Narrative theory is habitually characterized as a “toolbox” or “toolkit” for the analysis of narratives. What does the prevalence of this metaphor tell us about the disciplinary aspirations of narratology? Whether explicitly or not, whenever the narratological toolbox is invoked it operates as a methodological or metadisciplinary statement. This article traces different uses of the metaphor to establish how narratology has constructed its disciplinary history and situated itself in relation to broader directions in literary and cultural studies, before addressing some of the paradoxes and limitations the reliance on this metaphor give rise to, particularly concerning the role of interpretation. It seeks to clarify our understanding of the methodological procedures involved in narratological analysis by distinguishing between theoretical concepts and formalist categories, and it addresses this distinction in the context of debates about the ontology of fiction.

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