Network Theory and Plot Analysis

Most of us are used to viewing a work in a linear manner. A plot moves in one direction as does the evolution of discourse. To view literature using space and networks is vastly different to our previously linear analysis. Franco Moretti discusses these differences in “Network Theory, Plot Analysis”. He suggests that using networks and spatial analysis we can map out a play such as Hamlet using different characters and deeds. Before we could analyze style and aesthetic but with networks we can analyze plot as well. The protagonist acts as the central point since all characters interact through them. By using networks we can see what the protagonist has done to/with whom and what they will be doing, “Making the past just as visible as the present: that is one major change introduced by the use of networks. Then, they make visible specific “regions” within the plot as a whole: subsystems, that share some significant property” (Moretti 4). By connecting characters and deeds there was a hope to change the way we analyze plot. Rather than a single chain of events there would be a network of connections. The networks would create a three dimensional model of a work giving the piece a different depth. The network supersedes the timeline because it focuses on all aspects of the plot at one single moment. Every action and every character is accounted for. Compound this technique with the temporal mode we have used before both the style and the plot can be analyzed. Networks give literary studies a new breathe but they are certainly not the end all be all of this form of analysis.

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4 thoughts on “Network Theory and Plot Analysis

  1. Good stuff, Alex. I also like the Hamlet illustration used to discuss spatial mapping. Honestly, I was kind of confused by the whole concept of spatial analysis, but the Hamlet/play illustration helped connect the dots for me. I felt as if I understood Moretti’s “Graphs, Maps, and Trees” better than the latest reading, but that is probably just due to the fact that it is somewhat abstract, or at least branching away from the linear thinking to which I’ve become so accustomed.

    Moretti describes network theory as “a theory that studies connections within large groups of objects: the objects can be just about anything – banks, neurons, film actors, research papers, friends…” This shows just how limitless the new way of thinking can be, when not confined by the concept of time. More than anything, I feel like the graphs in the reading helped me grasp the concept (kind of surprised me because I’m not usually a visual learner). I still don’t understand it as much as I’d like to, so I’m really looking forward to the upcoming weeks of class discussion!

    Once again, great job Alex!

    – Jesse Haynes

    • I am personally a bit skeptical about the usefulness of this spatial mapping from the reading, at least in the manner that they presented it. Looking at the many figures and examples they provide, it certainly looks impressive, but this is something on the level of a middle school student drawing a web diagram of the characters in a book they read. While it is theoretically possible to “create a three dimensional model of a work giving the piece a different depth” it would require a lot of effort and computer skills, which the original author of the piece did not actually decide to implement and create the 3D model which, in my opinion, is what would have actually made this piece useful.

      To my misfortune, I have not read a single one of the plays or stories mentioned by the author such as “Hamlet” or “The Story of the Stone” so I had no knowledge of any of the character links of references made to the plots or events of these novels. While it would have been enlightening and interesting had I understood them, the spatial maps had no impact on me, and having to flip between the reading and the map itself was taxing because the map itself does not state the event or links it is displaying, it is instead necessary to go back ten pages into the text and find what is says the map is showing. All in all, while it is an interesting concept, I find that it lacked actual evidence of successful implementation, and the end result was over-simplified.

      • I strongly agree with your comment because I am also unfamiliar with Hamlet and The Story of the Stone and found it over simplified at first but also complex towards the end for connecting characters. I also agree that a 3D image would have made it less simplified because of the time it takes rather than just sketching down names and lines within minutes. I liked the idea of spacial mapping, but as I looked further into the images they almost got too complex for the idea and concept it was trying to get across.

  2. I agree greatly with znat1 in that I am skeptical of the usefulness and or importance of spacial mapping of stories. Although spacial mapping could provide an interesting perspective on complex stories such as “Hamlet” and “The Story of the Stone”, I feel as though spacial mapping could be a bit overkill for stories, and if it were useful, the author would suggest it or even provide it for the reader. Typically, if a story needs a spacial map to act as a blueprint for the story, the story is too complex. I also believe that a spacial map could also make stories more complex by moving the story from one dimensional to three dimensional. I am interested to see an example of a spacial map of a story to see what these maps bring to the story. As of now I am definitely skeptical of the idea, but I feel like I could warm up to the idea of spacial mapping stories if I saw more concrete examples.

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