Structural Anthropology Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Structural Anthropology” begins in the form of a lecture on its title subject, as an authority in the field explains how the social science discipline might be seen as an application of the methods of psychoanalysis to an entire social community rather than to an individual person. In his introductory remarks, he notes that the separate approaches of the two techniques that “seek to discover the workings of the human mind” might be combined so that the anthropologist’s traditional field of exploration—a culture “at a distance conducive to objectivity”—could be expanded to “uncover much that is startling in our own culture.” To support his position, he shows how Sigmund Freud, the pioneering practitioner of the psychoanalytic method, was intellectually linked across space to President Woodrow Wilson, across time to scientist Leonardo da Vinci, and across time and space to Greek mythological king Oedipus, setting an example of resistance to “self-imposed limits” that restrict and restrain imaginative extrapolation.

The theoretical conceptions of the speaker, familiar in academic discourse, are temporarily set aside as he recounts an incident that he will use to demonstrate the efficacy of the method he is championing. Maintaining a tone of objectivity, the speaker describes how a woman, returning unexpectedly to her home, discovers her husband in an adulterous liaison. She leaves unnoticed, returns at the usual time, and puts sleeping-pills in his dinner. While he is sleeping, she sticks “his hand to his penis with Super Glue.” The doctors and nurses treating the man are compelled to devise a number of original procedures to restore everything to its natural arrangement. The point of the story, according to the speaker, is that it has mythic resonance and that its deeper meanings can be revealed through the techniques of structural anthropology, which he will apply and illustrate in the remainder of the narration.

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(The entire section is 818 words.)