Though an innumerable amount of interpretations of any given text might be drawn from a variety of perspectives, a structuralist analysis of two of Poe’s works help place their symbols within a theme related to myth and heroism.
Peter Barry attempts to define structuralism succinctly by narrowing it down as “the belief that things cannot be understood in isolation—they have to be seen in the context of the larger structures they are part of”; he goes on to add that “meaning is always an attribute of things, in the literal sense that meanings are ATTRIBUTED to the things by the human mind, not contained within them” (39). One might attempt to further narrow this idea (ironically) by quoting the famous line, “Everything is relative,” which is to say, all reality is contingent upon the perceiver. The context in which that reality is being perceived becomes the point of interest, so that, in regard to literature, “there is a constant movement away from the interpretation of the individual literary work and a parallel drive towards understanding the larger, abstract structures which contain them” (Barry, 40). The question becomes not what, but how.
It is interesting, then, to further define the crux of this theory in search of what conclusion a modern structuralist reading of a pre-structuralist author, namely Edgar Allan Poe, might yield. Structuralism itself is defined as “modern” but through its own origins “following the widely discussed applications of structural analysis to mythology by the anthropologist Claude Lèvi-Strauss” can be attributed to relatively recent intellectual movements, which then reflect back on the writings of Poe, perhaps evidencing inspiration for the theory in the firs...
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...l and follows its progression panel by panel.
Baldick, Chris. “Structuralism.” OXFORD CONCISE DICTIONARY OF
LITERARY TERMS. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2001. 245-246.
Barry, Peter. “Structuralism.” BEGINNING THEORY: AN INTRODUCTION
TO LITERARY AND CULTURAL THEORY. 2nd edition. Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 2002. 39-60.
Coogan, Peter M. “The Secret Origin of the Superhero: The Origin
and Evolution of the Superhero Genre in America.” AMERICAN
QUARTERLY. Vol 55, Iss. 4. College Park, December 2003.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” RETELLINGS: A THEMATIC
Literature Anthology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.
404-407; “The Cask of Amontillado.” Classroom handout
(SUNY Potsdam, Fall 2005, LITR 300, Dr. McNutt). 463-467.
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