Story patterns in oral narratives : a variationist critique of Labov and Waletzky's model of narrative schemas
Labov and Waletzky's (1967) influential six-schema model of personal narratives has often been considered to make claims regarding a 'universal' narrative structure (Hurst, 1990; Hymes, 1996). This study tests how far variations in personal narratives at a schematic level (that is, which schemas are present and how they combine to structure the narrated experience) correlate with aspects of an individual's culture. Oral narratives produced by members of the Greek Cypriot community in London are analysed, to provide data from an alternative group of informants to Labov and Waletzky's, while still using their model as the central framework for analysis. Frequent appearance in the data of an additional schema, 'post-evaluation', suggests that culture is a variable in relation to narrative structure, as are more specific individual and social factors including age and gender. Story topic is also shown to influence how narratives are structured, with different topics resulting in different structures and the general underlying theme of "Trouble" (Burke, 1945; Bruner, 1991; Bruner, 1997) (in fight, danger of death, argument and embarrassing personal experiences) shown to guarantee the 'crisis' required in a narrative. Such findings have implications as regards claims of a universal model of narrative; and the general view that one narrative-structure model may be suitable for all personal narratives is re-examined. By way of conclusion, the study formulates a 'variationist' model of narrative 'grammar' that combines core, optional and culturally variant features. It is suggested that such a model may begin to capture how an individual's social and cultural background, as well as story topic, can function as decisive factors in determining narrative form.