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Structuralist Criticism of "The Story of an Hour"

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Mary McKeller

on 22 October 2014

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Transcript of Structuralist Criticism of "The Story of an Hour"

Ferdinand de Saussure
Structural criticism is the observation of the utilization of linguistics (the study of language) and semiotics (the study of signs and symbols) to portray the major ideas in a piece of work.
What is Structuralist Criticism?
Examples of Structuralist Criticism
Structuralist Criticism says that all text is part of a bigger picture because of symbols and signs.
Structuralist Criticism in "The Story of an Hour"
The subject of "A Story of an Hour" is the liberation of a repressed housewife in the 1800s. Analyzing the symbols and the language used by the author s the reader to this conclusion.
How to Use Structuralist Criticism When Analyzing a Text
Read the piece and look for specific patterns, repetitions, and contrasts in characters, locations, objects, language used, and decisions made.
Next, explore the similarities and differences that help tie together the story’s events. By analyzing the devices for metaphorical content, the reader can try to find allusions and connections to other pieces and events.
Finally, formulate a claim on what the text’s function is (not its meaning!!) based off the observations made in the previous steps. In this criticism, the text’s function IS its meaning.

Mary McKeller, Brighton McConnell and Kathleen Elliott
Structuralist Criticism

Ferdinand de Saussure is often credited with making structuralist criticism a prominent form of criticism. He is considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics and semiotics/semiology. Born in 1857, Saussure was a Swiss linguist and semiotician whose ideals created a basic foundation for both fields.
Structuralist Criticism in "The Story of an Hour" (cont.)
"There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window."

An example are typical horror stories. Almost all horror stories follow the same pattern. You start out with an innocent person going about their daily lives, they then hear a strange sound either outside or on the other side of a door. They go to check out the sound and are brutally murdered. The end.
Another example are love stories. The main character somehow meets the love of their life. They experience a whirlwind relationship but are torn apart for some reason. They eventually reunite, get married and then die. The end.
Analyzing the symbols and signs found in typical plots such as these is how Structuralists determine the function of the text.
Signs and Symbols:
"She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life."
"There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. ...she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air."
Structuralist Criticism in "The Story of an Hour" (cont.)
Chopin shows the inner thoughts of the protagonist through her use of setting. "The patches of blue sky" show that Mrs. Mallard is looking for the silver lining of this situation. She is getting closer to her realization of herself, and the setting is helping her get there. The inclusion of this description shows another stepping stone through the in medias res, towards the climax (her actualization).
The trees "aquiver with new life" are symbols that act as a contradiction to Louise Mallard's husband's death. This line is arranged in the location where the main character is beginning to come to terms with the sudden death. As Mrs. Mallard is gazing out the window, seeing the new life around her, the realization of a new life begins to dawn on her. The signs and symbols in this line are important in the development of the purpose of "The Story of an Hour."
The setting provides structure for the overall mood and theme of "The Story of an Hour." By including these descriptions, Kate Chopin has given us an insight on the process Mrs. Mallard is going through by her choice of setting and descriptions, which supports the plot line towards the "feminist awakening" at its climax. Similar to "A Doll's House", this story follows a structure where the main female character experiences liberation from a repressing marriage and a function where repression in housewives is prominent.
The chosen diction for this sentence shows Mrs. Mallard's fear and hesitancy towards the mix of emotions she's experiencing ("fearfully," "creeping"). This sentence explicitly shows the connection between her feelings and the settings, saying that the cheerful images and sensory appeals from outside the Mallard's house house began to positively affect her. This "something" that she was experiencing was her realization of liberation, and the author structures this section and her whole piece to show how setting directly affects the epiphany of Mrs. Mallard.
Work Cited Page:
Bedford / St. Martin. “Critical Approaches.” virtualLit. Web. N.A. Web. 06 October 2014.

Davis, Hank, Madison Dodson, and Jessi Thornton. "Structuralist Criticism."
. Web. N.A. Web. 09 October 2014.

Henderson, Greig E. and Christopher Brown. “Glossary of Literary Theory.” University of Toronto English Library. Web. University of Toronto. Web. 06 October 2014.

"Reading With An Eye On Deep Structure."
Web. N.A. Web. 06 October 2014.

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