Frye's Structuralist Analysis of Genre as Seasonal or Modal Correspondence

        A scholar might use Frye's methods to analyze a narrative's genre, especially if the narrative doesn't neatly fit our ordinary expectations of genre based on old formal definitions (e.g., Shakespeare's "problem plays," Malory's Arthurian compilation, Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" as a tale cycle, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, Hemingway's short fictions in In Our Time or any other genre-bending experiment).  First look for seasonal correspondence with the genre of the action and genre.  Then, test character types and powers, and the plot's primary modes of action, in order to show what genre or genres the work asks its readers to use in order to interpret it.  If it resists classification, does it cross from one seasonal/genre to another, or from one type of protagonist/mode/character type to another?

Structuralism of Genres (Frye [1957]) Readers read and interpret individual works by referring to largely unconscious structuring rules based on the "genre" or kind of work we think we have encountered. Literary genres are encoded with mythic values which enact humans' fundamental experience of seasonality and of the passage from birth to death.  Those values give us the interpretive rules by which we read. Individual works derive their cultural significance from their re-enactment of the deep-structured codes linking the Real with the Ideal, and Death with Life.

Frye's "Masterplot"

Romance (Summer) Tragedy (Autumn) Comedy (Spring) Irony/Satire (Winter)
Conflict Catastrophe Triumph Disorder and Confusion

Frye's "Theory of Modes"

Protagonist's Power Mode Character Type
Superior in kind to humans and nature Myth Gods
Superior in degree to humans and nature Romance Heroes
Superior in degree to humans but not to nature Epic or tragedy Leaders
Equal to humans and of ordinary nature Comedy and realism Ordinary people
Inferior to humans and of inferior nature Irony Antiheroes