Structuralist Terms: Analytical Concepts and Processes
In addition to Saussure and Levi-Strauss, major early Structuralist critics included the Russian scholar, Vladimir Propp (The Morphology of the Folktale, 1928), the Bulgarian scholar, Tzvetan Todorov (working in Paris), the French scholars, Roman Jakobson, Gerard Genette, and A. J. Greimas, the English semiotician, Terence Hawkes, and the Americans, Northrop Frye and Robert Scholes. Roland Barthes also participated in Structuralism's development, as he did with Marxist and Cultural Criticism.
Structuralist analysis works best on large systems of texts, like the collected works of an modern author, a system of folk tales, a popular series that is serialized in print, TV, or movie sequels, or a single literary text which has enough repeating functions or situations to allow structuring rules to be inferred from them. Because Structuralism needs "synchronic" reading to produce "vertical" simultaneous analysis of multiple similar text events, you have to pay particular attention to staging your analysis, setting aside time to scan the work for data before attempting to establish patterns in it, and then giving significant time to abstract thinking about the functional roles present in those patterns. The process derived from linguistics and anthropology, both of which are "hard" sciences that require writers to share raw data as well as methodology before conclusions will be accepted. To some degree, Structuralist literary analysis also prefers to give readers lists or tables or other representations of the textual data that is being interpreted, often in appendices following, or in "figures" embedded in, the analysis.
Characteristics of Structural Systems--
|Wholeness||Transformation||Self-regulation||Systems of Rule-Governed Binary Oppositions|
Characteristics of the Sign--
|Arbitrary Signifier||Signifier's Difference from Another Signifier||The Signified|
|Surface Phenomena||Deep Structural Rules||Mediated/Determined Perception of "Reality"|
Disciplinary Applications of Structuralism--Tyson's central summary of the methods of the primary "Structuralisms" is quite brief and worth rereading before you write (219-32). Especially reread her application of Frye's Structuralist theory of modes to Gatsby (239-40) and Selden's strategy to expose Death of a Salesman's deep structuring rules. I have modified the preceding hyperlinked page to better account for the full range of Structuralist options you will encounter at step 3, especially. You can choose any of the "Structuralist" methods (Frye, Greimas, Todorov, Genette, Culler, Selden) depending on which you understand best and which best suits the evidence in the text. This does not "invalidate" Structuralism's claims to explain deep structuring rules, because it says there are many such rules to be detected, just as there are many grammatical rules operating to enable me to compose this sentence and you to read it. Think of these critics' terms and their way of seeing into a text's structure like different scientific testing machines (MRI, CT scan, X-ray, PET scan, etc.). Each looks deeply into the human body's structures, and each has differing powers of observation that work best for certain kinds of structures we are trying to detect. The chart below summarizes the basic contributions and interpretive methods of each of these "fathers of Structuralism":
|Linguistics (Sausurre)||Langue vs. Parole||Language structures thought, and thought structures our perception of reality||Language structures operate synchronically; parole operates diachronically.|
|Anthropology and Sociology (Levi-Strauss)||Cultural System vs. Artifact||Myths (and other cultural products) are structural systems built out of "bundles" of rule-governed and interchangeable "mythemes" corresponding to the linguistic "phoneme" or sound unit.||Mythos structures culture and "does cultural work" by establishing the imaginary categories of our inner world in response to external stress.|
|Semiotics (Barthes)||Non-linguistic sign systems vs. "ordinary life events"||A sign functions in the system as an index, icon, or symbol.||Sign systems give mythic meaning to apparently ordinary events.|
|Genre Theory (Frye)||All genres of literature vs. individual works||Literary genres are encoded with mythic values which enact humans' fundamental experience of seasonality and of the passage from birth to death.||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.|
|Narratology (Greimas , Todorov , Genette , and before them, Propp )||The world and literature as we value it vs. the world and literature as artifacts||Meaning is made by structuring
artifacts in classes of opposed pairs (+/-) and actants operate to transfer
Narrative and narration interact according to tense (order/duration/frequency), and mood (distance/perspective/voice).
|Literature functions according to the same rules by which we make sense of lived events, with the addition that literature must be assembled into meaning by the reader who must be following deep structure rules to "perform the text."|
|Structuralist Poetics (Culler )||The system of rules and codes for readers' performance and the corresponding structures of the properly performed text vs. literature as a mass of words on the page.||Readers make meaning from literature by applying culturally prescribed rules for competent interpretation, including (in America) the rules of impersonality (literature is not life), naturalization (literary conventions will be rendered ordinary by experience), significance (literature means more than ordinary discourse), metaphorical coherence (metaphors mean consistently within a text, though variously in many texts), thematic unity (works are unified by some theme/point).||Literature depends upon readers' mastery of complex conventions of interpretation which, consciously or unconsciously, react to deep structural rules by which we "create" the text we read from the words on the page.|
Do you want to test your ability to identify and to use Structuralist methods?