Narrative—most simply a synonym for plot or story—is an essential feature of human nature and history. People are story-telling creatures.
Our stories describe and define our identities, values, and relations to the world.
Narratives or stories create a sense of order and expectations from the overwhelming data of experience; and provide models for solving problems.
A story's beginning, middle, and end reflects and shapes our sense of past, present, and future.
Each of us creates a little story every time we tell someone how our day went or share "life stories" with a new or old acquaintance.
Literary discussions of narrative often treat stories as unique to individual characters or as representative of narrative genres like romance, comedy, tragedy, and satire or combinations like romantic comedy.
Cultural narrative is the kind of story a people—a nation, an ethnic or minority group within that nation, a band of pilgrims—tell about their past, present, and future.
As literary studies blends with cultural and historical studies, narrative is increasingly interpreted in cultural and historical terms. A cultural narrative tells the story of a people. Individuals in that culture will live out or write variations on a basic cultural narrative.
Examples of cultural narrative:
USA: American Dream +- Immigrant Narrative (with many sub-narratives, e.g. bonding through shared suffering of Pilgrims and Revolutionary War)
African America: The Dream: aspiration for equal rights met by repeated exploitation and denial only to rise again.
Jews: Exodus story from the Torah (or Bible's Old Testament): journey from exile or captivity to the Promised Land.
Old South / Confederacy (USA): "the Lost Cause"; rugged individualists heroically defending their homes, traditions, and rights from intrusive government. (Overlaps with current gun-rights narrative)
Summary: these are all big stories that members of a culture measure their identities against, consciously or not.
These stories partly control our options, but our choices and actions can also change the stories.
USA's Immigrant Narrative and its parallels:
Immigrant narrative: leave traditional Old World > journey to New World > Shock, vulnerability, adaptation > assimilation to dominant culture > nostalgia for earlier community / identity
American Dream narrative: dissatisfaction with original circumstances > find path, climb ladder of success > sell what you have to get what you don't have > Made it, but what lost?
conversion narrative: dissatisfaction with old sinful self, separation from God > path or pilgrimage to righteousness > achievement of new self, re-birth or born again to union with God
gains power or resonance through familiarity with the other stories.
(narrative as time-sequence)