In chapter 2, "Structuralism," of Handbook of Narrative Analysis, authors Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck claim that narrative oppositions, like light and dark, have ideological implications. What...

In chapter 2, "Structuralism," of Handbook of Narrative Analysis, authors Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck claim that narrative oppositions, like light and dark, have ideological implications. What does this mean?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 2 of Handbook of Narrative Analysis, a chapter titled "Structuralism," authors Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck analyze how structuralism is used to define and analyze narratology and any problems structuralism poses for analyzing a narrative within a literary work. In essence, structuralism strives to view aspects of human culture as "parts of a system of signs" ("Definition of Structuralism"). Some structuralists, like Barthes, who Herman and Vervaeck mention, have tried to see literature not as a cultural aspect in and of itself but as part of culture as a whole. In trying to remove literature from "isolation," Barthes also tried "to show that the laws that govern [literature] govern all signs, from road signs to articles of clothing" ("Definition of Structuralism"). Hence, one thing to understand about this chapter is that Herman and Vervaeck are discussing exactly how structuralists try to reduce narration to abstract symbols, and they further discuss exactly how structuralism does and does not work in analyzing narration.

One thing argued by Herman and Vervaeck is that structuralism has no clear way of extracting elements like "setting, events, and roles" from a text. One way in which structuralism tries to extract such things from a text and reduce them to symbols is by reducing them to two opposing concepts, or "binary opposites" (p. 44). Examples of binary opposites would be "short versus long, continuation versus interruption, [and] day versus night" (p. 44). We can also call these binary opposites abstract concepts because words like short have no meaning without direct context; we have to compare shortness to something else in order to know what shortness means.

Structuralists use these sorts of binary opposites to try and extract setting from the text because they try and use these abstract, opposing concepts to "characterize time" (p. 44). The authors give us an example of the short story "The Leak in Eternity" written by Willem Frederik Hermans. In this story, Willem drew a connection between time and darkness and light in order to characterize time but also to draw an abstract conclusion about human nature.

In his story, Hermans juxtaposes long periods of darkness against short periods of light created by electricity and that shut off automatically. Not only is the darkness and lightness part of the story's setting, they both represent more complex concepts. As Herman and Vervaeck explain, "Just as the light comes on briefly in an eternity of darkness, human life appears briefly in an eternity of death" (p. 44). Hence, from a structuralist's point of view, the opposing concepts of darkness and light can be extracted from Hermans' text to characterize setting, but they also represent the more abstract concepts of death and life.

Abstract concepts also represent ideologies because ideologies are beliefs that govern actions. If we see life as a brief light in internal darkness, we might either feel inspired to live life to its fullest or feel depressed and live as if life is meaningless; we could consider both decisions about life to be ideological philosophical or religious beliefs.

Hence, if we can see the opposing concepts of darkness and light as being used to symbolize death and life, then we can also see how darkness and light can have ideological implications since they can be representations of ideological beliefs underpinning how we live life.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just a note to clarify Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck's text, there is no Chapter 15 in their three-chapter book, Handbook of Narrative Analysis. The chapter called "Structuralism" is Chapter 2, and it has no designation for a section 1.5. No chapter addresses "Ideology," although "Narratology and Ideology" is addressed, beginning on page 118, in section 2 of Chapter 3 (3.2), which is titled "Post-Classical Narratology" (103). "Opposition" is addressed in Chapter 2 "Structuralism," for example, in terms of relationships between and functions of elements. To illustrate, page 47 says:

Functions are elements whose interrelatedness is responsible for the horizontal progress of events; that is, their linear development. The relationship between these elements can take many forms of which temporality, causality, and opposition [are principle functions]....

Unintentional confusion can result when an error might occur in the formation of the question asked. 

kadnam222 | Student

Why did you change the question on Handbook of Narrative Analysis by authors Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck? I wrote "Chapter 15" "Ideology," and you changed it to "Chapter 2" "Structuralism."

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