The Narrative Structure of "Ten Thousand Lovers"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

18 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Jil F (Author)


Table of contents


2. Narrative Discourse

3. Narrative Structure of Ten Thousand Lovers
3.1. Order
3.2. Duration
3.3. Frequency
3.4. Mood
3.5. Voice
3.6. Motives
3.6.1. Identity
3.6.2. Family
3.6.3. Language

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The literary theorist Gerard Genette offers with his view on narrative theory a new concept to analyze narratives. With Narrative Discourse An Essay in Method he gives to some extent new perspectives on working with these texts.

Genette mainly focuses on the order, the duration, the frequency, the mood and the voice of narratives. In this work these main features, their definitions and borders to other term, will be brought into relation with the novel Ten Thousand Lovers by Edeet Ravel, a Canadian female author. The terminology of Genette is in some parts the same, but also different to the terminology of other narrative theorists; these differences will be pointed out. Words directly taken from Genette’s terminology are written in italics, quotes, either direct or indirect ones, are marked. Every point mentioned, will be explained by providing an insight into the content and structure of Ten Thousand Lovers, and by proving it with the help of the novel.

Furthermore, motives of the novel will be comprised, as they occur throughout the novel and thus are, in my opinion, an important feature of its narrative structure.

2. Narrative Discourse

Gérard Genette’s conception of the term narration is based on the understanding of the three different meanings of narrative. The first one refers to the narrative statement, “the oral or written discourse that undertakes to tell of an event or a series of events” (Genette 25). The second meaning is more theoretic and refers to events and whether they succeed or not. If one speaks of analysis it is “the study of a totality of actions and situations taken in themselves” (Genette 25), regardless to the medium, linguistic or other. The third meaning is also an event. It consists of someone retelling something, “an act of narrating taken by itself” (Genette 26).

Genette’s work deals with the meaning of narrative which is narrative discourse, which consequently has to be a narrative text. This implies the consideration of relationships between discourse and the events that are recounted and the one between exactly this discourse and the act that produces it, actually the author and fictively the teller of a story.

He also defines the term story as the signified and narrative content of a text. Narrative is “the signifier, statement, discourse or narrative text” and the word narrating terms the “producing narrative action, the whole of the real or fictional situation in which that action takes place.” (Genette 27).

The narrative discourse is the instrument of examination when working with a text. Genette says the terms narrative and discourse are dependent on their relationships:” […] narrative, it lives by its relationship to the story that it recounts; as discourse, it lives by its relationship to the narrating that it utters.”(Genette 27).

3. Narrative Structure of Ten Thousand Lovers

3.1. Order

Genette differentiates the temporal duality, as all theorists of narration do, between story time, the time and the narrative time. He claims the narrative time to be “a false time standing in for a true time and to be treated with the combination of reservation and acquiescence that this involves as a pseudo time” (emphasis in original. Genette 34).

When looking at the temporal order of a narrative, Genette compares the “order in which events or temporal sections are arranged in the narrative discourse with the order of succession these same events or temporal segments have in the story” (Genette 35), by being aware of the story order which is indicated by the narrative itself. Anachronies, the “various types of discordance between the two orderings of story and narrative” (Genette 36), assume a zero degree, which would be a “perfect temporal correspondence between narrative and story” (Genette 36). The presence of these anachronies in Ten Thousand Lovers will be proven by quoting the introductory sentence the novel. The first words in the first chapter are: “A long time ago, when I was twenty.” (Ravel 1). This opens the narrative, but has come before in the story, as it indicates that there must have been happening something afterwards.

The novel offers a tripartite structure, it starts with the protagonists, Lily’s, past life in Israel, in 1976 and 1977, and switches meanwhile to her present life in London in 2001 or 2002. Along there are interruptions with linguistic excursus of the Hebrew language and explanations of word derivations. The third part cannot be put into chronological order as it is only explanations of the derivation of words in the Hebrew and Arabic language by tracing back to events in the history of Israel and its relation to other nations.

To show the structure of anachronies in the first chapter of the novel, I will undertake the text using the form Genette applied on Iliad by Homer (Genette 37). The constituent elements of these opening lines I will name A, B, C and D according to their appearance in the narrative. The chronological order in the story will be given numbers.

A long time ago, when I was twenty, I was involved with a man who was an interrogator A.

I met him on a Friday morning while hitchhiking from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv B. I was studying at the university in Jerusalem. […] Usually I took a shared taxi to Tel Aviv on Fridays C. […] The soldiers began to mutter and grumble. I tried not to listen to them. I wanted to be liked D. (Ravel 1-3)

Thus, the formula A4-B2-C1-D3 can be composed. For explanation: The event A happened ultimately in the story, as Lily, the I-narrator tells the story from the narrative’s now, the words “A long time ago” indicate this assumption. The second last event is that the soldiers began to grumble as this must have happened after she B went to go hitchhiking to Tel Aviv and C tells that she usually takes a shared taxi. It is obvious, that there is no chronological order concerning the story (numbers), but there is one when looking at the narrative (letters). Genette goes further by putting the events into relation. When A is the narrative starting point, B is temporally subordinate to A and thus is retrospective (Genette 39). By looking at this in more detail, Genette names the events before or after the zero level of a narrative. “Any narrative maneuver that consists of narrating or evoking in advance an event that will take place later” is called a prolepsis and “any evocation after the fact of an event that took place earlier than the point in the story where we are at any given moment” is called a nalepsis, the general term anachrony designates all forms of temporal discordance between story and narrative (Genette 40).

If the term Genette calls first narrative is the presence of the novel itself, the past in Jerusalem is an internal analepsis, as the presence obviously happens later than the past (Genette 49). Furthermore, Genette proposes to call one type of internal analepsis heterodiegetic as this analepsis deals with the diegetic content of the story, the story line, which is different from the content of the first narrative (Genette 50). To go one step further, the analepses, mentioned before, which occurs in the novel, is an internal homodiegetic analepsis as it deals with the same line of action as the first narrative does (Genette 51).

Regarding prolepses, Genette offers an exact passage for the appliance on Ten Thousand Lovers:

The “first-person” narrative lends itself better than any other to anticipation, by the very fact of its avowedly retrospective character, which authorizes the narrator to allude to the future and in particular to his present situation, for these to some extent form part of his role (Genette 67).

Lily, as the I-narrator, tells her life in Israel in the past tense, “He seemed […]”, “I had […]”, but the direct speech gives it a more present view. The part of the narrative’s present days in London in 2002 is given in present tense. The I-narrator gives prolepses, for example, as the reader is thrown right into the past of Lily from the first page on: “When I was twenty […]”, this shows that the reader will learn something about the situation she is now in from the point when she starts telling her story. Another remarkable prolepsis, which also has a symbolic character, has to do with the quilt in Ami’s house. In one of the first sections in Israel, Lily tell the reader: “I wondered whether I would come to know that quilt well and whether one day it would be hard to remember seeing it for the first time and not associating it with anything.” (Ravel 19). This leads to the suspicion of something coming up later. The different kinds of prolepses in more detail will be left out.

To go as far as Genette with his analysis of order and anachronies is not possible in this paper, due to space and length of the paper.

Drawing a conclusion from what we have learned about order, Ten Thousand Lovers is not chronological, it is a fragmental story. It has two different storylines, one is related to Lily’s past life, and the other one is her life today. A third part, that is not a part of a storyline, is a linguistic addition of the Hebrew and the Arabic language, these additions are inserted in between the actual story; notwithstanding, they complement the reader’s knowledge on languages, which he, as a recipient, living in a Western country, cannot know, only if he learned these two languages before.

3.2. Duration

First of all, the duration of story is measureable as it has temporal waypoints, but the duration of narrative one cannot measure. To this extent, the duration of narrative could be measured by the time needed for reading, but this is imprecisely according to the fact that reading time varies immensely. Genette agrees with Jean Ricardou’s declaration, that dialogue is the section which “reports everything that was said either really or fictively, without adding anything to it; but it does not restore the speed with which those words were pronounced or the possible dead spaces in the conversation” (Genette 87). Due to this, dialogue cannot be used as a reference point for comparison of real durations. According to Genette narrative duration can only be measured by using steadiness of speed. He explains it like this:

By “speed” we mean the relationship between a temporal dimension and as spatial dimension (so many meters per second, so many seconds per meter): the speed of a narrative will be defined by the relationship between a duration (that of story, measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years) and a length (that of the text, measured in lines and in pages) (Genette 87f).

Although he acts on the assumption that such a narrative with a speed that is constant and unchanging does not exist, he says that a narrative can do without anachronies, but cannot exist without anisochronics, which are effects of rhythm (Genette 88). The procedure to undergo is firstly to divide the narrative into sections. With Ten thousand lovers the most logical way is to use the division that was used by the author: the chapters. As they are not numbered I will give them the title of the location and mention the approximate year, as far as the exact one is not mentioned in the text, the passages of linguistic explanations will be left out, as it is not possible to conclude any duration out of it:

illustration not visible in this excerpt


These ten chapters are enough to give a clue of the story’s duration. It is obvious that the focus of the narrative lies on the past time in Israel. This assumption can be made when looking at the amount of pages in relation to the duration of time. One day in Israel is written in forty pages and one evening in London only in one page. The variation from one page for a few minutes to one page for a whole day leads to the conclusion that the speed is variable. Furthermore, the use of dialogues, which expand narrative time, as they need a lot of writing space, is more often present in Israel. In comparison to that, the conversations in London are only narrated, no direct speech can be found. Remarkably is also the ellipsis of time. The narrator tells seven months of her life in Israel but skips about 25 years of her life in between, until she starts telling about her life in the story’s now, which is in London. This discontinuity highlights the importance of the two narrated phases in her life.

With help of the table above, it is now more possible to come to a description of narrative speed. Here is a possible solution of describing indefinite narrative speed: Genette uses the term of history of literature tempo and thus comes up with the idea of using the adjectives describing the speed of classical music: andante, allegro, presto etc. (Genette 94). Furthermore, Genette titles the four narrative movements: ellipsis, descriptive pause, scene and summary. Deductively we can say that Ten Thousand Lovers offers examples for each of the four movements. The ellipsis is mentioned above, it is an implicit one, as the reader is not informed about it. The interruptions of the story, the linguistic parentheses of Hebrew, can be called a descriptive pause; they are disturbing the flow of the story. Scene is observably as it comes, for instance, to the dialogues between Ami and Lily, it “realizes conventionally the equality of time between narrative and story” (Genette 94). The summary, a sort of time scaling, occurs frequently. One example: “The waiter brought the bill and I tried to split it with Ami but I didn’t succeed.” (Ravel 15). There is no description of how the action exactly continues, it is summarized.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


The Narrative Structure of "Ten Thousand Lovers"
University of Trier
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ISBN (Book)
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Edeet Ravel, Ten Thousand Lovers, Narrative Structure, Gerard Genette
Quote paper
Jil F (Author), 2010, The Narrative Structure of "Ten Thousand Lovers", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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