Father=Mother=Bird?

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From Chapter 3, “Structuralism and Semiotics” of Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory:  An Introduction

“What is notable about this kind of analysis is that, like Formalism, it brackets off the actual content of the story and concentrates entirely on the form.  You could replace father and son, pit and sun, with entirely different elements—mother and daughter, bird and mole—and still have the same story.  As long as the structure of relations between the units is preserved it does not matter which items you select” (83).

I am having some problems differentiating between Structuralism and Formalism.  I think (although, I could be mistake) that I have a better handle on the differences between the two now (although, I’m not sure I could put Structuralism into practice).  The quote I chose above helped me understand the difference.  While Formalism and Structuralism both focus on each part’s relation to the text as a whole, Structuralism focuses only on the relations between these things and not the things themselves.  For example, in Formalism, the fact that a character is a father is important.  It could be important because father rhymes with some other word later on in the poem, it could be important because it is alliterative with several other words in a sentence creating a certain feeling, etc.  And it seems to be that this is where the difference is.  In Structuralism, the character being a father cannot matter.  Instead, the only thing that matters is the relation between the character occupied by the father and the other parts of the story.  I really have no idea how this would actually work in an essay though.  How would one determine these relations without basing it on what or who the character or thing is?  How and why would this affect the story?  I think maybe it would make more sense if I read an example of a critical essay employing Structuralism…

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2 Comments

james lohr said:

I'm not sure why anyone would want to put structutalism to work at all. It seems to me that some of these thinkers who put these ideas into practice had way to much time on their hands. I have serious issues with taking the reader and writers circumstances out of the work and looking solely at the form. It seems to me that there are going to be very important things lost in this process.

Jenna said:

Greta, that is a great quote. It really helps further the understanding of the difference between Structuralism and Formalism. I think that a paper about structuralism would focus on plot, not the characters. It could be worked into an essay by looking at the cause and effect of the characters, without paying attention to who the characters are. It would greatly affect the story because many times we look at the characters and take into account their culture and gender, which correlates to their actions. Therefore, structuralism would be very impersonal.

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Jenna on Father=Mother=Bird?: Greta, that is a great quote.
james lohr on Father=Mother=Bird?: I'm not sure why anyone would
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