The Inherent Dangers of Narrative

In his piece “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative,” William Cronon expertly interrogates narrative as a form of storytelling. Cronon suggests that narrative’s most impressive strengths are also its greatest weaknesses. As we saw while reading Johnstown Flood, certain narrative forms have the unique ability to convey history as a “story” (Cronon 1349). McCullough’s narrative sensationalized the history of a small town and an under appreciated disaster memorably, which ultimately enabled me to remember specific facts about the flood than I probably would not have had I learned about it from a traditional textbook.  Yet Cronon also warns about the inherent dangers of narrative, asserting that “in the act of separating story from non-story, we wield the most powerful yet dangerous tool of the narrative form” and that “[narrative] inevitably sanctions some voices while silencing others” (1349-1350).

Cronon points out that the differences between Bonnifield’s rendition of the Dust Bowl and Worster’s likely are the result of the inherent shortcomings in the narrative form. Each tells a story, yet they tell their stories from entirely different perspectives and thus arrive at varying outcomes. (Cronon 1348).

In an effort to illustrate the tendency of narrative to ignore sides of each story, Cronon rehashes Frederick Jackson Turner’s history of the West. Cronon suggests that Turner created a narrative that “[made] the Indians the foil for its story of progress…[making] their conquest seem natural, commonsensical, inevitable” (Cronon 1352). Turner’s narrative illustrates the ease with which certain pieces of history are ignored in favor of creating a coherent narrative.

On another note, Betsy points out in her post the strength’s of Cronon’s article when compared to Koppes’s. Koppes’s blatant preference for Worster’s work over Bonnifield undermined the authority of his review. Cronon, on the other hand, regards both writers as “competent” and respectively presents each of their arguements (1348). His objective approach to each author’s argument creates a pleasanter read that appears more informed and believable.

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