I'm sorry for taking so long before writing a new post. Although this series takes more work for me to write, I am finding it to be really valuable, and I am motivated to continue. However, I am walking in some territory beyond my expertise, so please read this as a discussion rather than an official instruction.
Metanarrative is another really fascinating lens of literary analysis. It comes from Postmodern philosophy, which is based on the idea that definitive absolutes - such as Truth - are either extremely elusive or nonexistent. Inherently, this also makes it difficult to define postmodernism, since it balks against definitions. Nevertheless, there are theories within postmodernism we can understand and which shed light on the literary subset of metanarrative.
According to this philosophy, everything we experience is subject to our interpretation of it. We cannot evaluate anything from an objective standpoint because we unavoidably make assumptions based on our interpretations. Even if we tried to avoid this by taking what is written to be meant literally, this is still a subjective decision. For this reason, postmodernists believe that our conception of Truth is relative because it is subject to our interpretive limits of "true" and "untrue." Some postmodernists will go so far as to suggest that there is no definitive Truth at all, but others (like myself) argue that it must exist, though we will never have the assurance that we know it.
Authors who incorporate metanarrative in their writing explore this postmodern idea. To start simply, metanarrative is a story within a story. These texts are not written with a third-person, omniscient narrator who exists outside of the characters in the story. Instead, they have active narrators who openly insert themselves in the stories they are telling and are self-conscious of their own narration. If the narrator appears as a character in the story, the author may take a break from the main storyline to say what the narrator is doing in real time. This creates a metanarrative by acknowledging that there are two simultaneous things happening - 1. The events of a previous experience from a retrospective point of view, and 2. The present events occurring while the narrator is telling the story.
If the narrator does not appear as a character in the story, he will break the traditional framework to reveal that he is incorporating his personal opinions to the story. By doing this, the author openly acknowledges that the events of the story should not be taken as factual, unwavering Truth. A metanarrative identifies that there is a narrator behind the story and not an omniscient, inerrant god. This emphasizes that the reader's understanding of the story will be affected by the narrator's presentation as well as her own interpretation.
Another aspect of postmodernism that often appears in metanarrative is frequent allusions to past works. Again, this is meant to illustrate that we are wrapped in the context of various stories which impact our understanding. The author of a metanarrative is extremely self-aware and wants readers to challenge their own interpretations as well.
Why would I want to know this? How will this affect my reading?
Because we are so accustomed to omniscient narrators, we may be baffled the first time we encounter metanarratives. I find that it is helpful to understand the purpose behind these unusual narrations so that we can scrutinize what the author is conveying. Of course, if you believe in the heavy subjectivity our interpretation brings, then we should never expect to really understand what the author had in mind. I find that this makes the piece of writing much more fluid and welcomes readers to entertain various interpretations.
Examples in Literature:
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Honorable mention: Frankenstein, Turn of the Screw, and Dracula are all layered with multiple narrators to play with interpretations among the characters of the story and those of the readers
Purdue University's Guide to Postmodernism
I'll try to find more for this later, but let me know if you have a useful site at hand!