Story Sentiment?

Story and plot are seemingly synonymous ideas often used interchangeably in discussions of literature, however, the two are very different aspects of a narrative. Highly debated since Aristotle first coined plot in his dramatic theory work, Poetics, many authors have since begun identifying differences between story and plot. Within Russian formalism syuzhet (story) and fabula (plot) are used to denote narrative construction. The fabula is the raw material and the story is the order of that material. To expand, a narrative must have a beginning, middle, and end— and the plot encompasses these necessities. However, the order of those parts is what makes up the story. For example, authors may choose to withhold certain information until the end of a story, such as Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Her twist ending never changes the plot, but affects the story, reception, understanding, and emotion within the novel itself.

I plan on using the framework structure of Frankenstein and the Syuzhet Program by Matthew Jockers to work on a further understanding of story/syuzhet through sentiment values. To do this I have reached out to Professor Jockers and I am working on creating a new coding string to analyze Frankenstein’s different frames within the narrative. As we have discussed many times in class the story is made up of Walton’s storyline, Frankenstein’s storyline, and the Creature’s storyline. I plan on juxtaposing the three storylines to the overall novel’s and comparing the emotional valences found in each. This comes with its own set of difficulties as I need to decide where one framework ends and another begins, and while these divisions are mostly accepted still give me more power of interpretation on the frames themselves. Within the Syuzhet program I must also ensure each section is measured on a similar scale of length, which will mean I will run multiple graph comparisons, first of the sections themselves and then those comparisons to the overall novel. This is proving difficult as Walton’s frame is comprised of 30 pages total— around 7 letters worth, while Frankenstein’s is most of the novel itself. In order to streamline the findings I need to stretch certain narratives across similar page lengths, which will make the peaks and valleys of the graph less austere. So many comparisons and graphs will need to be made.

Other pitfalls I am grappling with is the fact that while the story is made up of frames, it is also Walton’s rendition of Frankenstein’s story and Frankenstein’s rendition of the Creature’s story. Each frame is not necessarily objective as we are to understand it is Walton’s record of the oral tradition from Frankenstein himself. I enjoy thinking of this point as it makes the project almost unethical, do these characters have agency or a voice? Are the sentiments expressed legitimate?

This project will open up my eyes to the current discourse on plot and story, and I will be able to use many examples within one text to create more evidence and more data to interpret. I am excited to see how the coding will turn out, but Professor Jockers and I are still working on creating the code. If that falls through I can manually create text files for each section, but at this point I have not created any new graphs or I would have shared them today to visualize this exposition. I look forward to furthering my understanding of sentiment analysis in regards to story and plot and potentially better understanding the main characters in Frankenstein. (584)

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2 thoughts on “Story Sentiment?

  1. It’s always an interesting method to utilize the three (3) story-line such as Walton, Frankenstein, and the Creature, and with this type of research, I feel that it will benefit you indeed. I believe close-reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein might be the simple solution to the problem you mentioned of “where one framework ends and another begins.” I’d like to ask, however, how will you organize these graphs and compare them to each other? Otherwise, I am excited to learn more in how this project will progress as the topic-subject of story and plot are interesting and it seems you have a great understanding of these devices.

  2. To address some of the questions you raise in the third paragraph (since I can’t really comment on the technical aspects of your project) – I think as long as you recognize going into the project that the sentiments expressed might not be completely “legitimate” because of the framing, then it can still be factored into your analysis or provided as a disclaimer. This is all the textual evidence that Shelley gives us, so there is really no other way around it. I think a deeper analysis of the difference between plot and story would also be interesting.

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