Does a narrative have a thesis?
Yes, though it’s not called a thesis. It’s called a story arc. Think of some of the best-selling novels or movies you’ve read or seen. Do they contain a story arc?
How about Gone with the Wind? The story starts with flirty Miss Scarlett surrounded by young men, all madly in love with her. The story moves upstairs at the Wilkes’ mansion where the girls are reclining—all but Scarlet who slips downstairs, draws Ashley Wilkes into the library, and declares her love for him. He politely says no, but Scarlett won’t accept his refusal. When Ashley leaves, Scarlet throws china at the fireplace. An amused Rhett Butler, who has overheard everything, is aroused. Scarlet wants Ashley and will do what it takes to get him. And Rhett wants Scarlett.
How about Anna Karenina? In the opening pages, Mrs. Karenina visits her brother who has recently had an affair. She meets a military officer and by her return home a few days later, she is in love, as is Count Vronsky. Anna Karenina wants Count Vronsky and flaunts society to live as his mistress.
As Huckleberry Finn begins, Huck tries repeatedly to get away from the Widow Douglas who represents rules and civilized behavior–anathema to Huck. Pretty soon he does slip away, finding a raft and floating down the Mississippi with Jim, an escaped slave. Huckleberry Finn rides the Mississippi in order to experience freedom.
How about Casablanca? Rick, a stoic bar owner, lives without love until his old flame and her husband appear in his bar. He must choose: keep Elsa for himself and be safe or help her husband and her to escape the Nazis and become a wanted man. Rick wrestles with emotions he thought were dead to make his choice.
Agatha Christie wrote dozens of murder mysteries all with the same story arc: Who done it? You know when you start to read one of her books that someone will die, and eventually, someone will be exposed as the killer. Person A kills person B and either Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple solves the crime.
Have you ever read a story lacking a story arc? I have started several, but if I can’t figure out where the story is going early on, I don’t continue. So a story arc is like a thesis in that it tells readers what they can expect to learn from the story. A story arc is usually stated more obliquely than a thesis, but it must be present for the story to be satisfying.