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is not so great likelihood of the writer's over-elaborating the introduction or of dwelling unduly upon insignificant details; that is a graver danger in episodic narrative. But even in the brief form of the item some one constituent portion may be unduly emphasized with the result that attention is drawn away from the main theme with consequent loss of emphasis. This consideration will be taken up at greater length when we come to discuss the elaboration of episodes in more extended narrative discourse.
While unity and emphasis are important elements in the construction of the narrative item, while without them it lacks artistic finish, yet coherence is, all things considered, the very warp of the narrative pattern. As stated in the definition, narration is not merely the presentation of an occurrence; it is the setting forth of the details of the occurrence in their chronological order. The idea of a series, of a succession, is fundamental. With this chronological ordering of the details coherence has mainly to do. In description the totality of effect, the unity of impression, is the main consideration; and, although in securing and assuring the impression the artist may not neglect the details of arrangement that combine to produce the ultimate harmony of parts, yet this harmony is in the end his main consideration. The arrangement of the details is but a means to that end. With the historian, however, the sequence of the details is relatively of greater importance. As the narrative form increases in complexity, this question of coherence increases in importance, as will appear if one thinks of the part that the details must play, for example, in a novel of complicated plot, or in a detective story. But
even in the item and in the isolated narrative paragraph, the sequence of the details plays a far more important part than in a paragraph of any other character. .
As already intimated, the question of narrative coherence brings up the consideration of plot; but in the simple item this may well seem too pretentious a title. Within the limits of the item there is little opportunity for the elaboration and intricacy that belong to plot as that term is generally understood. And yet, even in the simple narrative, the ordering of details presents material for study. What arrangement will best set the event before the reader's mind,- the actual order of the details as they happened, or the issue followed by the successive steps that led up to it? Shall we insert the connectives, temporal and logical, and thus lead the reader from point to point, allowing his imagination or his logical sense no rein whatever? Or, by the omission of these auxiliary guides, shall we give him the liberty to supply the links and thus allow him, to some small extent, to construct his own pattern as he reads? These and other considerations of like sort confront the student of narrative structure as he examines the element of coherence. The various aspects of the subject may be arranged under the following heads: (a) the structure and ordering of the sentences; and (b) the ordering of the component narrative details.
(a) The Structure and Ordering of the Sentences In considering the structure and ordering of the sentences in a piece of composition, a matter of first importance is the use of connectives. De Quincey, speaking in general of style,' says that “the philosophy of transi
1 Autobiography and Literary Reminiscences.
tion and connection, or the art by which one step in an evolution of thought is made to arise out of another, is one of the two capital secrets in the art of prose composition: all fluent and effective composition depends on the connectives.” This is perhaps truer of expository or argumentative writing than of narrative, because in them the logical relations are more varied in character and more subtile. Unless the reader be restricted by the causal, conditional, temporal, or concessive connectives, there is greater opportunity for him to go astray into some by-path not foreseen by the writer. In narrative writing, on the other hand, the relation between the constituent ideas is largely temporal, and the suppression or the expression of the connectives becomes a matter of effectiveness, rather than of mere clearness.
Asyndeton is the name given to that figure of style in which the connectives between the various parts of sentences or between sentences themselves are omitted. Asyndeton may be considered as a rhetorical device to secure emphasis, and, being a device, is a deviation from the normal method of writing, in which we express the connectives. We may, therefore, logically consider first those forms of the narrative paragraph in which the transitions appear.
An example of the simplest kind of narrative sequence in which we find all the connectives is offered in the story of Joseph's coat (Genesis xxxvii, 29–36), which we may extract from its setting and consider as a simple narrative item.
And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes. And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go? And they took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats,
and dipped the coat in the blood; and they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son's coat or no. And he knew it, and said, It is my son's coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces. And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mou
ourning. Thus his father wept for him. And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard.
In this passage all the main narrative details are joined by “and,” except in one case where the adversative idea is represented by “but,” and in another where “thus,” expressing a modal relation with something of summarizing effect, joins the sentence to what precedes. Simplicity is the noteworthy characteristic of the style: the narrative details merely accumulate without suggestion of complication. According to modern usage, where the tendency of written prose is toward the abruptness of conversational style, this fully conjoined method would be open to the charge of monotony and immaturity. The type is familiar to all critics of undergraduate composition.
Compare with the simplicity of the scriptural narrative the following account chosen from Scott's Highland Widow:
Whilst the women thus discoursed together, as they watched the corpse of Allan Breack Cameron, the unhappy cause of his death pursued her lonely way across the mountain. While she remained within sight of the bothy, she put a strong constraint on herself, that by no alteration of pace or gesture, she might afford to her enemies the triumph of calculating the excess of
her mental agitation, nay, despair. She stalked, therefore, with a slow rather than a swift step, and, holding herself upright, seemed at once to endure with firmness that woe which was passed, and bid defiance to that which was about to come. But when she was beyond the sight of those who remained in the hut, she could no longer suppress the extremity of her agitation. Drawing her mantle wildly round her, she stopped at the first knoll, and climbing to its summit, extended her arms up to the bright moon, as if accusing heaven and earth for her misfortunes, and uttered scream on scream, like those of an eagle whose nest has been plundered of her brood. Awhile she vented her grief in these inarticulate cries, then rushed on her way with a hasty and unequal step, in the vain hope of overtaking the party which was conveying her son a prisoner to Dumbarton. But her strength, superhuman as it seemed, failed her in the trial, nor was it possible for her, with her utmost efforts, to accomplish her purpose.
Here we have a distinctly different effect. In this paragraph the connectives are as generously expressed as in the passage regarding Joseph's coat, but with far greater variety. We have in the passage from Scott not only the idea of chronological sequence, but also of simultaneous, of consequent, and of contrasting action as well. Compared with the extract from the Old Testament this presents greater complexity of structure; in fact, it reveals an approximation towards plot.
In contrast to the leisurely and fully detailed method of the preceding articulated paragraphs we may take the following incident from chapter xviii of Macaulay's History of England:
Glenlyon and his men committed the error of despatching their hosts with firearms instead of using the cold steel. The peal and flash of gun after gun gave notice, from three different parts of the valley at once, that murder was doing. From fifty