Monday, 8 February 2021

Tropes and memes

I was thinking the other day about tropes and memes, and the differences between them. 

In literature, a trope is a meta-narrative, such as those employed in movies. For example, consider the very familiar Western trope of Notting Hill: nice boy meets girl; boy loves girl; boy loses girl, boy recovers girl with one act of 'bravery' (hah: all like women are a piece of property with no free will, and men's bravery overcomes all odds. And the lead is an archetypal nice guy).  We could apply this trope to many films. Consider Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sliding Doors, and some of the micro-stories in Love Actually

An ancient Greek trope is that of Odysseus: man is too wild to be caged; man goes to war leaving wife and child; man has lots of adventures without considering wife and child; man turns up after a decade just in time to repossess wife and child. He is also a lying, cheating, 'loveable' rascal: an archetype. Aww.

Memes on the other hand are memorable elements from popular culture. In many ways they define a generation. While memes may occur within tropes, they don't need to. An example of a meme within a trope: the "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" comment in Sliding Doors is a phrase from Monty Python's Flying Circus which - somewhat - defined a generation's humour growing up in the 1970s-80s. A meme outside a trope: ask someone about the relationship between a cassette tape and a pen. 

Memes. Smaller than a trope. 



  • Curtis, R. (Director). (2003). Love Actually [motion picture]. Working Title Films. 
  • Homer., & Rieu, E. V. (1950). The Odyssey. Guild Publishing London.
  • Howitt, P. (Director). (1998). Sliding Doors [motion picture]. Miramax. 
  • Mitchell, R. (Director). (1999). Notting Hill [motion picture]. Working Title Films. 
  • Newell, M. (1994). Four weddings and a funeral [motion picture]. Channel Four Films.  
  • Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition (2012).

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