It is an umbrella term which entails and grasps several theories in it. According to K.M.
Newton. It is a method of analyzing cultural phenomenon founded on saussurian
Eagleton argues, “In general it is an attempt to apply this linguistic theory to objects and
activities other than langue itself. We can view a myth, wrestling match, system of tribal
kinship, restaurant menu or oil painting as a system of signs and a structuralist analysis will
try to isolate the underlying set of laws by which these signs are combined into meanings.
It will largely ignore what the signs actually ‘say’, and concentrate instead on their internal
relations to one another. Structuralism, as Fredric Jameson has put it, is an attempt to
rethink every thing through once again in terms of linguistics. It is a symptom of the fact
that language, with its problems, mysteries and implications, has become both paradigm
obsessions for twentieth century intellectual life.
Barthes follows only that only writing alone can break theological image imposed by
science. Literature thus is alone toady in bearing the entire responsibility for language, for
though science needs language, it is not, like literature. Science speaks itself while
literature writes itself. Science is lead by the voice while literature follows the hand; it is
not the same body, and hence the same desire, which is behind the one and the other. As
science, structuralism “finds itself”, one might say, on every level of the literary work.
Structuralism encounters in literature an object which is itself derived from language.
Structuralism’s logical extension can only be to join literature no longer as ‘object’ of
analysis but as activity of writing. Barthes’s critical aim is to demystify the realist literary
text and its claim to offer a true representation of reality. Saussure’s linguistic views
influenced the Russian formalist, although formalism is not itself exactly a structuralists.
Fredric Jameson argues that it is an attempt to rethink every thing through once again in
terms of linguistics; it is a symptom of the fact that language, with its problem, mysteries
and implication has become both paradigm and obsession for twentieth century intellectual
Eagleton has beautifully tried to illustrate structuralism with the help of a tale in the
“Let me try to illustrate this by a simple example. Suppose we are analyzing a story in
which a boy leaves home after quarrelling with his father, sets out on a walk through the
forest in the heat of the day and falls down a deep pit. The father comes out in search of his
son, peers down the pit, but is unable to see him because of the darkness. At that moment
the sun has risen to a point directly overhead, illuminates the pit’s depths with its rays and
allows the father to rescue his child. After a joyous reconciliation, they returned home
What a structuralist critic would do would be to schematize the story in diagrammatic
form. The first unit of signification, ‘boy quarrels with father’, might be rewritten as ‘low
rebels against high’. The boy’s walk through the forest is a movement along a horizontal
axis, in contrast to the vertical axis ‘low/ high’, and could be indexed as ‘middle’. The fall
into the pit, a place below ground, signifies ‘low’ again, and the zenith of the sun ‘high’.
By shining into the pit, the sun has in a sense stopped ‘low’ thus inverting the narrative’s
first signifying unit, where ‘low’ struck against ‘high’. The reconciliation between father
and son restores and equilibrium between ‘low’ and ‘high’, and the walk back home
together, signifying ‘middle’, marks this achievement of a suitably intermediate state.
Flushed with triumph, the structuralist rearranges his rulers and reaches for the next story.”
05 points of Saussure which are as under:-
Language has a diachronic structure not the synchronic.
Idea of signifier and signified
Relation between signifier and signified is arbitrary
Each sign has a different meaning from the other sign
Idea of langue (objective structure of signs which makes their speech
possible in the first place) and parole (actual speech).
1. Rice & Waugh, (1992), Modern Literary Theory, A Reader, Second Edition,
Edward Arnold, London
2. Eagleton, (1998), Literary Theory, An Introduction, Second Edition, Minnesota,
3. Rivkin & Mechael, (2002), Literary theory: An Anthology, Revised Edition,
Blackwell Publishers, USA.
4. Wolfreys, (1999), Literary Theories: A Reader and Guide, Edinburgh
University Press, London.