John Wheatley: "A Discursive Analysis of EastEnders"



The sample episode of EastEnders, shown in Britain in June 1998, had 32 scenes with an average length of 18 turns each. Dramatic scenes are short in modern day UK soaps. Audience attention spans should not be threatened. There is always something else about to happen. There are other channels that can be surfed if the viewer's attention is not held.

Hoey's method of Text Analysis
A forthcoming paper (Wheatley 1998) will compare soap scenes with other dramatic scenes on TV to try and arrive at a definition of soap action in linguistic terms by means of contrastive analysis.

The analysis in this paper plans to make good use of Mike Hoey's work on text structure (Hoey 1983). This work has largely been applied to written texts rather than spoken, and to expository rather than narrative texts.

It (the model) eschews discussion of spoken interaction entirely, concentrating on written monologue throughout. (Hoey, 1983: 3)

Nonetheless, I feel that the Hoey model is a very useful one for the analysis of soap opera. Its merits are that it is a very simple model; its applicability is easy to see. Secondly, one can use the model as a means of understanding the structural patterns that soap opera dialogue serve. The Hoey model is both simple and poweful. It is this combination that makes it the best tool for the job I envisage.

Analysis so far indicates that a discourse analytic coding of key acts in each scene, in conjunction with a problem - solution analysis will be revealing of many key attributes of soap drama. The coding of acts has been performed on this episode in its entirety. This is seen as a necessary stage on the way to being able to say anything meaningful about the structure of soap opera.

Do Soaps in fact move towards closure?

Viewed long-term, soaps may have the open-ended narrative structure that is commonly attributed to them, (see Allen 1992, Brown 1989 & 1994). They have been described as a "serial form that resists narrative closure" (never-endingness) (Brown 1994: 49).

This can be restated in linguistic terms, using the Hoey model, that there are very likely to be many ongoing problem situations in the soap. My analysis shows too that these scenes are pushed towards solutionhood, however temporary this might be. Today's solution can become tomorrow's problem situation recast. Still, for today there can be a part solution. Soaps then, do incorporate closure, however temporarily. It is an important feature, and one, which we shall see, closes this particular episode of EastEnders. Indeed it is a feature that regularly closes episodes of EastEnders. This is the way that soap drama at least is.

The Text of the Episode Under Study

This episode opens with what is very much a problem statement regarding the lives of three characters, Susan, Michael and Matthew.

Scene 1

react + give more ADVICE
Yeah, well next time get his side of it first

react to the advice
Well that's the problem. He won't even talk to me about it.

You're the one that wanted family life. Now you got it, moody teenagers and all. Just deal with it ay. If I come home to another evening of you two sulking I am turning round and going straight out again.

By the end of the episode, the nature of their problem will have been thoroughly explored. More importantly, an effort will be initiated by Michael to solve this problem - or at least to move it on a stage, so that they start to live together as a proper family again. By the end of this episode we will see what success this potential solution has. The next episode is required to see how things actually turn out. In terms of the Hoey model, we have a central problem for which a solution is offered.

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AS/SA Nº 6/7, Article 4 : Page 2 / 13

© 1999, AS/SA

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