Intertextual Connections in “The Oval Portrait”

I chose to work with the short story “The Oval Portrait” by Edgar Allan Poe and attempt to use structuralism to analyze it. Hopefully I will do this correctly.

After reading the section on Structuralism, I decided to look at “The Oval Portrait” with the technique listed as 1b. on page 48: “They analyse (mainly) prose narratives, relating the text to some larger containing structure such as a network of intertextual connections…”

I saw one main connection within the text of the short story – between the narrator of the story and the artist in relation to their attitudes to the woman in comparison to the painting of the woman.

The connection between the narrator of the story and the painter lies in their similarities, especially in regards to their reactions to the woman in the painting. Both of them admire her beauty, but place more importance on the work of art than the woman herself. For example, the artist was so caught up in painting the woman that he didn’t notice that she was dying as he painted her. The narrator also places more importance on the painting than on the woman. For starters, the title of the story is not “The Portrait of the Young Woman” or even “The Young Woman”. It is “The Oval Portrait”. The title alone emphasizes the artwork more than it does the woman who was painted.

In addition, the description of the painting focuses more on the style of the portrait and the frame than it does on the woman portrayed. The description first given says, “The portrait, I have already said, was that of a young girl. It was a mere head and shoulders, done in what is technically termed a¬†vignette¬†manner; much in the style of the favorite heads of Sully. The arms, the bosom and even the ends of the radiant hair, melted imperceptibly into the vague yet deep shadow which formed the back-ground of the whole. The frame was oval, richly gilded and filagreed in Moresque. As a thing of art nothing could be more admirable than the painting itself.”

This close attention to detail in terms of the technique of the painting and description of the frame emphasizes the artwork more than the person portrayed in the artwork, just as the painter emphasized the portrait of his bride more than he emphasized the bride herself in his life.

The final intertextual connection I noticed between the narrator of the story and the painter was found in the conclusion of the story. Throughout the entire short story, the narrator leads up to the story of this girl. The whole story is about the portrait and the girl within it. Yet, as the audience finally learns that she died, the story ends. Nothing is said about the painter’s reaction to her death nor about the narrator’s reaction to her death. The story focuses on the painting itself, and then finally the narrator realizes that the woman in the portrait died as she sat for the painting. Much in the same way, the painter spent his whole ‘honeymoon period’ working on this painting , perfecting it, and then finally the painter realizes that the woman in the portrait is dead.

Hopefully I did this Structuralist analysis of “The Oval Portrait” at least semi-correctly.

via Barry A1, 2, 3.

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3 Responses to Intertextual Connections in “The Oval Portrait”

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