Thursday, December 4, 2008

Story Analysis 101 Pt. 2 - Names Are Important

[This is part 2 of an ongoing essay introducing techniques of story analysis using the episode "Gnothi Seauton" from the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The first part can be read here.]

Now that we've established a context by laying out the themes for the story, we can get to work digging through the other elements. I always feel you should start with the simple stuff and work your way up from there, so we'll start with names.
Names are important to a story. The names of characters and places are all elements used by the author to set the mood and move the story forward. So let's take a look at our characters, with references as available:
  • John Connor -The hero of our story and the future leader of the human resistance. John is a very common name in English speaking countries and it has an equivalent in many other languages and cultures, including Finnish, German, Hebrew, Celtic, Russian and even Slovenian. Thus in a sense, by naming the character John, the author is representing him as an EveryMan. The name comes from the Hebrew name Yochanan, which means "God is gracious" and the name appears in the New Testament. In fact, the circumstances of John Connor's birth parallel that of Jesus Christ. In Luke 1:26-38 an angel appears to Mary and tells her that she will give birth to the Savior and his name will be Jesus. In the first Terminator film, a time traveller appears to Sarah Connor and tells her she will give birth to a son that will save mankind and his name will be John. John and Jesus even share the same initials.
  • Sarah Connor - The mother of John Connor. In the Old Testament Sarah was the wife of the prophet Abraham and thus is a name we can find in all three major Western religious traditions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Sarah means "princess", "a person of high rank" or "high, holy one". When Kyle Reese travels from the future to protect Sarah Connor, he tells her that he volunteered for the mission because he wanted to meet The Legend. In the future, Sarah is regarded with awe and almost religious fervor.
  • Cameron Phillips - Cameron is a re-programmed terminator sent to protect John. The show's producer Josh Friedman has acknowledged that the character was named after James Cameron, the writer and director of the first film.
  • Cromartie - Another terminator, Cromartie attempted to kill John in the series pilot by posing as a high school teacher and, after this is foiled by Cameron, continues to pursue John, directly and indirectly, over the course of several episodes. While initially the name sounds like "Chrome Artie" and suggests a mechanical man, I thought the meaning might be more subtle than that. After some digging I came across a reference to a Japanese anime called Cromartie High School, a school of delinquents including a character named Shinichi Mechazawa, one of the most notorious delinquents of the school. Though it is suspected that he is actually a robot, no one but the main characters seems to notice, including himself. I thought I was on to something with this until I came across an interview with creator Josh Friedman who admits that he named the character after Antonio Cromartie, cornerback for the San Diego Chargers.
  • James Ellison - The FBI agent who has been hunting Sarah Connor since the events of the second movie. There is some speculation that he is named after Harlan Ellison, who sued the producers of the first Terminator film, claiming that the creators took ideas from some of his works, including the teleplays for the Outer Limits episodes "Demon with a Glass Hand" and "Soldier". He won the lawsuit.
The last name we will examine is the title of the episode itself: "Gnothi Seauton". This is Greek for 'Know Thyself' and we end the episode with a voice-over from Sarah:
Sarah : Know thyself. John once told me it's inscribed on the front of the Temple of Apollo. The entire quote is, "Know thyself and thou shall know all the mysteries of the gods and of the universe." That's quite a mouthful. My version is this: "Know thyself because what else is there to know?" People hide secrets. Time is a lie. The material world can disappear in an instant. It has and it will again.
Given this, why not call the episode "Know Thyself"? Why use the original Greek? This is what we in the story analysis game call a Clue. Sarah tells us that this phrase is part of an inscription over a Greek temple, so clearly the episode title is intended to point us in that direction. The temple is that of Apollo so perhaps that's significant. So who is Apollo?
Apollo was the Greek god of light, sun, truth, prophecy, archery, medicine, healing, music, poetry and more. He is usually pictured as a beardless youth and he has a twin sister, Artemis, who is described as a virgin huntress. So Apollo seems to reference John and as Cameron is posing as John's sister she takes on the role of Artemis.
Many ancient religions had a sun god. In fact, the sun god was one of the top gods in the pantheon, symbolizing light, warmth, hope, renewal, a new day after a dark night. There are even those who contend that the biblical Jesus Christ actually pre-dates the Bible and springs out of a long line of sun gods. (Disclaimer: I present this for reference only and do not vouch for the validity of the argument.) Once again, Apollo appears to reference John in his role as humanity's hope while also giving us a possible link back to the Christ mythology.
Apollo's mother, Leto, does not play much of a part mythologically speaking, apart from bearing Apollo and his sister. Afterwards she fades into the background and becomes this matronly figure on Mt. Olympus, home of the gods. When John emerges as the savior of humanity, Sarah has been dead and gone for some time, but is still regarded with reverence. We can stretch this as a link to Leto, giving us John as Apollo, Cameron as Artemis and Sarah as Leto.
Before we conclude this part of our analysis, let's take a look at what techniques we've used so far.
  1. Background - Before proceeding with our analysis we need to place the story into a context. This can be done by examining the author's other works, the time period in which the story was written, the personal history of the author and, if the story is part of a series, the overarching themes and ideas linking all of the works in the series together.
  2. Themes -This is an extension of the previous technique and is important enough to merit it's own entry. There are one or more major themes unifying a work of fiction and for longer works there are sometimes smaller themes for individual parts of the story. In our example, the theme for "Gnothi Seauton" is identity. We'll get more into this in the next part of this essay.
  3. Names - As I said, names are important and are rarely chosen at random. In addition, names may have meanings beyond what the author originally intended. Don't just look at character names, but also names of places, animals, objects and even the title of the work (and individual chapters, if appropriate).
  4. Archetypes - Humans have a long tradition of storytelling and there are character and story elements that are so fundamental that they keep re-occurring, across cultures, down through history. These are known as archetypes and if we can determine what elements of a story use them we can gain a deeper understanding of the current story. In addition, archetypes are a sort of storytelling shorthand which allows the author to impart a lot of information in very few words.
In the next part of this essay we'll begin taking a look at the story.

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