How is Fear Constructed? A Narrative Approach to Social Dread in Literature

  • Kairi Jets
Keywords: narratology, dread, horror, social, literary theory

Abstract

Fear-inducing narratives can be divided into two subtypes of horror and dread. While horror stories concentrate on a concrete visible object such as a monster, in dread narratives the object of fear is abstract or absent altogether. Pure forms of either are rare and most narratives mix both types, usually with dominant in one or the other. An interesting subtype of dread narratives is the narrative of social dread, where the fear is social in nature.

One of the few narratologists to study construction of fear in arts, Yvonne Leffler suggests a variety of narrative techniques often used in horror fiction. Adjusting Leffler’s list of techniques for tales of dread instead of horror helps analysing the nature and amount of dread present in a range of different narratives from light reading and literary fiction to non-fiction. A narrative approach helps to reveal how non-fiction texts use similar techniques, and sometimes more extensively than fictional texts. Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003) is an excellent example of social dread in fiction, where societal failures are a big part of the fears induced, and the questions raised in the narrative are denied definite answers. Kanae Minato’s Confessions (2008) is closer to a thriller, because despite raising issues of societal failure, the work gives conclusive answers to all of the questions raised during the narrative. Although Haruki Murakami’s Underground (1997–98) is a nonfiction compiled from interviews of terror attack survivors, it nevertheless has the hallmarks of a social dread narrative, such as question-answer structure and abstractness of the source of fear. More importantly, Murakami’s work alternates between identifying and anticipatory readings, gives no definitive answers to the questions it poses, and the fear it conveys is social in nature.

Published
2019-01-03