The Structure of Structuralist Method

Remember that you are looking for at least one, non-obvious structuring rule that makes the plot and characters work to generate meaning.  Use one method after another until you "crack" the code, and stop there.  Explain the code, its rule(s), and their significance (the "so what" below) and you're done.

I.  Data-Gathering: Outline the plot or stages in the development of the work(s), and treat episodes in a plot as repeating "tales" (Tyson 234-5, Selden 57-59).  Identify character types and their functions (L-S, Greimas, Todorov).  Pay attention to who does what for/to whom, who give to or gets what from whom, who changes and who stays the same, who leaves and who returns, etc.  If this were a game, what rules would be implied by these character types and functions?  Notice whether the season of the year is functionally important, whether characters exhibit powers greater than, less than, or the same as ordinary mortals, and whether seasonal and genre variation takes place (Frye).  All of these moves will require you to commit "the heresy of paraphrase," so enjoy it!  Pay attention to specific language only when it is used repeatedly and appears to have binary-creating or rule-bearing functions.  Do not neglect to see synonyms (and antonyms--the binary opposite of a term is always present in the readers' mental rule even when absent in "the text, itself").

II.  Data-Manipulation/Analysis: Discover the basic actions, actor types, and things exchanged, sought, or lost in the narrative episodes or chapters or tales, and determine the binary oppositions that structure them into "privileged" (+) and "privative" (-) states in vertical columns that further abstract the outline's episode list (Tyson 235; Selden arranges his data in columns like Levi-Strauss's on 59--treating separate episodes of the play as repetitions of the play's central "myth").  Pay special attention to the assumptions that implicitly govern assignment of a term to privileged status, and to transactions or performances or disjunctive events that change assignment of privilege.  If this is not working for you, try to apply Frye's seasonal/genre method to determine what genre rules are operating in the work and what character types that indicates.

III.  Thesis-Generation: Discover rules that govern the way the text uses those actions, actors, and things, for which you might apply one of the following Structuralist methods:

IV.  So what?: Once you have discovered a structuring rule in the text, you need to be able to answer your readers' "so what?" question about the significance of your discovery.  Look for insights the narrative can teach us about why an author might use it to create the text or what readers might be expected to learn from it when operating the text (Tyson 244-45, Selden does not go this far, but you should, so follow Tyson's example).

        To see Selden's Structuralist method outlined in the Death of a Salesman analysis, click here.