Craig White's Literature Courses

Critical Sources


Robert Fulford, The Triumph of Narrative:
Storytelling in the Age of Mass Culture


(see Cultural Narrative)

Fulford, Robert. The Triumph of Narrative: Storytelling in the Age of Mass Culture.

NY: Broadway Books, 1999.

4 . . . I could describe the failed first marriages of a dozen friends with far more clarity than I could describe my own. That’s because I know too much about my personal history and lack the distance necessary for simplicity. Stories, in order to become stories, must be simplified, stripped of extraneous detail and vagrant feelings. We find it easier to do this with the lives of others—though from time to time, we may apply the same technique to our own history.


6 There is no such thing as just a story. A story is always charged with meaning; otherwise it is not a story, merely a sequence of events. . . . [T]here is no such thing as a value-free story.


7 The “master narratives” by which our society traditionally guided itself, from the Bible to the agreed-upon stories of beneficial British imperialism and European ascendancy, have been challenged and largely discredited.

The Cold War, a narrative that organized the way many people saw the world for more than four decades, has dissolved.

Popular narrative on television has come to be seen as the opiate of the masses, the way religion was described long ago.

Serious fiction writers are nervous about introducing too-obvious narratives into their books.

And yet humanity clings to narrative. We may mistrust large-scale narratives that attempt to shape society, but our narrative drive persists.


13 Private stories, our own essential stories, the stories we tell ourselves and others to structure our personal histories and explain who we are . . . . These stories, when they take a wrong turn, can leave us terrifyingly alone and expose us to humiliation or worse. They are central to our identity, and if they fail us, we may fall apart. Paul Auster, the American novelists, puts it succinctly: “We construct a narrative for ourselves,” he says, “and that’s the thread we follow from one day to the next. People who disintegrate as personalities are the ones who lose that thread.”

14 Charlotte Linde of Stanford University, in her book Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence, says: “Life stories express our sense of self—who we are . . . and how we became that person.”

15 Why can’t we simply study our experience rather than recount it chronologically?

          The answer is that narrative, as oppose to analysis, has the power to mimic the unfolding of reality. Narrative is selective, and may be untrue, but it can produce the feeling of events occurring in time; it seems to be rooted in reality.

16 Most celebrity stories are built to a traditional design, so that they imply a moral.


17 I once knew a man who described his earlier marriages as movies. “That was in my first movie,” he would say.


30 . . . a “master narrative” . . . scoops up thousands of facts, fits them into a meaningful pattern, and then draws lessons about human conduct.


32 A master narrative always speaks with the confidence of unalterable and unassailable truth—and yet paradoxically it is always in the process of being altered.

This is true of the chief narrative of Western civilization, the Bible.

It is also true of the most important master narrative that arose in the nineteenth century—the theoretical structure imposed on history by Karl Marx—and of Freudian psychology . . . .

[Other examples: "You can be anything you want to be if you just want to bad enough." (narrative of desire & fulfillment?)]

A master narrative that we find convincing and persuasive differs from other stories in an important way: it swallows us. It is not a play we can see performed, or a painting we can view, or a city we can visit. A master narrative is a dwelling place that encompasses our ideas about the history of our culture, its possibilities, and our own identity: We are intended to define our lives within it.


33 Children grow into adults by learning stories, and so do nations and communities.


34 Each society develops a master narrative to which it frequently refers, particularly in moments of crisis. In our time, several Western countries, including the United States, have used as a master narrative the only sure source of righteousness and moral certainty available to all of us, the Second World War.


72 Marshall McLuhan remarked, “People don’t actually read newspapers. They get into them every morning like a hot bath.”


102 In the most common view of postmodernists, narrative is a deception. The world is not a place of beginnings and endings and middles, a place of coherence—and when narrative arranges the world in that way in order to tell a story and reach out to an audience, narrative lies.