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The Usefulness of Structuralism as an Analytical Tool for Uncovering How Meaning is Generated in The Wizard of Oz

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In the words of Michael O’Shaughnessy, ‘narratives, or stories, are a basic way of making sense of our experience’ (1999: 266). As a society and a culture, we use stories to comprehend and share our experiences, typically by constructing them with a beginning, middle and an end. In fact, the order that a narrative is structured will directly impact the way it is understood, particularly across cultures. This idea originated through Claude Lévi-Strauss’s concept of structuralism in anthropology which ‘is concerned with uncovering the common structural principles underlying specific and historically variable cultures and myth’ in pre-industrial societies (Strinati 2003: 85). In terms of media studies, structuralism’s inherent objective is to dig beneath the surface of a media text to identify how the structure of a narrative contributes to it’s meaning. Structuralism encompasses a large range of analytical tools, however, this essay will examine Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s theory of binary oppositions. Through analysis of Victor Fleming’s film, The Wizard of Oz (1939), it will be shown that although the monomyth and binary oppositions are useful tools with which to unveil how meaning is generated in this text, structuralism can undermine the audience’s ability to engage with their own interpretations of the film.
In the simplest form, there is a basic structural pattern to narratives, as expressed through Tzvetan Todorov’s explanation of narrative movement between two equilibriums. A narrative begins in a stable position until something causes disequilibrium, however, by the end of the story, the equilibrium is re-established, though it is different than the beginning (O’Shaughnessy 1999: 268). Joseph Cam...


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...an adequate mechanism for unveiling the techniques used to create messages in a text.



Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph (1968), The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, pp. viii-97.
Eco, Umberto (1979), ‘Narrative structures in Fleming’, in his, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, pp. 144-172.
Hartley, John (2002), Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts, London, Routledge, pp. 19-21.
O’Shaughnessy, Michael (1999), Media and Society: An Introduction, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, pp. 266-290.
Strinati, Dominic (2003), ‘Structuralism, semiology and popular culture’ (extract), in his An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture: 2nd Ed., London, Routledge, pp. 82-85.
The Wizard of Oz (film), 1939, Director: Victor Fleming.


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