Applying Structuralism to "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife" Using the Methods of Selden, Barthes, Frye, the Narratologists, and Propp

        Before you apply any of the theorists' methods, remember to outline the story so that you will have broken it down to its basic constituent elements: actors, actions, outcomes, and rules.

Selden Barthes Frye Greimas, Todorov, Gennette Propp
Sign systems are constructed of binary oppositions (privileged/privative) governed by rules.  Detecting the hidden rules exposes the hidden governing mechanism which determines the story's outcome and significance (the "so what?"). A sign functions in the system as an index, icon, or symbol.  Sign systems give mythic meaning to apparently ordinary events (the "so what?"). 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 (the "so what?").


Meaning is made by structuring artifacts in classes of opposed pairs (+/-) and actants operate to transfer desired objects/qualities.  Narrative structural units operate like linguistic units to perform sequences of actions; those sequences of actions form fundamental "propositions," the deep structure.  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."  Explaining the deep structure rules of a text, and their relation to life's rules, is the significance (Hirsch) of the interpretation (the "so what?").


Literary texts share with folk tales certain familiar character types (hero, villain, helper, donor, object of "lack" or quest).  Readers interpret the actions in literary texts by unconsciously mapping them on folk tales' invariant action patterns.  "High art" authors of literature manipulate readers' expectations by fulfilling or subverting those deep structuring rules learned in childhood from folk tales.  Explaining how the narrative confirms or violates those structuring rules is the significance (Hirsch) of the interpretation (the "so what?").