Introduction Structuralism is an intellectual movement which began in France in the 1950s and is first seen in the work of the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1908— 2009) and the literary critic Roland Barthes (1915-1980). Structralists believe that things cannot be understood in isolation - they have to be seen in the context of the larger structures they are part of. Elements of culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger system or "structure.” Structuralism is found in all areas of thought and study. The structuralist mode of reasoning has been applied in a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, and architecture. Structuralism is interdisciplinary.
Roots of Structuralism Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) Saussure revolutionized the study of language. Nineteenth-century linguistics is mainly interested in the history of languageand the origin of individual words. Instead of the usualhistorical, diachronic approach – following language throughtime – he opted for an ahistorical one. The important thing forhim was how does language work? Saussure is also different from what grammarians – theother type of linguist around in Saussure’s time – used to do.Grammarians wanted to describe the underlying grammaticalrules that we follow when we talk or write. So they analysedinstances of language use – our individual utterances, whichSaussure called paroles (plural) – to get at those rules. ButSaussure is interested in how language as such works – in whathe called langue – and not in the grammatical system of this orthat language.
Language is a system of signs. Those signs are arbitrary and are maintained only by convention. There is no inherent connection between a sign and what it designates (the red color and stop). A word (sign) links a concept (signified) with a sound or image (signifier). The relationship between the signified and the signifier is arbitrary. The form of words is not determined by their relationship with what they refer to. Saussure traces the origin of the form of words (linguistic signs) to the principle of differentiation.
Structuralist literary criticism It is a type of literary criticism that derives from structuralism. Claude Lévi-Strauss, as a logical consequence of his work on myths, proposed a search for the underlying structure of all narratives in all forms of fiction, including biography and autobiography, travel literature, and so on. Structuralist critics argue for the possibility of analyzing literary texts systematically and scientifically. Structralists ignore biographical and historical consideration and stress the study of the text.
A literary structuralist focuses on structures in"literary" texts. Structuralist literary critics link a text with otherliterary texts (with texts within the same collection, bythe same author, by the author’s contemporaries,within the same genre, within the same time period).