Structuralism literary theory | Structuralism In Literature

Structuralism in Literature


            “Structuralism” is a modern literary theory or movement developed by ‘Ferdinand De Saussure’. He was a Swiss linguist and philosopher. His ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in 20th-century linguistics. His main contribution to Structuralism was his theory of a two-tiered reality about language. The first is the ‘langue’, the abstract and invisible layer, while the second, the ‘parole’, refers to the actual speech that we hear in real life. This framework was later adopted by Claude Levi Strauss, who used the two-tiered model to determine the reality of myths.


            Everything in this world has a structure such as – Our solar system has a structure, A building has a structure and our body has a structure. Nothing in this world is without structure. Similarly, literature also follows a structure. When we read plot or drama, both have different structures. The plot is divided into 5 Parts such as – exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. So structuralism is not a new concept. We have been studying structures in literature for a long. But “Structuralism” as a theory came into existence during the 1920s.

Contribution of ‘Ferdinand De Saussure’ in “Structuralism”:

            Saussure was a crucial figure in the development of modern approaches to language study. He was also considered the father of modern linguistics. In the 19th century, linguist scholars mainly focused on the father of modern linguistics. In the 19th century, linguist scholars mainly focused on the historical aspects of language. But it is Saussure in his work. “A Course in General linguistics”, called for a scientific study of a language rather than a historical one. He said in his book ‘A Course in General linguistics:-

            “A language is a system in
             which all the element
             fit together and which the
             value of depends on the
             simultaneous coexistence of
              all the others.”

            Saussure is known as the father of modern linguistics. He is a Structuralist and gave the theory of sign. Saussurean linguistics has three fundamental assumptions:

  1. Arbitrariness
  2. Relational
  3. Systematic

            In order to understand Saussure works, the topic can be divided into the following categories: –

(i) Langue and Parole
(ii) Saussure’s idea of Sign, Signifier, and Signified.
(iii) Structure of language

(I) Langue and Parole:

            By Langue, Saussure meant the language as a system or the grand structure that is complete and independent.

            By Parole, Ferdinand de Saussure indicated the use of language by us as per our requirements. Parole is always dependent on language.

 (II) Saussure’s idea of a sign, signifier, and signified:

            Saussure gave a new concept of sign. The sign means any word or a small unit of language. For example, the word this sign has two parts-  Signifier and Signified. Signifier means the world which we read or the sound which we hear. Signified means the meaning which we derive after reading or hearing the signifier. So there is no fixed meaning attached to the words. The signifier is more important than the signified it is fixed, it does not change Signified keeps on changing from time to time.

(III) Structure Of language:

            Every language has its own structure. If we observe any language carefully, we can find it. When we read or observe the English language we find, the English language follows a certain structure. For example: –

  • Most of the time, the subject of the sentence comes first, the verb comes second, and the objects come last.
  • Capitalize the first letter of the first word in a sentence.
  • End a sentence with a period, question mark, exclamation point, or quotation mark.
  • One can use language using only consonants or using only vowels.
  • The vowel “q” is always followed by “u”, queen, question, query, etc.

            Apart from Ferdinand, there are also some linguists who use structuralism as his ideas, They are – ‘Levi Strauss’, ‘Leonard Bloomfield’, ‘Jean Piaget’, ‘Roman Jakobson’, ‘And David Lodge’.


            Thus now we can say that “Structuralism” is an approach that grew to become one of the most widely used methods of analyzing language, culture, and society in the second half of the 20th century.

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