A frame narrative is a literary technique used to contain an embedded narrative, a story within a story, to provide the reader with context about the main narrative. A frame narrative, also known as a framing narrative or a frame story, might be found in the beginning, middle or end of the story. It can also act like a link that connects many stories together.
By allowing the writer to present a story within a story, a frame narrative leads the reader from the first story into another one, which is within the overall story. This guidance allows the frame narrative to establish the context for the embedded narrative, and, more specifically, call attention to the situation of how the story is told. The resulting effect of the guidance is that the frame narrative allows the writer to create the context for how the narrative should be interpreted.
One thing a frame narrative does is change the point of view from which the story is presented. In other words, a frame narrative offers the reader multiple points of view within the same story. For example, in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” the narrator, who is also a character within the story, tells the story that makes up the novel. The effect is that the reader is presented with multiple perspectives of the story within one text, and these multiple perspectives provide the reader with more information about the characters including their motivations, thoughts and feelings.
A frame narrative also allows the writer to incorporate a set of smaller narratives into one overall story. In general, a story within a main story is used to sum up some aspect of the framing story. For example, in “The Book of the One Thousand and One Nights,” the narrator, who is also a character in the story, relates a number of fairy tales to another character. The overall effect of this type of frame narration is to tie all of the stories together to present the reader with one collection of related tales.
Multiple Levels of Meaning
Overall, frame narratives are used to provide the reader with multiple levels of meaning. Whether a narrative contains one embedded narrative or a series of related stories, the framing of a narrative creates opportunities for multiple levels of interpretation. For instance, a frame may expand or shrink the distance between the reader and the story, change the reader’s sense of what is and what is not important, or imply certain sociological, political or ethical consequences that reach beyond the text into the outside world. All of these effects of frame narratives give stories different levels of meaning.