An Introduction To The Structural Analysis Of Narrative By Roland Barthes

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Throughout his life’s work, Roland Barthes has expressed a wide range of diverse views on various aspects of literary theory and formulating important analysis techniques; initially exploring and redefining structuralism, and eventually defining post-structuralism.
In the 1960’s, when “An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative” was first published, traditional structuralist thinking and method was already starting to shift towards post-structuralism. Still, Barthes brings up Saussure’s ideas in an analogy to his own, approaching literary texts in a similar way a structuralist would approach a sentence — by breaking them down into the smallest units and analysing the structure of these units. The essay begins by pointing out the
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Function is described as the smallest unit of a narrative, which is later classified into four functions: nuclei, catalysts, indices, and informants. Therefore, a function is not a static unit of narrative; it can shift to different levels and interact with other units. The level of “action” is necessary to describe characters in a literary work. This was the first considerable shift from traditional structuralism: “From the very first, structural analysis showed the utmost reluctance to treat the characters an essence, even for classification purposes” (256). Barthes claims that each character (or “actor”) in a narrative is a part of a certain sphere of action where he then interacts with other characters. To avoid confusion with the trivial actions that form within the functional level, Barthes points out that the ‘action’ in the level of action is understood as a larger articulation of activity between the characters. The last level of narration focuses on the function of a narrator, which has also been neglected by the most structuralist thinkers before. Barthes points out that the narrator and the recipient of narrative are always connected to each other. Furthermore, describing the level of narration, he makes a crucial point about the narrator: “Now, at least from our viewpoint, both narrator and characters are essentially ‘paper beings’. The living author of a narrative can in no way be mistaken for the narrator of that narrative” (261). Barthes’s ideas of dehumanizing of the narrator, as well as his focus on characters and actions in a narrative were quite innovative at the time, but the whole essay is still written from a largely structuralist
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