Working With Structuralism

        Write a single spaced essay in which you concisely explain the basic premises of Structuralist criticism and apply one or more Structuralist interpretive strategies to explaining how Hemingway's "A Very Short Story" is constructed, using terms found in Tyson, and terms found in the essays by Saussure, Levi-Strauss and Selden.  Note that Part One does not have to account fully for all four essays--it is enough if you present a coherent, synthesis of their basic points as they apply to literature.  However, do not neglect to define and to explain the use of the terms of art introduced by specific Structuralists in their advocacy of Structuralist interpretive methods.  Email it to me either as an attached MS-Word file (recommended for bad spellers!) or in the body of the email, itself. 

        To successfully complete the assignment, make sure your essay's two parts answer, in some fashion, the following questions:

Part One:  Summarize Tyson's, Saussure's, and Levi-Strauss's discussions of Structuralist theory and critical interpretive method.  You do not have to cover all of all three essays in equal detail.  But you do have to present a coherent overview of what Structuralists believe about language and literature, and what they do when they interpret it.  Name the theorists who introduce important concepts and terms of art.  Do not merely list the terms of art used by the theory.  Illustrate or define them with a phrase so that I can discern how well you understand them.  Use literary examples when you can--they will improve your memory of the theory and method.  What are the goals motivating the Structuralist critic's interpretation of the text?  How does the Structuralist critic treat the evidence in the work?  What constitutes a successful interpretation?  (Hint: your explanation will not be complete unless it explains the centrality of "binary oppositions" to Structuralist thinking.)  You do not have to summarize in detail all of the applications of Structuralist methods by Tyson and her sources (e.g., Todorov, Culler, etc.), Selden, Levi-Strauss, and Saussure, but you do have survey the basic theoretical differences among them and their methods, and you have to establish a clear theoretical basis for what you are about to do in Part Two.  IMPORTANT!: Before you write, see this email exchange with a previous student in which I explained how to select which Structuralist principles and methods you will use as "your Structuralism."

Part Two: What evidence in the short story makes it appropriate for Structuralist interpretation?  What Structuralist principles seem most effectively to explain that evidence?  What non-obvious insight does those principles help us to see in the text?  (Hint: your evidence had better be mainly one unexpected binary opposition in a small cluster of binaries, so that you can complete your explanation in a short space.)  [N.B.: This hint was changed slightly in response to a student question on 3/30/08.  The intent was to get the paper to focus tightly on some limited but important non-obvious structuring binary system rather than getting lost a long list of every opposition the author can find in the text.]

        You do not have to develop a paper that explains the entire story in Structuralist terms in order to finish this assignment.  You do have to establish at least some system of binary oppositions (i.e., more than one) that makes the text meaningful, and you have to reasonably explain how and why they work that way, and what that means about Hemingway's  thinking or the culture he describes in the story.  Don't bother with a formal introduction or conclusion, and if it helps, you can use section headers (i.e., "Part One" and "Part Two") to eliminate the need to write paragraph transition.  As a matter of good critical practice, you should provide your paper with a proper title based on your application of Structuralist theory, and a Works Cited section, but once you have explained how Structuralist criticism works and have showed how it might be applied in the case of this text, you are done.  You need not explore further the consequences of that application or develop all the available evidence; only the most relevant details need be mentioned.

Click here for the criteria I will use when evaluating the paper.