of events that follow certain patterns
  • Use your intuition: what do you think is the idea behind the part of the story?
  • Imagine your part of the story being read to children. Is there a moral to the story or a main takeaway, some kind of teachable moment?
  • Write down as many ideas that you can discern in your part of the story, and see if you can connect them.

Indirect statements of theme[edit | edit source]

There is the possibility that the theme of a story is not present due to the direct intervention of the storyteller or author (as seen above), but rather as an identifiable aspect of the story's cultural background. It may be hard to tell exactly when this is the case: for example, hospitality is a central theme of the Odyssey, but it was also an important aspect of Greek culture.

Connection to genre[edit | edit source]

Different genres of storytelling (genre being a special term for a "kind, type, or class of literature"[1]) lend themselves to certain themes. For example, the theme of heroism is common in epic literature. Some epics, like the Odyssey, have themes that are significantly different from other epics, such as trickery or telling stories.

Examples of themes from the Odyssey[edit | edit source]

These may or may not be pertinent to the part of the story that you are analyzing.

  • Homecoming via the sea (Greek nostos)
  • Identity/membership in a social group
  • Storytelling
  • Hospitality
  • Revenge

Making connections to the audience's world[edit | edit source]

After you have analyzed an aspect of the story along the lines suggested above, make sure to note down anything you find interesting or difficult to explain. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Why did the storyteller create the aspect of the story that you are analyzing (character, theme, etc.) in the way that they did?
  2. Does the aspect of the story appear to reflect directly something from the real-world? Or does it differ in certain ways?
  3. Can you think of an audience-related reason that this aspect of the story is the way it is? Does this aspect of the story achieve a certain rhetorical goal of the author? If so, for what purpose (for example, education, critique, entertainment, etc.)?

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 J. A. Cuddon, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, fifth edition revised by M. A. R. Habib (London: Penguin, 2013), p.298.