The Actantial Model

The actantial model is often used to clarify the roles of the characters in a narrative. The model is not concerned with plot, but with the key characters and their relation to the central conflict.
The characters are seen as personifications of actants — which are generalized, or achetypal, roles based on the characters that we meet in, e.g., folk tales. However, the actants are not necessarily human characters; a helper or an opponent might be, e.g., a natural phenomenon, like the weather, or an institution.
The relations are organized on three axes:

The Project Axis:

  • The subject (who is the main character) and the receiver are usually the same character; in the folk tale it may be a hero or a prince.
  • The subject covets the object, which in a folk tale would often be the princess — and maybe half the kingdom too.

The Communication Axis:

  • The sender, whose job is to hand over the object of the receiver's desires, would be the king.

The Conflict Axis:

  • The helper's role in the story is to aid the subject in his quest — but he is rarely the most spectacular character on this axis:
  • The opponent is in the loser's game of preventing the subject from succeeding (but as we all know, in any good story, he seems to be winning most of the time).
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