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Duration describes the disparity between the actual time of an event and the time it takes for a narrator to recount it.



Frequently, the actual "real time" of an event and the time a narrator uses to tell it are quite unequal. This disparity between "real time" and the time used to narrate the event is called duration, a term coined by Gerard Genette in his book Narrative Discourse. Sometimes a brief event will take a narrator several pages to recount, while a long, drawn-out event will take only several sentences. The duration therefore depends on the will and intent of the narrator--what he or she deems important to expand upon.


"There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.

She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.

There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window."

-Kate Chopin, "The Story of an Hour"

Kate Chopin's story is an example of duration in that the narrative time, or actual time of the story, is just an hour, while the act of reading the story may take more or less time. In this passage specifically, duration is illustrated in the time Chopin takes to narrate an event (the lead character's glance out the window) as opposed to the time it actually took for the character to experience the event.

Critical Debates

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Related Terms

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Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse.

Martin, Wallace. Recent Theories of Narrative.

Bal, Mieke. Introduction to the Theory of Narrative.

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