Narrative criticism focuses on the stories a speaker or a writer tells to understand how they[clarification needed] help us make meaning out of our daily human experiences. Narrative theory is a means by which we can comprehend how we impose order on our experiences and actions by giving them a narrative form. According to Walter Fisher, narratives are fundamental to communication and provide structure for human experience and influence people to share common explanations and understandings.[1] Fisher defines narratives as "symbolic actions-words and/or deeds that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them." Study of narrative criticism, therefore, includes form (fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry), genre (myth, history, legend, etc.), structure (including plot, theme, irony, foreshadowing, etc.) characterization, and communicator's perspective.

Characteristics of narrative criticism

Characteristics of a narrative were defined as early as Aristotle in his Poetics under plot.[2] He called plot as the "first principle" or the "soul of a tragedy." According to him, plot is the arrangement of incidents that imitate the action with a beginning, middle, and end. Plot includes introduction of characters, rising action and introduction of complication, development of complication, climax (narrative), and final resolution. As described by White (1981)[3][page needed] and Martin (1986),[4][page needed] plot involves a structure of action. However, not all narratives contain a plot. Fragmentation occurs as the traditional plot disappears, narratives become less linear, and the burden of meaning making gets shifted from the narrator to the reader.[5][page needed]

Narratives can be found in a range of practices such as novels, short stories, plays, films, histories, documentaries, gossip, biographies, television and scholarly books.[6][page needed] All of these artifacts make excellent objects for narrative criticism. When performing a narrative criticism, critics should focus on the features of the narrative that allow them to say something meaningful about the artifact. Sample questions from Sonja K Foss[7]: 312–313  offer a guide for analysis:

New Testament narrative criticism

David Rhoads introduced the term "narrative criticism" in 1982 to describe a new literary approach to the New Testament gospels.[9]

The first book-length treatment of a gospel from a narrative-critical perspective is Mark as Story.[10] Rhoads and Michie analyzed the Gospel of Mark in terms of the role of the narrator, literary devices, settings (cosmic, political-cultural, and physical), plot, characters and characterization, and audience. On the heels of Rhoads and Michie, R. Alan Culpepper published the first book-length treatment of the Gospel of John from a narrative-critical perspective.[11] Culpepper developed the role of the narrator and point of view in the narrative, the role of narrative time, plot, characters, literary devices such as misunderstanding and symbolism, and the role of the implied reader. Following these two seminal studies on Mark and John in the 1980s, several hundred narrative-critical and narratological studies have been published on the gospels, Acts, and the Book of Revelation.[12]


  1. ^ Fisher, Walter (1987), Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action, Columbia: U of South Carolina P, p. 58
  2. ^ Aristotle, "VI–VII", Poetics.
  3. ^ White, H (1981), Mitchell, WJT (ed.), "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Culture", On Narrative, Chicago: U of Chicago Press.
  4. ^ Martin, W (1986), Recent Theories of Narrative, Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP.
  5. ^ McGee, Michael Calvin; Nelson, John S; Sizemore, Michael (1990), Narrative Reason in Public Argument.
  6. ^ Jasinski, James (2001), Sourcebook on Rhetoric, California: Sage.
  7. ^ Foss, Sonja K (2004), Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, Illinois: Waveland.
  8. ^ Yee, Gale. Judges and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies. Minneapolis, Fortress, 2007.
  9. ^ David Rhoads, 1982. Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 50: 411–34.
  10. ^ Rhoads, David, and Donald Michie. 1982. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 3rd ed, David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie. 2012. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel, Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  11. ^ Culpepper, R. Alan. 1983. Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  12. ^ Steven A. Hunt, D. Francois Tolmie, Ruben Zimmermann. Character Studies in the Fourth Gospel: Narrative Approaches to Seventy Figures in John. WUNT 314. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 13; reprinted 2013, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.