Frankenstein and Structuralism
Professor John Lye of Brock University, California describes literary theory as: "a collection of related theoretical concepts and practices which are marked by a number of premises, although not all of the theoretical approaches share or agree on all of them."
The first segment of this essay aims to define the main views of structuralism, one of these theoretical approaches. Structuralism, in particular the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, created controversy as it directly challenged some of the values of the everyday reader in the way it attempts to disregard the actual content of writings, and instead concentrates on form and diagrammatics. As the name suggests structuralism is concerned with the interrelationships between structures and the general laws by which they work.
In his essay dated 1968, Roland Barthes sought to convince the individual reader that the author is obsolete; writers only have the capacity to draw upon existing themes (or structures) and reassemble them in a different order. This typically structuralist view completely defies a writer's ability to express himself through unique, individual stories leading many to term the approach as 'anti-humanistic'. Barthes clearly drew influence from Northrop Frye, author of 'Anatomy of Criticism', who outlined these repeated narratives as the comic, romantic, tragic and ironic. In turn these corresponded respectively to the four seasons, compiling what Terry Eagleton refers to as 'a cyclical theory of literary history'. It would seem through this that Frye achieved his ultimate aim, by creating a critical theory that was objective and systematic. To summarise, Frye and most structuralists sought a scientific way to approach literary theory.
Ferdinand de Saussure's main ideas on linguistics are central to a structuralist approach, and his ideas changed critics and philosopher's views on language. Saussure claimed that words only function when operating in a system of differences, not because they are tied literally to the real world. Words are a self sufficient system; they have a meaning because of their place in the system not because of the speaker's intentions. In that sense, one could say that the content of the narrative is its structure. Saussure's ideas on 'langue' and 'parole' support this. Langue or language is a total system of rules whilst parole or speech is the concrete application of this system.
Saussure furthermore identified two parts to a basic linguistic unit: the concept and the sound image. The sound image or 'signified' is the image that imprints on your mind at the sound or thought of the word. The 'signifier' is the word that produces this image, whether it is spoken, written or a pictorial equivalent. The 'sign' is the combination and relationship between the 'signifier' and the 'signified'. To explain, whatever the language in which the word 'cat' is spoken...