Craig Thomas and Carter Bays created the American sitcom “How I met your mother” in the year 2005. They were inspired by their idea of “let’s write about our friends and the stupid stuff we did in New York” so they made the characters Ted Mosby, Robin Scherbatsky, Barney Stinson, Marshall Eriksen and Lily Auldrin and based them on people they knew. The show starts with a narrator who tells his children the story of how he met their mother. This essay offers a narrative reading of the first show of the first season, examining Ted Mosby, narrated by Bob Saget and played by Josh Radnor, who is a young architect living in New York in the year 2005. How the narrator distinguishes plot, story and how to classify characters and actions according to systems of Aristotle, Vladimir Propp and Gérrard Genette. Further more we will look into what kind of system the narrator Ted Mosby presents himself with, using systems invented by these three main characters of narratology.
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According to Gérrard Genette, one of the main figures of narratology, who constructed a system that consist of a list of questions of how narrators present themselves. Ted starts the show by using a “digetic” way of linking the story to the tale by telling the audience in a rapid way that he is already married, has children and has achieved everything he wanted in life. Then he flashes back in time with his story where he changes to a “mimetic” way by staging the events and dialogues and slowing the narrative. This is a common thing for writers to do since a whole story presented in a digetic way would only cover a few pages in a book or few minutes on a television show and a mimetic way would be far to long. The next question in Genette’s system concerns from which “viewpoint” or “perspective” the narrator presents his story or to put it in Genette’s terms, “how is the narrator focalized?” There is no need for Ted to use an external viewpoint since the audience can see and hear for themselves what the characters are doing and saying. Ted also uses an internal focalization by interrupting himself and explaining to the audience what he and other characters felt during a certain event and therefore he has “zero focalization” because he freely enters the mind of others. By interrupting his own narrative he answers Genette’s next question, “Who is telling the tale?” Of course the narrator is telling the tale but by intruding the narrative he shows that he has taken part in the tale and is therefore a “homodigetic” narrator. Time is handled in many ways in the show. Ted uses an “analepsis” way, meaning back-tale, of telling the story. He may jump back and forth in the tale but he never goes any further then the year 2030 where he starts telling his story. Ted uses a “double ended” narrative. Each show starts with him talking to his children, then he goes back in time to tell them in a more thorough explanation about the topic, ending the show by coming back briefly to the frame narrative and explaining to his children that he had only told them the story of how he met their aunt Robin. It is unnecessary to answer Genette’s last question of how speech and thought are represented since it is a television show it only uses “direct speech”
Aristotles system of narratology involves character’s and actions as essential elements in a story. According to him no event can begin without a certain action from a character. He identifies three key elements in a plot. The hamartia, the anagnorisis and the peripeteia. The hamartia means a sin or fault and is often related to the characters “fatal flaw”. The hamartia in Ted’s story would be when he told Robin that he loved her on their second date. Ted’s fatal flaw is that he never knows when he getting “the signal” to kiss his date and is to eager in settling down and is not ready to wait a few dates or as he calls it “play the game”. The anagnorisis is when he sits at MacLarens’s, a bar were he and his friends usually hang out, discussing what had happened that night and finds out that he missed the signal to kiss Robin and again when he confronts Robin, after telling her that he loves her, by saying that he would be “damn good husband and a damn good dad”. The peripeteia means the turn around or a reversal of fortune. Because of the double-ended narrative we know that Ted eventually got married and achieved his goal turning his fortune around.
Vladimir Propp’s study of a corpus of hundred Russian folk tales made him realize that every tale is constructed with a certain repertoire of thirty-one functions and out of these functions he grouped them together into seven “spheres of action”. These spheres are the villain, the donor (provider), the helper, the princess (a sought-for-person) and her father, the dispatcher, the hero (seeker or victim) and the false hero. Ted Mosby would be categorized into the hero sphere, since he is seeking the love of Robin, the princess. Marshall and Lilly would be donors, always ready to offer their help and advise. Barney would be the villain, though he is not evil, he tries to disrupt Ted’s journey for love in order to keep him single and willing to party with him.
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Ted Mosby may not be the perfect narrator, or as Craig Thomas calls him a unreliable narrator, but according to the systems of the main figures of narratology he presents his story in accurate and systematic way. He keeps the audiences attention and helps them understand by being an intrusive narrator and sums up the story by applying a double-ended narrative. The plot of the show is very good and keeps the audience on topic making them want to see more. But the story is even better with every scene the show keeps getting funnier and with every show the urge of finding the answer to the question “who is Ted Mosby’s wife?” grows stronger. Like the Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins said “Make them laugh, make them cry – make them wait”
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