Designing a New Structure of Text World Theory (TWT)

An Analysis of the Novella "The Penelopiad" by Margaret Atwood


Academic Paper, 2018
13 Pages, Grade: 1

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Overview on Text World Theory (TWT)
2.1 Traditional TWT structure
2.1.1 Discourse World (DW)
2.1.2 Text World (TW)
2.1.3 Sub-World (SW)
2.2 Major changes to the traditional TWT structure

3. Rationale for the selection of The Penelopiad

4. Analysis of the TWT structure of The Penelopiad
4.1 Discourse World (DW)
4.2 Text World (TW)
4.3 In-Text World (iTW)
4.4 Sub-World (SW)
4.5 Possible World (PW)

5. Conclusion

References

Bibliography

1. Introduction

Text World Theory (TWT) analyses the mental representations human beings create when indulging in any kind of discourse, the written as well as the spoken one. It structures these mental representations in worlds which have a certain hierarchy between each other. Since Professor Paul Werth developed this theory in the 1980s and 1990s, it has been revised and restructured several times, as further explained in chapter 2.2. The question arises whether the structure of TWT is still in need of improvement, as Werth’s three-dimensional structure already proved to be unsatisfactory to some text-world researchers, like Joanna Gavins.

To answer this question, I will look at the mental representation of worlds Margaret Atwood’s novella The Penelopiad is able to generate. I am going to argue that this novella is proof that there can be more than one Text World (TW). From these TW, further types of worlds can be created, like Sub-Worlds (SW), Possible Worlds (PW) and in-Text Worlds (iTW), a term which I personally coined. I will try to prove that the major difference between TW and the other world types is the point of view from which they are told.

As the size of the assignment does not allow to analyze the whole TWT structure of The Penelopiad in depth, I am going to concentrate on certain aspects only. First of all, it will be the structure in a whole that is going to be the focus and not the content of the single worlds. Furthermore, the parts which deviate from the traditional structure of TWT will be granted more attention than those which overlap it. Finally, only the worlds which are told from Penelope’s perspective will be analyzed. This implies that the TW of the Maids (TW4) will just be mentioned, but not analyzed. Consequently, a lot of this topic will still be open for discussion.

2. Overview on Text World Theory (TWT)

2.1 Traditional TWT structure

‘TWT is a cognitive linguistic theory of discourse processing proposed in its initial form by Paul Werth’ (Lahey, 2014, p. 284). Werth had become dissatisfied with Chomsky’s objective approach which left out subjectivity and rejected the importance of the context. Werth understood that texts are strongly connected to the context they are written and read in (Stockwell, 2002). That is why the traditional structure of TWT starts off with the Discourse World (DW) as one of three world types which are being created ‘in the minds of [the] readers’ (Stockwell, 2002, p. 137).

2.1.1 Discourse World (DW)

The DW is made up by the discourse participants, which are the reader and the author when it comes to written communication (Lahey, 2014). These participants engage in a language event in which they negotiate the construction from where the other worlds are being created by finding a ‘common ground’ (Stockwell, 2002, p. 136). This common ground, which includes expectations about the text, knowledge about the author and beliefs of both participants, can shift throughout the reading when ‘new ideas are introduced and old concepts are discarded as no longer relevant, or fade away by no longer being mentioned’ (Stockwell, 2002, p. 137).

2.1.2 Text World (TW)

In the second world type of TWT the focus is on the text itself. According to Stockwell (2002), TW are made up of ‘world-building elements and function-advancing prepositions’ (p. 137). The former is the background information, like time, place, characters and objects, and the latter is what ‘propel[s] the narrative (…) forward’ (p. 137). This world, as well as SW, is always ‘in relation to the discourse world’ (Lugea, 2013, p. 136), as for example a past tense in a story might be perceived as happening before the reader’s or before the writer’s time.

2.1.3 Sub-World (SW)

The third world type that Werth (1999) described is the SW. It has the same structure as the TW, with both world-builders as well as function-advancers (Stockwell, 2002). SW ‘originate from within the’ (Lahey, 2014, p. 289) TW and get created through a shift of the focus. Werth (1999) distinguished between deictic shifts (triggered by a shift of location or time), attitudinal shifts (triggered by a shift of desire or belief) and epistemic shifts (triggered by expressions of modality). It will be argued that these two latter shifts do not cause a SW but a whole new world type, called PW.

2.2 Major changes to the traditional TWT structure

Since Werth’s publication of Text Worlds: Representing conceptual space in discourse (1999), the theory has been readapted and expanded. One major adaption which is relevant for this paper was Joanna Gavins’ suggestion to drop the prefix sub- as SW can often become even more important than the TW itself (Lahey, 2014). This implied a whole restructuring of the layers proposed by Werth, as Gavins argued that there can be more than one TW. The distinction between SW and TW will still be applied in the analysis of The Penelopiad, further explained in chapter 4.4. Gavins introduced additional terminologies and concepts, like that of the ‘world-repair’ (Lahey, 2014, p. 291). This represents a situation in which the reader has to modify an existing world because of new amounting information. It will be argued that such a world-repairing process can lead to the creation of a new PW.

3. Rationale for the selection of The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad is suitable for a TWT analysis as it is set in the particular domain of gender studies. This implies that there is already a lot of information on the DW level, which will consequently influence the reading and structuring of the other worlds. Furthermore, it has potential as it is a story with a lot of flashbacks, flashforwards and a lot of characters, which makes it perfect for an analysis of the switches, worlds, and layers that get created.

4. Analysis of the TWT structure of The Penelopiad

The following figure will help the reader of this paper to understand the various worlds and layers of The Penelopiad. It deviates from the types of figures created for example by Lugea (2013), as it is not the content of each world which is being put into focus in this paper, but the structure of the whole system, the connections between the worlds and the amount and form of these worlds. Information and terms used in the next chapters will be linked to this figure.

4.1 Discourse World (DW)

The DW of The Penelopiad is made up of three major parts which influence each other: me as the reader, Margaret Atwood and her intention when writing this novella and the text itself, connected to my knowledge and expectations about it. The biggest influence on my perception of the story has been the course of Gender and Power that I attended at the University of Malta. Not only did this course bring the existence of this novella to my attention, but it also gave me the opportunity to indulge in the topic of feminist writing and read several essays and books. Through my knowledge of Atwood’s writing style, I approached the text with already premade expectations and a certain focus. If I had not dealt with feminist writings beforehand, I would have read this novella with a completely different perspective and the outcome of its mental representation would have been different.

4.2 Text World (TW)

As already stated, The Penelopiad seems to have more than one TW. However, it appears that Ryan’s (1991) theory of the ‘unknowable center’ (p. 567) can be applied on this text as it is difficult to state what constitutes the actual TW center. It could be argued that there are actually only two TW, one centering around the story of Penelope in Hades and the other around the Maids, and that TW2 and TW3 are actually SW, as they are told from the perspective of Penelope in Hades. Nevertheless, the prominence of these two worlds cannot be denied as they take up more than half of the book and the shift of location is rather strong. Therefore, even though TW2 and TW3 are told as though they happened in the past, they are still on a TW level. With this, it becomes clear that the actual TW center is made up by more than one TW.

It is important to keep in mind that what happens in a TW will be taken as the truth onto which all other worlds have to be measured. Ryan (1991) describes this phenomenon and states that when reading a fictional text, the reader can ‘depart from this world, select another world as actual, and create through further mental acts a network of alternative possible worlds around the new center’ (p. 554). As The Penelopiad is a fictional story which is based on mythical tales whose truth has never been proven, the reader must decide which events of the story constitute the new reality and which are unreal even in that universe. The latter will create the level of PW, further described in chapter 4.5.

4.3 In-Text World (iTW)

TW3, which features Penelope on Ithaca, gets created through a spatial shift from Sparta to Ithaca. This world switch gets emphasized even more by the transformation Penelope has to undergo because of this change of setting. She feels lonely and is unhappy. It would seem that such a shift on the TW level gets facilitated through a change in the main character.

This applies within TW3 itself as well, as Penelope’s character has to change once more when Odysseus leaves for Troy and when he comes back. It is almost as though Penelope starts living an entirely new life in which she ‘was running the vast estates of Odysseus all by’ (Atwood, 2006, p.85) herself. Therefore, it could be argued that a switch on a different level might be possible through a major change within a certain world. This switch, as it is still part of the TW layer, creates what I call an iTW. In this instance, the time frame between the different iTW changes, but only because of the departure and arrival of Odysseus through which it gets possible to pinpoint the starting and ending point of the three iTW in a chronological order. This time change wouldn’t be noticeable without Odysseus departure and it wouldn’t lead to a shift between iTW.

4.4 Sub-World (SW)

As already stated, Gavins (2007, in Lahey, 2014) changed the structure originally proposed by Werth and did away with the prefix sub- in the word SW, as she argued that SW can become as equally important as TW. After reading The Penelopiad, it became necessary to mix something of both Gavins’ as well as Werth’s theory, as there seem to be different coexisting TW but also different SW.

These SW cannot be regarded as TW for different reasons. First of all, their content is still told by the first-person narrator of the TW, in this case by Penelope, which means that a lot of comments and beliefs of the TW will enrich these SW. Second of all, as these SW are not told by the main characters of their worlds, like Helene in SW5 or Odysseus in SW4, they do not contain enough detail to get as large as the worlds on the TW level.

[...]

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Details

Title
Designing a New Structure of Text World Theory (TWT)
Subtitle
An Analysis of the Novella "The Penelopiad" by Margaret Atwood
College
University of Malta
Course
ENG 3016 Language and the Literary Mind
Grade
1
Author
Year
2018
Pages
13
Catalog Number
V456428
ISBN (eBook)
9783668889262
ISBN (Book)
9783668889279
Language
English
Tags
text world theory, TWT, Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad, Discourse World, Text World, Sub-World, possible worlds
Quote paper
Stefanie Dalvai (Author), 2018, Designing a New Structure of Text World Theory (TWT), Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/456428

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