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Answer the Bold follow up question to the attached essay. answer does not need to exceed a couple of paragraphs.
One way to think about structuralism and literature is to think first about structuralism and sentences.
There are zillions and zillions of different sentences that one could write, but there are really only a few different sentence structures.
For example, one basic sentence structure is this: noun-verb-prepositional phrase.
All of the following sentences (plus millions of others) are different in terms of the specific nouns, verbs, and prepositional phrases they use, yet they are the samein their structure:
Joan – got – on the bus. (Joan = noun, got = verb, on the bus = prepositional phrase)
Larry – went – to the park.
Birds – fly – in the sky.
Cats – eat – on the floor.
… and so on.
Another basic structure is noun-verb-comma-conjunction-
I walked, but you ran.
We tried, and we succeeded.
John cried, while Martha smiled.
… and so on.
The point, as I mentioned above, is that while there are zillions of different sentences, there are comparatively few sentence structures. We’re always writing and speaking new, original, different sentences, but when we do that we are re-using he same dozen or so sentence structures over and over again.
So looking at structures can help make the task of understanding language manageable. Once we master a dozen or so basic sentence structures, and learn the meanings of a few hundred different words, we can produce zillions of different sentences just by plugging the right words into the right places in the structure. Thinking in terms of structures (which we often do without realizing it) can be extremely handy!
Now take this idea and scale it up from sentences to the level of stories. There are thousands (or maybe by now millions) of stories that have been written, and millions more that could be written. But can we say that, just as there are only a small number of sentence structures, there are also only a small number of story structures that writers use again and again and again?
Northrop Frye said yes: just as we can take zillions of sentences and boil them down to a few sentence structures, if we look closely at all those stories we will find that writers are using a few basic structures (or formulas) and using them over and over, plugging in different specifics but using the same basic structures.
So far this is easy enough to see. The difficulties start when we try to figure out what the story structures actually are.
Among grammar specialists, there’s no major debate over the basic sentence structures. But not everyone agrees with Frye about his description of basic story structures. The grammar specialists figured out that sentences can be understood structurally in terms of parts of speech arranged in a certain order: sentences are either noun-verb-prepositional phrase, or noun-verb-comma-noun-verb, or whatever.
Frye claimed to have figured out that stories can be understood structurally in terms of whether the hero is more powerful than ordinary humans, or more powerful than the environment, or whatever.
But is that the only way to understand the structure of stories? Or the best way? There’s lots of disagreement about that.
One final thing to keep in mind: when you think about sentences and/or stories in a structuralist way, you’re not really thinking about meaning, theme, etc. These two sentences have the exact same structure but are opposite in meaning:
John loves Marsha
John hates Marsha
Same with literature. Two stories could have the same structure but very different meanings or themes.
Can thinking about the structure of stories help us understand whether a given story is good or bad? Can thinking about a story’s structure help us understand why we like or dislike that story? (Here it might help to think about a story that seems not to have any structure, like Trout Fishing in America.)