Subject Journal
Posted by Zoe
Posted on Thu Jun 22 08:52:37 2000
From IP  

Ferdinand de Saussure, as a linguist, opens up a brand new path for literary criticism to analyze the literary works in a scientific, or more directly, linguistic perspective. Saussure deserts the traditional mimetic theory focusing on each word's referent, but he asserts that his study on language centers on how the language functions. His innovation in linguistics field contributes to shaping structuralism, for what structuralists do in literary criticism is similar to Saussure's methodology on his linguistic study. Saussure thinks by more closely analyzing words, they are basically signs, and signs can be divided into two: the signifier and a signified. The former part of the sign is how the word sounds and is written, while the latter then represents more than a referent but a concept of it. However, Saussure believes that the connection between the signifier and the signified is not natural but conventional, thus through decoding a series of signs in language or even literary works, the rule behind the sign systems which is strongly involved with people's attachment to social conventions will be revealed.
Just as Saussure's forsaking the studies on individual entities, structuralists tend to go in-depth of one specific work but aim at finding the intertextual elements which are actually under the impact of the shared system. In this way, structuralists may first break the text into basic pieces, such as mythemes or binary oppositions, and via analyzing how those basic units interact and contrast each other, the signifying system that govern the text will be found.
Focusing on the binary elements, Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher can also be interpreted structuralistically. The most abundant elements which appear in this story would be the effect of doubling. The three main characters are the narrator and a pair of twins: Roderick Usher and Madeline Usher. The theme of the story begins with the characteristic of the twins and closely surrounds around it. Not only the twins are doubled image, Poe also creates the doubling effect on its setting: the House of Usher. According to what the narrator describes, the mansion has its reflection in the lake. And Poe's creating the doubled image of the house and its identical reflection serve to present the binary spit of human's consciousness and unconsciousness, which actually echoes the struggling state of mind from Roderick, one of the Usher twins. In another example of binary oppositions, we may first see normality contradicts abnormality in Roderick and Madeline, and thus we simultaneously find out there's the contradictory opponents showing up: sameness vs. difference. However, towards the end, the opposed binaries of sameness and difference eventually turn to be all sameness in a sense, since the fact that Roderick who's afraid of being mad as his mad twin sister is actually insane as to bury her alive. The assimilation of the binaries in the end corresponds to the theme that what goes around goes around, and this change is actually pretty much similar as the shifting of the roles in this story. In the beginning, the narrator comes to the mansion as a guest, like a receiver, listening to his friend Roderick, but it turns to be that the narrator is the only survivor and being able to tell the story, as the sender, to the reader. And also, Madeline first is described as the saddening object of the illness but eventually becomes the subject-- the origin of Roderick's fear. All these remarkable shiftings among the characters goes around and help to turn the story evolving.

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