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A semiotic and narrative reading of the Algerian legend "Tula"

Issue 32
A semiotic and narrative reading of the Algerian legend

Mohammed bin Malik

This semiotic narrative reading of the legend ‘Tula’ highlights the importance of the concept of narrative unity, which shapes the structure of the stories. The components of each story have their own pattern, but each story ends with events that lead to a new story. We discover that the mother's failure to protect her daughter leads to the second story. When Tula and Joseph are unsuccessful in their dealings with the ogre, this leads to the third story. Tula’s failure to fulfill her obligation to the ogre leads to the fifth story, which could have ended with Tula and Joseph’s return. Instead, certain events at the end of the fifth story led to the sixth and seventh stories.

The tale has two narrative tracks: that of the heroine and victim Tula who is kidnapped, pursued and transformed; and that of the hero Joseph, who faces danger and overcomes adversity.
‘Tula’ is an example of the elemental model developed by Greimas, who listed the actions undertaken by Propp’s characters, (which include the hero, the villain, the helper and the false hero). While Joseph represents the hero and Tula represents the princess, they also play other roles; Tula and Joseph play the role of the helper when they support one another against the ogre, but the ogre also plays the helper when he advises them not to separate the two birds. The birds and Joseph’s cousin play the roles of villain. The public, the old man, the crow and the horse also play the helper’s role.

Joseph plays nearly all the roles simultaneously, which suggests that the story of ‘Tula’ reflects Algeria’s patriarchal culture. This means legends and Algerian fairy tales are peculiar to their culture of origin rather than universal in nature. This legend reflects social relations in Algerian society, specifically the relationship between men, and the relationship between men and women.

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