How can I apply structuralist criticism to the novel, The Comedians by Graham Greene.  How can the theory of myths (theory of genres) reveal the structural principles?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Communication, meaning and misunderstanding, and interpretation lie at the heart of structural criticism. In literature, structural criticism attempts to provide a message based on the complexities of the novel, in this case, The Comedians by Graham Greene. Different interpretations will emerge as culture affects the intention of the writer and the perception of the reader. The Comedians becomes a "structure" to be understood in terms of its characters, events and the basic elements of the story as it takes place in a devastated Haiti. The reader, equipped with a certain perception of life under the notorious "Papa Doc," draws conclusions and makes comparisons. 

Claude Levi-Strauss, the famous French anthropologist, makes connections between the meaning applied to concepts and the already established understanding of those concepts. His claim that "myth is language," can be explained in terms of, not only its basic parts but its place in, and relationship to, more general and widely held beliefs or "myths." 

Graham Greene is well-known for his religious or "Catholic" novels and his use of his novels to express views and political opinions. The Comedians is his most political novel and, by Greene's own admission, is intended, not only to express an opinion but to raise awareness and encourage condemnation of the reign of terror of "Papa Doc" Duvalier.  Greene uses his characters to inform the reader and, while Haiti is hardly a random choice, the reader, can make associations between the situation there in the 1960s and any similar regime, regardless of the time period or location. Brown contemplates:

“Haiti was not an exception in a sane world: it was a small slice of everyday taken at random." 

Therefore, the reader recognizes the structuralist criticism in Greene's application of direct and indirect comparisons. Life in Haiti in the 1960s was untenable and it is only because of the reader's understanding of any such despotic environment that allows the reader to be transformed into this culture where he or she can appreciate the subtleties of Greene's descriptions without simply imagining a place from which the reader is far-removed and unaffected. A reader will be more inclined to take a stand if there is a perceived threat and not just the rantings of a crazed leader on some far-off island. The enduring theme of a lack of commitment can be applied in the greater sense, in understanding the "bigger picture." 

"The Church condemns violence, but it condemns indifference more harshly. Violence can be the expression of love, indifference never."

Accordingly, the theory of myths allows the reader to find the truth which lies beneath and within the reality. Even though, regardless of culture or gender, people function the same way; the interpretation is where differences evolve. Applying reason to every circumstance allows structures to develop within which people operate. Rules become the basis of understanding but applying those rules according to culture is where the theory of myths finds its place. In The Comedians, the different characters operate within boundaries easily recognized in Western culture but which become blurred in Haitian society.  As Brown alludes to "an animal passive and ominous in a cage waiting to show what it can do outside," there is a foreshadowing of later events. Brown's postcards of his hotel, a"relics of an epoch over for ever," also add a foreboding and create expectations  of life in Haiti. 

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The Comedians

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