The Moral of the Story: on Narrative and Ethics
University of Strasbourg
I would like to question the connection between ethics and narrative, taking as a stand point the analysis of contemporary moral philosophers such as Martha Nussbaum. I will thus consider the so called "ethical turn" of contemporary criticism from a narratological point of view, in order to see if it allows a better understanding of narrative. After briefly considering the theoretical context of Martha Nussbaum's analyses, I will apply them to a fictional plot in order to test their consistency. I will then try to go beyond her moral understanding, in order to contribute to a narratological theory of the ethical implications of narrative.
Contemporary neo-Aristotelian philosophers, such as Hilary Putnam and Martha Nussbaum, assert that narrative - and in particular Aristotle's conception of muthos - allows a better understanding of the ethical question: "how to live?"
According to Hilary Putnam, narrative does not illustrate a general moral theory, but displays the complexity of particular moral cases. Instead of depicting solutions, narrative aids the imaginative re-creation of moral perplexities. It does not enable us to visualise ideal ways of life, but to consider the gap between ideal and feasible lives, in different times and societies (86,87). In other words, narrative is not a moral example that can be more easily expressed through a general maxim, but a mimetic process aiming at disclosing the meaning of the story. Therefore, according to Putnam, literature has an ethical value, which does not merely consist of explicit exemplarity and of moral imperatives, but allows for a better understanding of moral deliberation.
Martha Nussbaum further develops Putnam's analysis. She considers narrative as source of moral learning. According to Nussbaum, narrative discloses the failure of philosophical theory and the consistency of particular deliberation in the human pursuit of happiness and love. Nussbaum asserts that only narrative allows us to understand the possibility of love (Love's Knowledge; ch. 6, 13) and the fragility of goodness (The fragility of Goodness; ch. 11, 12, 13). Staging particular characters, narrative dwells on the gap between one's love for beauty and goodness, and one's attachment to one particular person, who may lack beauty and goodness (Love's Knowledge; ch. 1,3). By telling particular plots, narrative explores the gap between our goodness and our good living, between one's aspiration to goodness and how humanly well he or she manages to live.
Martha Nussbaum draws her theory of character and of plot from Aristotle's Poetics, and considers it as an application of his undestanding of human goodness in Nichomachian Ethics. Arguing against Plato's conception of goodness, Aristotle considers that to have a good character, or to be in a good condition is not sufficient for the fullness of good living (The Fragility of Goodness 380).
According to Martha Nussbaum then, Aristotle's definition of the tragic plot helps to understand ancient tragedy. She asserts that tragedy, relating the hero's search for happiness as well as his failure, is a source of moral learning, because it displays different cases of ethical deliberation and fosters an interpretation of the gap between aspirations for good life and the fragility of goodness. Martha Nussbaum later extends her moral interpretation of tragic muthos to every form of narrative. If, in The Fragility of Goodness, she analyses the ethical issues of ancient tragedy through the Aristotelian theorisation in Poetics and in Nichomachian Ethics, in Love's Knowledge she drives from Aristotle her ethical interpretation of modern novels, and in particular of Henry James' and Marcel Proust's works.
Though she never formulates a definition of narrative, she implies a neo-Aristotelian conception of it that can be summarized as such: narrative is the account of an event-sequence involving some kind of disruption affecting the action of the characters and the reactions of the interpreter. This disruption shows the fragility of general moral values and underscores the importance of emotions and of particular deliberation in ethical orientation.
Adopting as a working definition Martha Nussbaum's conception of narrative, I will further develop her analysis, in order to inquire how our understanding of narrative can be improved by ethical analysis, instead of noting how moral philosophy can benefit from narrative. I would thus focus on plotting, rather than considering the ethical implication of rhetoric in fiction or the ethical responsibility implied by narrating or reading. In order to do so, I will apply Martha Nussbaum's ethical analysis to a specific literary object, namely, to early modern tragedy. I believe that the constraints deriving from literary genre and from the history of literature may allow a better understanding of Martha Nussbaum's general assumptions on narrative and ethics.
The plot of early modern tragedy is suitable for this enquiry, mainly for two reasons. First, because it enables us to broaden Martha Nussbaum's analysis of the Greek tragic plot, by applying it to a similar object. Early modern tragedy inherits some features of Aristotle's poetical considerations, but, at the same time, early modern theorists adapt Aristotle's conception of plot to a new poetical context, thus giving rise to modern fiction. Second, because ethics appears to be a crucial issue in early modern narrative. According to modern theorists such as Vida, La Mesnardière (171) or Rymer (26), narrative has to be moral, and teach rather than please. However, the ideological complexity of the age of Reformation discloses the ambiguities of a moral understanding of narrative.
I will then apply Martha Nussbaum's analysis to the early modern versions of Oedipus rex story, and in particular to the French and Italian adaptations of the ancient plot. I will thus consider three main issues of Nussbaum's approach, namely the connection between ethics and poetics, the kind of ethical meaning arising from narrative, and the way through which the ethical meaning of narrative reaches and affects the reader. I will then try to go beyond Martha Nussbaum's moral understanding of plot, in order to contribute to a narratological theory of the ethical implications of narrative.
1. Martha Nussbaum's theory in the scope of narrative
Early modern tragedy at first sight seems to confirm Martha Nussbaum beliefs about ethics and narrative. However, early modern versions of Oedipus' story show a moralized version of Aristotelian ethics, both embodying and going beyond Martha Nussbaum's approach, thus pointing out its limitations.
1.1 The connection between ethics and poetics: Aristotle's hamartia and tragic flaw.
Martha Nussbaum asserts that narrative has an ethical meaning because it expresses Aristotelian ethics and theory of action. Tragedy as well as the novel display the particular circumstances of moral choice, and ask the character and the reader to imagine possible behaviours and ethical solutions. According to Nussbaum, narrative is the most appropriate vehicle for Aristotelian morality. Narrative may not only be understood through Aristotelian philosophy, but it expresses and embodies Aristotelian ethics, because of its nature.
However, in order to explain de connection between ethics and narrative, Martha Nussbaum does not analyse the "nature" of narrative, but rather shows how some modern authors, such as Henry James or Marcel Proust, seem to convey in their novels an ethical concern that may be brought back to Aristotle. If her analyses are cleverly led and reveal the ethical insight of great works such as The Ambassadors, or David Copperfield, her examples do not provide a narratological explanation of her Aristotelian beliefs. If some narratives seem to convey Aristotelian ethics, is every narrative bound to express Aristotelian views? Since Martha Nussbaum considers how moral philosophy can benefit from narrative, rather than the reverse, she does not ask this question, but implicitly implies that if some narratives reveal Aristotelian concerns, it is likely that every narrative may do as well. Of course, from a narratological point of view, this generalization is not plain but needs to be demonstrated.
In order to do so, I will analyse some narratives that follow Aristotle's conception of plot and see if they express Aristotelian ethics. I will thus consider a crucial element of Aristotelian ethics: namely, human error, which is also a crucial device of the tragic plot. I will then be able to understand if narrative has to be ethically Aristotelian, but also if a narrative that is poetically Aristotelian needs to be ethically so.
The plot, as defined in Poetics 13, depicts the actions of the hero until he commits a mistake and falls into great misery. The dramatic hearth of tragedy is therefore the tragic flaw that causes the reversal of its plot. The structure of the plot, as defined in Poetics, helps us to consider Aristotle's conception of ethical error. The tragic flaw, as it is explained in Poetics, shares the same features of Aristotle's conception of hamartia in Nicomachean Ethics. It is neither a fault (adikèmata) nor an accident (atukèmata), and the hero is neither guilty nor innocent of the crime he has committed. The moral ambiguity of the hamartìa arouses the emotions of the public, and thus achieves the so-called tragic katharsis.
Some early modern theoreticians - such as Robortello (131-132) and Piccolomini (195-196) - also try to account for the tragic flaw through the Aristotelian theory of hamartìa. However, Aristotle's moral definition of hamartìa is not acceptable for early modern dramatists. Indeed, they cannot conceive of a flaw which is neither a fault nor an accident, because they assume that the hero should be innocent or guilty and that there is no continuity between innocence and guilt, but that a hero who is not completely innocent is already guilty. They draw this understanding of Aristotle's ethics from Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Therefore, in modern adaptations of Oedipus rex, Oedipus is considered as guilty or as innocent. Dacier considers that he is not guilty of his patricide and incest, because he did not know what he was doing, but that he is guilty at least of imprudence and of murder, because he killed a man on the road, the day after the oracle predicted that he would kill his own father. On the contrary, Corneille, in his Œdipe, considers that Oedipus is innocent, and that his misfortune is a terrible ordeal displayed by God to prove his goodness. In some adaptations, Oedipus is considered as guilty but not fully responsible for his crimes. However, this interpretation does not express the Aristotelian conception of hamartia, but rather it conveys the Augustinian theory of original sin, because the hero, though not fully responsible for his crimes, is considered as fully guilty of them.
Early modern tragedy then does not only express Aristotelian ethics, but can also be interpreted through Thomistic and Augustinian understandings of human weakness. The tragic hero wants to act well but he cannot because he inherits a frailty that dooms him to fail. Modern interpretation of Oedipus' blindness shows this new understanding of the tragic flaw. For instance, Oedipus blinds himself because he refuses to see the light of divine grace, in dell'Anguillara adaptation of the plot, while in other versions, such as Tesauro's play (159), Oedipus blinds himself because he accepts he has always been blind and that he needs the assistance of grace to find his way. Therefore, the analysis of some early modern tragic plots shows that, if narrative is connected with ethics, it is not the embodiment of Aristotelian ethics, but it can also disclose other ways to answer the question: "how to live?"
1.2 The kind of ethical meaning displayed by narrative: univocal or plural?
Martha Nussbaum's analysis implies that the structure of the plot and the deeds of the main character deliver an ethical meaning, which is not a moral theorisation but a practical and particular knowledge. Her interpretation of The Golden Bowl of Henry James, for example, studies very cleverly the ethical evolution of Maggie Verver's deliberation, but always tends to convey a single and unequivocal moral understanding of the plot.
If we consider early modern tragedies, they also seem to convey a single and unequivocal moral meaning. Theorists such as D'Aubignac assert that the tragic plot should show virtue rewarded a vice punished, in order to recommend the practice of the former. In the tragic plot, some characters seem to express the general and unequivocal moral meaning of the story. In Dell'Anguillara's Edippo, for instance, the last chorus of the play explains the moral meaning of the plot:
The ethical meaning of the play seems to be unequivocal: if Oedipus falls into misery, it is because his crimes, although he was ignorant of them, condemned him to be punished.
However, the ending of Oedipus rex shows the discrepancies between the uttered morality of the chorus and the implicit meaning of the plot. In fact, despite the explicit purpose of the chorus, it is impossible to draw any ethical learning from Oedipus' story. Oedipus' plot shows that every ethical strategy is useless, because, despite his good will, he could not prevent committing those very crimes he wanted to avoid. Oedipus' misery contradicts the explicit moral message the tragedy wants to convey, because it betrays the absence of any moral order and the injustice of any ethical retribution. Therefore, there is no single and unequivocal meaning of Oedipus' story. If theorists and dramatists eagerly assert that their tragedies have a single moral meaning, it is because they know that the ambiguity of the plot prevents the reader from drawing from it an unequivocal moral knowledge.
The ethical meaning of early modern tragedy is thus either plural or absent. Tesauro, in his adaptation of Oedipus' story, shows how the hero is himself unable to understand the moral meaning of his misfortune. He, who successfully disclosed the riddle of the Sphinx, considers himself as a new Sphinx, whose illfate is impossible to understand.
Despair and self-hatred seem to be the only lessons Oedipus can draw from his story. Dell'Anguillara's adaptation of Oedipus' plot also displays the despair of the hero, who asks to die without dying, in order to suffer everlastingly for his crimes (40). However, the other characters of the play hold a different interpretation of Oedipus' misery. The messenger from Corinth asserts that Oedipus is not responsible for his crimes, therefore, he should not accuse himself but rather should part from his wife and sin no more (38). If Oedipus blinds himself, he gives up the possibility of leading an innocent life, and thus he is responsible for his unhappiness. On the other hand, Tiresias, the oracle who predicts Oedipus' misfortunes, considers that Oedipus cannot avoid his misery (2). He assumes that any deliberation is useless when the gods predestine one to misery.
As asserted by some critics such as Terence Cave (171-182) and Joachim Küpper (271), the meaning of early modern narrative is not unequivocal but plural and piecemeal. If the plot has a moral meaning, it is often impossible to draw from it a coherent and achieved ethical conception of a good deliberation. Tragic plot conveys mainly a scattered and plural ethical meaning that asks the reader to take a stand and to interpret personally Oedipus' story.
1.3 Ethical meaning and reader-response theory: ethical cognition through emotions.
Martha Nussbaum asserts that narrative originates moral learning through arousing the reader's emotions. She develops an original interpretation of Aristotle's katharsis, assuming that the emotions triggered by the story lead the reader to an ethical "clarification", i.e. to a moral learning through a better understanding of his own emotions. In Love's Knowledge, she further develops Adam Smith's understanding of the emotions arising from reading and of their cognitive power. She asserts that going to plays or reading stories is a valuable part of moral development, because it is among the ways in which we constitute ourselves as moral beings. According to Nussbaum, narrative arouses in the reader a kind of sympathetic attention that is highly characteristic of morality.
Early modern theorists also advocate for an ethical interpretation of katharsis. Giraldi asserts that the downfall of the tragic hero arouses the spectator's pity and fear: the public sympathises with the hero and fears undergoing a similar misfortune. But through this ethical interpretation, they try to fight the dominant Platonic conception of tragic emotions. Giraldi's remarks about the cognitive and pedagogic power of emotions are to be understood in the context of the quarrell about the morality of literature, and in particular of the morality of dramatic performances. Giraldi, as well as other dramatic theorists, tries to defend fiction against the Platonic criticism of his contemporaries, who accuse fiction of immorality.
According to Pierre Nicole, for instance, the emotions arising from drama, and more generally from narrative, deprave the public. Nicole assumes that tragic emotions are deprived of any cognitive power: the public goes to the theatre because they desire to feel, and to feel pleasure, but from this pleasure cannot arise any ethical knowledge, because the images causing this emotional outburst are fake and misleading.
The Aristotelian conception of reader-response theory, advocated by Martha Nussbaum, fails to consider the ambiguity of the effects of fiction. The emotions arising from tragedy may also not lead to any moral knowledge. Moreover, Martha Nussbaum's analysis of the reader's response implies a community of views shared by the public. However, the response of the reader varies and allows different understandings of the ethical meaning of the plot, as asserted by some critics, such as Joseph Hillis Miller (43-59). The supporting characters in Oedipus' play, for example, react differently to the hero's misery. In Tesauro's adaptation, both Jocasta and Antigone feel deeply for Oedipus' misfortune, but their feelings lead them to different moral reactions. The outburst of emotions does not lead Giocasta to a moral knowledge but induces her to commit suicide (169). Antigone, on the other hand, feels pity for Oedipus, and thus understands her moral task. She will take care of her blind and miserable father:
The application of Martha Nussbaum's moral theory to a literary example, namely to early modern tragic plot, leads us to further develop her understanding of the connection between narrative and ethics. The Aristotelian view on narrative needs to be broadened in order to get a better understanding of the connection between ethics and narrative, the plurality of ethical meanings arising from narrative and the way through which the ethical meaning of narrative reaches and affects the reader.
2. Toward a broader understanding of ethics and narrative.
If Martha Nussbaum accounts for the philosophical interest of narrative, her remarks have to be grounded on specific narrative processing strategies, in order to get a better understanding of the ethical concern implied by stories.
2.1 The connection between ethics and poetics: the inner structure of narrative as the expression of ethical concern.
In order to set a general model of the connection of narrative and ethics, going beyond Aristotelian ethics, it is necessary to look for ethical issues in the structure of narrative itself. Paul Ricoeur, in Time and Narrative, shows how mimesis itself implies moral issues, and thus proves how an Aristotelian conception of plot can lead to a general understanding of the connection between ethics and narrative. According to Ricoeur, narrative structure results from the poetical configuration of our practical understanding of life. Narrative presupposes a familiarity with the conceptual network constitutive of the semantic of action and with the symbolic conventions that furnish the descriptive context of particular actions (Time and Narrative 56-58). Narrative implies an understanding of ethics, i.e. an understanding of the ethical value of human deliberation and of the ethical consequences of human actions.
Therefore, we can assert that not only some poetic genres - such as drama - or some specific authors - such as Henry James - do express an Aristotelian morality, but that narrative itself, through its configuring action, deals with ethics and presupposes the ethical question: "how to live?".
Moreover, narrative is not necessarily the embodiment of Aristotelian ethics, but can configure every possible way of living. Ricoeur, echoing Aristotle, asserts that the structure of narrative is grounded on the tension between plot (muthos) and character (ethos). This tension between action-sequences and acting character is the poetical configuration of the tension between time and human acting. According to Paul Ricoeur, narrative shows how a character faces certain "events" (certain "adventures") and thus stages the deliberation of a character who tries to preserve his identity through the events he is driven to face. Preserving one's identity, according to Ricoeur in Oneself as Another, is a moral deed. It means both being reliable and responsible for one's actions, and therefore preserving the unity of one's character against the discordance and scattering of the events.
Therefore, the dialectic between plot and character asks the question "how to live?" and depicts how a character fights to preserve his goodness and to reach his happiness through the events that befall him.
2.2 Narrative as the expression of ethical pluralism.
Narrative, we have seen, does not always express a single and unequivocal moral stand, but it generally conveys a scattered and plural ethical meaning. In other words, narrative can neither be reduced to an ethical example, nor be understood as a particular philosophical discourse. Narrative discourse is not only the expression of particular moral choices - as Martha Nussbaum asserts - but also the depiction of plural and conflicting ethical positions. As we have seen, despite the attempts of early modern theorists to reduce tragedy to a moral example, the structure of the tragic plot conveys a scattered and multiple morality.
That is why, as Leona Toker asserts, ethics has to be sought not only in the structure of the plot and in the deeds of the characters, but also in what Hjelmlev called "the form of contents", i.e. in the relationships between the themes, patterns of imagery, the deployment of the motives, and the corresponding shaping of the plot (2-3). Only the analysis of the form of contents can reveal the moral complexity of the plot. As Robert Eaglestone asserts (77-78), criticising Martha Nussbaum's approach, poetical devices such as Bakhtinian conceptions of polyphony and dialogism can give the ethical analysis of narrative a better consistency. Early modern versions of Oedipus rex show that the ethical meaning of the story cannot be reduced to the position of one single character, be it the chorus or the prologue of the play. The moral meaning of narrative consists of the mutual addressed and often contradictory voices staged in the play. Saying that the moral meaning of narrative is polyphonic (22), does not imply that the moral of narrative is partial. It means that narrative does not express a moral thesis, but rather the making of it, i.e. the process of mutual addressivity and of commitment that allows for a better understanding of ethical truth.
Narrative stages not only a plurality of voices but also a profusion of discourses that make its ethical meaning ambiguous and dialectic. Bakhtin's idea of dialogism allows for a better understanding of the variety of discourses that render narrative ethics complex and multiple.
The oracle stating Oedipus' responsibility for the Theban plague is a good example of the dialogic representation of Oedipus' guilt. Tesauro's version of Oedipus rex shows the ambiguous meaning of the oracle's report. If it voices the will of mythological gods it also expresses, in the 17th century, the providential design of the Christian God. Thus, its meaning is controversial: is it possible that a benevolent God may accuse an innocent man and order his banishment? Besides, is it possible that God may express himself through oracles? The report of the oracle is then considered, in Tesauro's play, as the conventional discourse of mythological gods, as the controversial utterance of a benevolent God, or as the cunning invention of a perverse character. Indeed, it is first credited to the pagan gods, according to a poetical convention that Tesauro imitates and later disrupts. In Act II, Oedipus refuses to accept that the gods accuse him of crimes he is not aware of and re-interprets the oracle, crediting it to Creon (107), and asserting that he invented it in order to cause Oedipus' ruin. In Act V, Oedipus reads the oracle's report once more in front of the city senate, and his words, rather than stating his moral responsibility for the plague, expose the ethical ambiguity of the oracle's injunction, thus arousing the assembly's sorrow and grief (156-157). Oedipus' guilt appears then as highly dialogical. Does it condemn a pagan belief, or does it claim the paradoxical mystery of a benevolent and yet cruel God? Does it denounce the conspiracy of a character or the inner guilt of Oedipus himself? The tragic plot peruses all of these possibilities and thus shows the ambiguity of guilt.
Therefore, in order to produce an ethical analysis of narrative, it is necessary to consider the plurality of moral meanings that narrative conveys, because of its plural and dialogical discourses, and because of its structure: plotting a story does not mean explaining an example, but telling a number of events occurring to a number of characters.
2.3 Which kind of response can arise from the ethical pluralism of narrative?
Ethical pluralism does not necessarily imply, as Martha Nussbaum fears (Love's Knowledge 220-229), moral relativism or sophism. It shows that, in order to answer the question "how to live?", the reader must interpret the text and commit himself to the moral enquiry led by the narrative.
In fact, the analysis of emotions, advocated by Martha Nussbaum, must be connected with the literary examination of the textual strategies that aim at orienting the reader's response. Ricoeur's definition of poetic refiguration allows a better understanding of the affections arising from the act of reading. If narrating is configurating the ethical pre-understanding of life - i.e. orienting the reader's response - reading is rethinking the plot, disclosing its moral meaning through the interpretation of the contradictions and the ambiguities of the text.
According to Paul Ricoeur, then, the emotions arising from reading do not immediately provoke an ethical learning, but lead the reader to interpret the text. In The Conflict of Interpretations, Ricoeur shows how an ethical knowledge can arise from the plurality and ambiguity of narrative, asserting that the story of original sin, instead of delivering an ethical concept, allows a deeper, yet more complex, understanding of evil. Ricoeur's analysis gives a revealing insight into the ambiguous story of Oedipus rex. The spectators of Oedipus' misery cannot derive a moral lesson from Oedipus' story, but can only be overwhelmed by sorrow and grief, as the city assembly in Tesauro's Edipo. However, if sorrow and grief do not construct a moral theory, they lead the way to interpretation, asking the spectator to take a stand on Oedipus' misery, and thus to elaborate his own moral understanding of evil. The hermeneutic task of the reader stems from his pre-comprehension of evil, or, in Monika Fludernik's words, from experientiality. The reader refigurates Oedipus' story according to his own experientiality, i.e. according to the cognitive schemata that construct his or her experience. Therefore, there is neither a shared nor a unique moral knowledge arising from Oedipus' story, but a tension between what the reader believes and what he or she understands, which, according to Ricoeur, accounts for the only possible modern form of the search for meaning.
This tension that strives towards the understanding of the meaning of Oedipus' story says something about the experience of evil, revealing its ambiguous complexity which constitutes, according to Ricoeur, the "tragedy" of evil. Therefore, Oedipus' misery shows that evil cannot be conceptualized, because even the concept of stain or of original sin cannot disclose, as narrative does, the complexity of our experience of evil. Evil is there "before us", before any malevolent intention, or any wicked action, and cannot be reduced to individual guilt. Evil is a state that affects the agent, before being the effect of the action he makes. This analysis of evil, led by Ricoeur in The Conflict of Interpretations (284-331), is the ethical "learning" that can be drawn from Oedipus' early modern adaptations. The emotions arising from the reading experience lead the way to interpretation, and thus show the contradictions and the ambiguities of Oedipus' aspiration to goodness, rather than giving a univocal answer to the question "how to live?"
James Phelan's rhetorical analysis of the reader's ethical response broadens Paul Ricoeur hermeneutic understanding of ethics in fiction. James Phelan's model, grounded on rhetoric and focused on the characters', the tellers' and the readers' moral stands - rather than on a poetical conception of the plot as Ricoeur's -, cleverly condenses our remarks on ethical plot, ethical meaning and ethical response. According to Phelan, narrativity is a double layered phenomenon: at the first layer, narrative involves the report of a sequence of related events during which the characters undergo some changes. The instability of the plot and of the character's actions expresses ethical issues. At the second layer, narrativity stimulates the audience's response. According to James Phelan, the readers make three main types of narrative judgement, each of which affects the other two: interpretative judgements about narrative actions lead the reader to ethical judgements about the moral value of the character's choices, as well as to aesthetic judgements about the artistic quality of the narrative (Experiencing Fiction 7-9). Those judgements are plural and evolve during the progression of the plot. Therefore, not only the moral meaning of the plot is either plural or absent, but also the reader's response to it is likely to be so.
As Martha Nussbaum asserts, narrative deals with ethics, not as a moral example or as a general ethical theory, but as a particular answer to the question "how to live?". Besides, our analysis shows that the moral meaning of narrative is not only particular, but also plural, polysemic, dialogic, scattered in many contradictory voices and discourses and deeply rooted in literary history and genre tradition. Only a broader method, based on a careful understanding of the structure of plot itself, on the complexity of literary discourse and on the rhetoric of reading can allow a good understanding of the plural ethical meanings of narrative.
Therefore, narrative not only accounts for the gap between our goodness and our good living, but also deals with the ambiguity of our good will and of our actions, and shows that our actions and our will have to be questioned and interpreted. Our understanding of narrative, rather than delivering a moral message, pre-supposes an understanding of good and evil, and leads to the refiguration of our ethical expectations. Narrative, rather than delivering an ethical knowledge, renders the fragility of goodness at least tellable, and asks the sympathetic reader to interpret its reasons and forms, in order to improve his or her phenomenological understanding of life.