What are some examples of structural analysis of a short story?

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bryankc12 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A great example of a rigorous structural analysis of a story is Barthes' S/Z, which is a line-by-line reading of Balzac's "Sarrasine." "Sarrasine" is a complex tale of a castrati who sings in the opera, and Sarrasine, who falls in love with the castrati, thinking him a woman (as he is unfamiliar with the customs of Italy, where the story takes place). The tale of Sarrasine and the castrati is told by an unnamed upper-class narrator who tells the tale in order to win over a society woman, Madame Rochefide. 

Barthes' analysis of the tragic story focuses on five different codes: the hermeneutic code, the proairetic code, the semantic code, the symbolic code, and the cultural code. The hermeneutic code deals with obscure parts of the text that serve to propel the narrative; the proairetic code also deals with how the narrative moves forward, but has more to do with sequences of actions; the semantic code has to do with connotations that arise indirectly and are not necessarily stable or fixed; the symbolic code has to do with how the semantic parts of the text are organized through a deeper structure, often coming about through the many oppositions in the text; and the cultural code has to do with wisdom, especially historical wisdom, or knowledge of norms. 

Barthes' use of these codes in his exploration of "Sarrasine" casts it in a fragmented light. The story has largely to do with knowledge and blindness (the knowledge of the narrator on the level of the narration, and the knowledge of the people around Sarrasine on the level of the story; the blindness of Madame Rochefide and of Sarrasine — until the truth is revealed). This is accordingly a very complicated analysis, but one that is ultimately very rewarding, if you can follow Barthes' handling of the text.