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“We’ve never been close, we’re very different”: three narrative types in sister discourse

Drawing on interviews I conducted with women about their sisters, I identify three narrative types: small-n narratives, big-N Narratives and Master Narratives. Small-n narratives are accounts of specific events or interactions that speakers said had occurred with their sisters. Big-N Narratives are the themes speakers developed in telling me about their sisters, and in support of which they told the small-n narratives. Master Narratives are culture-wide ideologies shaping the big-N Narratives. In my sister interviews, an unstated Master Narrative is the assumption that sisters are expected to be close and similar. This Master Narrative explains why nearly all the American women I interviewed organized their discourse around big-N Narratives by which they told me whether, how and why they are close to their sisters or not, and whether, how and why they and their sisters are similar or different. In exploring the interrelationship among these three narrative types, I examine closely the small-n narratives told by two women, with particular attention to the ways that the involvement strategies repetition, dialogue, and details work together to create scenes. Scenes, moreover, anchor the small-n narratives, helping them support the big-N Narratives which are motivated in turn by the culturally-driven Master Narrative.


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