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Analepsis

Check out this opening line of a story: Rose woke up, turned off the alarm clock, took a shower and got dressed for work without any idea about how today would turn her life upside down.

Now check out this alternative opening for the same story: Rose slammed the warehouse door behind her, her breath coming in pants as she hoped she hadn't been followed. When she woke up earlier this morning, she had no idea how a chance meeting with a mysterious man would turn her life upside down.

Of the above options, which opening grabbed your attention and made you want to know more? If it was the first, you likely prefer your stories in chronological order, i.e., narrated to you in the order in which the events occurred. However, suppose you prefer the second option. In that case, you like a bit of thrill and suspense brought on by changing the order of narration, with the story often dipping into a character's past, interrupting the narration of current events. This is an instance of analepsis.

Analepsis meaning

Analepsis can be defined as follows:

Analepsis in fiction refers to when a narration of events is interrupted as the story recounts an event that took place in the past. This type of re-ordering of the chronological order of a story is also called a 'flashback.'

For example, think of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997) by J. K. Rowling. Harry, as an 11-year-old, learns the truth of his parents' death when he was only a baby from Hagrid. The description of the events when he was a baby interrupts the current storyline, i.e., when he is with Hagrid, preparing for his enrolment at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is an instant of analepsis.

Analepsis and prolepsis

Prolepsis is the opposite of analepsis. While an analepsis is an interruption in the narration that takes the reader into the past, a prolepsis interrupts the narration to take the reader into the future. Another term for prolepsis is 'flash-forward.'

Take, for instance, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1843), wherein Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the 'Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come' who shows him that unless Scrooge changes his greedy, selfish ways, a terrible and lonely future awaits him. This is an instance of prolepsis, where the narrative refers to an event that is in the future and has not yet come to pass.

Types of analepsis

There are two main types of analepsis - internal analepsis and external analepsis. We will explore these types with examples in this section.

Internal analepsis

Internal analepsis occurs when the story is interrupted to recount an event earlier in the narrative itself.

Let us once more look into the example of Harry Potter. In the final book of the series, i.e., Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), Harry can see the death of his parents from Voldemort's perspective. Harry's parents' deaths have been referred to and recounted numerous times in the series, qualifying this incident as an internal analepsis.

Another example of internal analepsis is when Gandalf narrates his escape from the Balrog in The Two Towers (1954) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. The incident with the Balrog takes place in the narrative delivered to the readers previously, thus marking it as a case of internal analepsis.

External analepsis

External analepsis takes place when the story is interrupted to recount an event that took place before the story began, i.e., the reader never witnesses the event in the narration itself.

In Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847) , most of the narrative is recounted from the past by Ellen Dean, who relates the novel's events to her employer Mr. Lockwood. Ellen's narration is the first the readers learn of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, thus marking it as an instance of external analepsis.

Examples of analepsis

This section dives into some famous examples of analepsis from literature and film and television.

Examples of analepsis in literature

Some examples of analepsis in literature include the following:

Heart of Darkness (1899)

In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the events of most of the novel are narrated as flashbacks, where the narrator, Charles Marlow, is aboard a ship called 'Nellie.' He tells his travelling companions of the time when he was in the employ of an ivory trading company, which had sent him on a mission in the heart of Africa on the Congo river. His relation of the events of the past centre around his search for and encounter with a man named Mr. Kurtz, who was an agent of the company and had gone rogue.

The Hunger Games (2008)

In this dystopian novel by Suzanne Collins, the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, often thinks back to the time when Peeta, another important character in the series, gave her some bread when she and her family were suffering from starvation. This incident leads to a profound connection between Katniss and Peeta that is maintained throughout the series, with Katniss often thinking of Peeta as 'the boy with the bread'.

Atonement (2001)

In Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement, the narrator is Briony Tallis, who recounts the events of what transpired when she was 13 years old, and how she directly influenced the lives of two important characters in the novel. Interestingly, Briony later fabricates part of the story, i.e., the reunion of Cecilia and Robbie, as part of her 'atonement' for her actions, which she deeply regrets.

Examples of analepsis in film and television

Some examples of analepsis in film and television include the following:

How I met your mother (2005-2014)

In this popular sitcom, the protagonist, Ted, recounts to his children using analepsis, detailed events that led him to meet his wife and the mother of his children.

Titanic (1997)

In the film Titanic directed by James Cameron, the events leading up to the shipwreck of the RMS Titanic are narrated in flashbacks by the survivor, Rose, who also relates her encounter and whirlwind romance aboard the ship with Jack Dawson.

Big Fish (2003)

The events of the film Big Fish directed by Tim Burton are narrated in flashbacks by Edward Bloom, who is on his deathbed and is visited by his estranged son, Will. Will, who believes Edward's stories of his past to be fabrications, is shocked when he learns of the truth behind them.

Effects of analepsis

As a literary device, the use of analepsis serves the following functions:

Analepsis creates a sense of foreshadowing, wherein the reader is teased with the idea of what might occur later in the narrative.

Analepsis can build suspense and mystery, thus grabbing the reader's attention.

Analepsis is a great way to add depth not only to the story but also to the characters. Analepsis is often used to explain the motivations, intentions and perspectives of characters by narrating incidences from their personal pasts.

By using analepsis, a story may be divided into multiple timelines, which may often span decades or centuries, thus allowing the author to cover more ground concerning time, space and events that took place during different times.

With these many uses of analepsis and how they enhance the story, it is no surprise that even today, authors use this literary device when composing contemporary works of literature and film.

Analepsis - Key takeaways

  • Analepsis in fiction refers to when a narration of events is interrupted as the story recounts an event that took place in the past.
  • Another word for analepsis is 'flashback'
  • There are two types of analepsis - internal analepsis and external analepsis.
  • Examples of analepsis in literature include Heart of Darkness (1899), The Hunger Games (2008) and Atonement (2001).
  • Examples of analepsis in television and film include How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014), Titanic (1997) and Big Fish (2003).

Frequently Asked Questions about Analepsis

Analepsis in fiction refers to when a narration of events is interrupted as the story recounts an event that took place in the past.

Yes, analepsis is a literary device. It is employed by authors to create certain effects and evoke certain responses from the reader.

Writers may use analepsis to build suspense and mystery, create a sense of foreboding and foreshadowing, dive into multiple timelines over many years and places, and enhance the background of a character.

Yes, analepsis is the same as a flashback.

Prolepsis is the opposite of analepsis. While an analepsis is an interruption in the narration that takes the reader into the past, a prolepsis interrupts the narration to take the reader into the future. Another term for prolepsis is 'flash-forward.'.

Final Analepsis Quiz

Question

Analepsis refers to an event in the narrative that takes place in the _____.

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Answer

Present

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Question

Prolepsis refers to an event in the narrative that takes place in the _____.

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Answer

Future

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Question

True or false: the event of an internal analepsis takes place previously in the narrative itself.

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Answer

True

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Question

True or false: the event of an external analepsis takes place previously in the narrative itself.

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Answer

True

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Question

Which of the following is an example of analepsis in literature?

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Answer

Heart of Darkness

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Question

Which of the following is an example of external analepsis?

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Answer

Jane Eyre

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Question

Which of the following films is narrated in flashbacks?

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Answer

Gone With the Wind

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Question

Analepsis helps the author build ______.

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Answer

'suspense' or 'mystery'

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Question

Which of the following is an example of internal analepsis?

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Answer

Heart of Darkness

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Question

True or false: Analepsis never changes or influences the reader's perception of a character

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Answer

True

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