3.11. Space


The space of the story should be conceptually distinguished from the space of the action. Space, like character and action, is one feature of the represented world; as such it has its own meaning and semiotic structure.  Space in the represented world is already a semiotically organized space (for instance: a given space, a house, say, may be charged with special significance for a character at action level.  The spatial structures of the action are modulated and restructrued by the presentational structures of the story.   The space of the story is a therefore doubly structured: to the intrinsic structuration of the represented space we must add the meaning-making modulations imposed by the narrative structure.

            Spatial representation is constructed through the story categories we have mentioned.  For instance, space is constantly associated to time in the experience of the characters.  Therefore, a temporal restructuring of the events carries along a modified spatial orientation for the receiver. 

            Degrees of emphasis on action or on character construction will also have a bearing on the spatial construction of the story.  Novels with a dramatic construction, with the emphasis falling on plot development, causality, mystery, curiosity or unveiling, are experienced as temporal rather than spatial in emphasis.  On the other hand, novels which feature a number of characters with emphasis on characterization, alternative concerns and minor plot-lines will acquire a spatial quality.[1]  For instance, sacrificing the temporal continuity of the story and presenting alternatively several plot lines developing simultaneously foregrounds the relevance of space to the reading experience, to the extent that we can speak of the "spatial form" of such novels.[2]

            Variations in distance also help construct the space of the story.  E.g. the space constructed in a summary will not be the same as that constructed in a detailed scene; likewise, a scene based on dialogue will provide different spatial clues from a scene based on internal monologue or figural focalization. 

            Perspective, as the itself suggests, is strongly associated to spatial representation.[3]  Perspective governs likewise nonspatial phenomena like the emotions or cognition of the characters, but insofar as it relates to perception it will have a bearing on the matter of space.  Point of view may consist in a literal vantage point on an object, one which allows a character to perceive some things while hiding others. 

            Description is of course one of the main textual areas where spatial representation takes place.  Space is a referential background for action or dialogue, but it may come to the fore in a descriptive passage focused on landscape, objects or ambiance.  A given space becomes through description a kind of character, in the sense that it becomes a complex and well-defined block of sense which has a bearing on the structure of the text and acquires a special prominence, interacting with actors and happenings in the overall meaning of the story.  Description ensures, for instance, that the fog of London at the start of Bleak House  acquires symbolic overtones suggesting spiritual paralysis and inertia, instead of being just a weather condition.







[1]          Muir (1979, 62ff) develops at length this point. 

[2]          On varieties of "spatial form," see Frank 1968, 3-60.

[3]          Cf. Lozano, Peña-Marín and Abril 1982, 129.