The use of the frame story, an overarching narrative used to connect a series of loosely related stories, pervades literature. An example of a frame story on a large scale - tying together a whole book-length work, not a simple short story - can be found in Art Spiegelman's graphic novel MAUS. Each of the narrative's six sections is framed with snatches of the interaction between Vladek and Art during the "interview" that supposedly occurred to create the book. This framing helps us learn about Vladek's character, which we would not know about from his rather flat, unemotional Holocaust narrative.
In coming to understand this book, we must also take into account the fact that no work of literature exists in a vacuum, and all literature is affected by the social and cultural contexts of its author and its reader. MAUS is no exception. In MAUS, the use of frame stories helps to establish personal, social, and cultural context for the "main" stories told within.
In this effort to give literary works some sort of context, it seems that there are three "filters" through which any work of literature can be viewed. The first of these is what I will call the "personal context", that is, the information we amass about the previous experiences of the protagonist and other central figures of the work. Clearly, what has happened to a person, real or fictional, in the past will indelibly inform their present and future actions and emotions. The second "filter" is the "social context": the relationships that characters form among themselves. (In MAUS, I will also refer to this as the "familial" context, since the central relationship in the book is...
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...e graphic novel. This helps to clarify the cultural context in which Vladek views himself.
In conclusion, three different types of context are established by the "frame story" in the book. These are the personal, social, and cultural contexts which I have described. Perhaps there are others, but these three seem to be the most central to understanding the interaction of literature with its background culture. As there is reader-response criticism, perhaps we might propose a school of culture-response criticism, devoted to understanding the ideas portrayed in literature in light of the surroundings in which they were created.
"Captured in a photograph, without a frame,
You see her standing tall but you see no face to blame."
Tara MacLean, "Let Her Feel The Rain"
Spiegelman, Art. Maus. New York, Toronto: Random House, Inc. 1973.
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