For my social network graph, I chose to use the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. The nodes are numbered by character and they contain a 1, 2, or 3 in relation to gender. 1 is a male character, 2 is a female character, and 3 is an unknown or undefined gender (in this case, it’s because the node represents a group of people, musicians). The gender ratio was much more even than I initially thought it would be, with the same number of male and female characters.
Another neat thing about this relationship web is the way that the interactions pan out. I started out counting speaking lines only, but that became inconvenient because 1) some important interaction takes place outside of dialogue and 2) oftentimes dialogue in this story addresses a wide audience rather than a specific character. I also counted chunks of dialogue, such as the exchanges between George and Hazel, as one scene. With all of this in mind, the way I counted interactions created two webs, the insular but strong connection of George and Hazel and the web containing all of the other characters, which George and Hazel only watch. The graph is directed.
Franco Moretti asks how we can quantify plot in his “Network Theory, Plot Analysis” paper. He says that network theory allows us examine the underlying structures of a complex object, as he isolates characters in _Hamlet _to reveal the necessity of certain characters to connect the separate realms of the play, the court and the outside world. The network analysis graph did something similar for “Harrison Bergeron”. It at least emphasized how the plot was structured through the visualization of character interaction. I know that Hazel and George are separated from the rest of what’s going on, but what’s surprising is the weight of their interactions. They are much more tightly connected than the other characters, even though the brunt of the action takes place with the others. Conversely, the interactions between other characters do not carry a lot of weight and they’re much more directed, rather than an exchange. For example, Diana Moon Glampers shoots Harrison and the ballerina. They say and do nothing to her.
Some of the challenges of network analysis, of course, lie in the limited data that it can display. Like Johanna Drucker discusses in “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display”, our methods of displaying data are limited, especially in the humanities where so much of what we study relies on the interpretation of the researcher. It’s very difficult to remove oneself from the data collection process, and often the nature of the humanities research requires us to insert ourselves to a degree. When constructing the graph, I had to make decisions on what counted as an interaction. Someone could easily disagree and make a network analysis graph with only dialogue or possibly have different edges denoting different types of interactions, like dialogue versus action. The graph alone also doesn’t tell you how the characters feel about one another or what their situation is by itself. You need the story for that.