For the Text and Communication course we are reading a Labov and Waletzky article from the time when an article was published in typewriter pages. It is called "Narrative Analysis: Oral Versions of Personal Experience". I did not manage to tread the article when the lecture on it was held in February, but I remembered the discussion whilst I now read the article.
The article is strongly structuralist and the authors try to make a structural pattern of narratives. They have written down transcripts of 26 narratives all told by uneducated, urban Americans. In their opinion, it is only in those condition you will find pure narratives. The lecturer was strongly against this thesis. In her opinion, narratives is something of the human nature and we all tell narratives of the structure Labov and Waletzky investigates. Her comment started a discussion in class on whether education influences storytelling and narratives.
In my opinion, I am not a terribly good storyteller. And long before taking this course I had come to the conclusion that I thought to much about what to say, so that the narrative never came as a steady flow. In the discussion my mind became a bit clearer and I came to see my problem as me being to analytic. When I start telling a story, I start with good intentions, but as I go along I start to question my mission. Is this a proper story to emphasis what we are no discussing? Am I biased in what I am telling? Do this story give away my political view or does it show prejudice? Should I round of this story with a better ending? All this questions makes it necessary to make diversions in the story and the story becomes a mess and quite often I will manage to make it into a complete story. I would therefore be a hopeless case for Labov and Waletzky.
Many other in my class had similar experiences as me and were thus of the opinion that higher education might ruin the ability to be a good storyteller. At least, it would be necessary to learn again how to tell as story and start training to be a good storyteller. The lecturer started to wonder if she was wrong.
Then we started to find some modifications to our theory. We found that our experience of storytelling, and probably the experience of most other well educated people, was in a discursive context, whether it be the classroom, the lunch break or the pub. In such a context one usually tell a story to make a point and one then has to be sure the story fills a lot of other criteria in addition to being a good story. It has to be relevant and it has to be quite concise.
Labov and Waletzky, on the other hand, ask their cases: "Were you ever in a situation were you were in serious danger of being killed?". If one retell a story of great importance to ones life, it is probable that one focus more on the events than all other analytical aspects. And this might be true for both uneducated and well educated people. If I had almost drowned whilst swimming this morning, I might still be quite shaky when arriving at work, and I would probably not think about structure, political correctness and point of view when telling my colleagues.