What novel or film can be considered a meta narrative from a contemporary perspective?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my mind, I would say that Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments could serve as an example of a meta- narrative.  It takes the Old Testament and uses this as the fundamentally "transcendent and universal truth."  There is an overarching scope and sequence to the film. This is seen in how it was filmed, seen as a religious and epic film. It did not hesitate in fulfilling this meta narrative function, complete with De Mille himself opening the film with an affirmation of the film's purpose before the credits. The use of his own voice to provide narration helps to enhance the meta- narrative purpose of the film.  This totalizing nature is offered in such narrations:

Learning that it can be more terrible to live than to die, he is driven onward, through the burning crucible of desert, where holy men and prophets are cleansed and purged for God’s great purpose. Until at last, at the end of human strength, beaten into the dust from which he came, the metal is ready for the Maker’s Hand.

The language used in this narration of Moses's walk into the desert fits the conditions of a meta- narrative. The use of "God's great purpose" and the idea that there is a directed end to what Moses endures as well as what we witness help to enhance this capacity. The meta-narrative that is offered in the film is one that affirms purpose in being, a faith in the Scriptures, as well as the idea that what is being rendered on screen is reflective of "Truth."  It is a "big story," something that is affirmed as "the greatest story ever told." This is where I think that The Ten Commandments could be seen as an example of a contemporary meta-narrative.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is best to start with a definition of what a meta-narrative is. In critical theory, especially postmodern theory, meta-narratives are grand narratives that govern culture and the production of that culture. Examples of meta-narratives are stories of inevitable progress, the Enlightenment, Evolution, or Marxism. Postmodernism has called into question these narratives. 

As for movies that have this meta-narrative, there are many. Let me give you a blatant example. 

300 is a movie that has a meta-narrative. In this movie, the story of Thermopylae is told. A Spartan general, Leonidas, fought against Xerxes in a sacrificial and heroic manner. The Persians are portrayed horribly. They are barely human. On the other hand, the Spartans are muscular, noble, courageous, and good - not to mention right in all that they do. They are freedom-loving. They represent the west, whereas Persia represents the east with all its depravity. 

From a historical point of view, the movie is not only completely inaccurate, but also incredibly biased towards the west. The east is the "other" that must be subjugated. 

Edward Said's book Orientalism is a great book to read to critique this movie and the meta-narrative of the superiority of the West. 

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Heart of Darkness

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