Early Narrative

“Light upon the deep and primitive inquiry of the human heart is the primary contribution, then, of literature.”

- Pearl S. Buck

From Why Things Are and Why Things Aren’t, by Joel Aschenback:

Q: Why can’t we remember anything that happened to us when we were babies or toddlers?

A: “Our memories of past experiences are organised in our brain as narratives. Kids younger than about three don’t yet know narrative conventions. They can’t tell a story. They don’t know how to set the scene. They don’t understand time, place, character, or plot. In other words, our memories start at the age when we realise that what we’re all trying to do in life is find the moral of the story.”

Part of me buys this, but another part of me wants to fall down laughing as I recall one of my children, aged ten months or so and not yet proficient in the English language, seated in his high chair with a piece of orange peel in each hand. Back and forth went a little conversation between the two orange-peel people, complete with jokes and scolding and laughter. In short, a narrative. I didn’t quite get the thrust of it, but there was clearly something interesting going on.

I recall my own first memory, in which I was the one seated in a high chair, swirling my scrambled eggs around on the tray and trying to tell my mother about them. She laughed and called me cute. It was obvious to me that she didn’t understand what I was telling her, so I told her again about my scrambled eggs. Still she didn’t get it.

I think there’s a moral, here: Mummies don’t always understand when we’re trying to tell them something interesting. It’s perhaps not the moral of the scrambled-eggs story I was trying to tell her, but it’s certainly a memory from a very early age.

I wonder how many of us had story-telling capabilities far earlier than we’ve been given credit for?

And I wonder how many of us have had the urge to tell stories squelched by so-called “experts” who’ve told us we can’t tell stories?

That ten-month-old has outgrown his high chair, and the orange peels are long composted. But years later he’s still telling stories.

For my part I’m still trying to figure out a moral to the story of the scrambled eggs.

Categories: General.