* Structuralism is a scientific approach to literature.
* It is scientific because its origins lie in linguistics, not literature – in the works of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. He concentrated in patterns in language and said that words could not be understood in isolation from each other – that we depend on their relationship with other words in sentences or in comparisons to define them. (There is one exception – onomatopoeic words.) * The essence of structuralism therefore is that things cannot be understood on their own. When applied to literature, this means that a story on its own is meaningless unless you look at it as part of a wider group of stories. So, for example, Little Red Riding Hood needs the context of fairy tales in general for us to understand its true meaning. * Structural analysis strips away the fluff from literature and boil texts down to their bare bones. * This reduction technique brings stories etc to basics which enables us to view structures that are similar between tales and motifs and themes which are commonly repeated. * However, structuralism takes us further away from the text in question into other, wider, abstract areas and ideas. * French literary theorist Roland Barthes was a major figure in structuralism, who supported Saussure’s belief that words can only make sense in larger structures, such as sentences, or next to other words.
Chickens and eggs
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Peter Barry, in his textbook Beginning theory (third edition): An introduction to literary and cultural theory, says that Structuralism is more interested in the chicken (for example, genre and philosophy) than the egg (the particular story or text at hand). This is supported by Saussure’s theories of language, in which he said language could be split into two areas: 1. langue – which is language as a system or a structure as a whole 2. parole – which is any particular utterance.
So, anything you...
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