Narrative Power: Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles

There is a reason for the existence of clichés: the easiest stories to tell and to listen to are the ones that everyone knows already, the ones that reinforce the listeners' beliefs. The less sophisticated the listeners are—the younger the children—the less likely they are to tolerate change or ambiguity. A bedtime story about Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Richard will drive a three-year-old slightly bananas if she knows anything at all about The Tale of Peter Rabbit. (Parents: try this at home!)

Adults, as a rule, also like to hear the same stories, although they prefer that the stories have some differences—the human brain loves to detect differences. The popularity of familiar stories that reinforce the status quo is not limited to television and popular literature: historians repeat themselves. Horatio-Alger stories thus become the narrative for male public figures who rise to success from poverty; for women, the story is more problematic, because female public figures are anomalous. In either case, the politics of the narrator inform the story being told. In narratives about women, as Joanna Russ has pointed out in her classic How to Suppress Women's Writing, the narrator may simply deny that the woman actually accomplished anything worth noting.
— from the introduction by Eileen Gunn

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Publication Date: 
2010