Propp- Vladimir Propp published his Morphology of Folk-tale in 1928. He studied folk-tales and legends from many different countries and noticed that they tended to be very similar. They seemed to be about the same basic problems and the same basic character types cropped up in most of the folk-tales.
Based on this study, he identified 32 basic categories of action which he called ‘functions’. He also identified a set of basic spheres of action or character functions. He focused on the way characters in folk-tales tended to be types rather than individuals. There are eight of these character types that you should know:
• The hero, who is on the quest (search)
• The villain, who opposes the hero
• The donor, who helps the hero by giving them a magic tool
• The dispatcher, who starts the hero on his way
• The false hero, who attempts the hero away from his quest
• The helper, who helps the hero
• The princess, who is the reward for the hero
• Her father, who rewards the hero for his efforts.
Of course, while there are many texts which do conform to these principles (Star Wars is a very well-known example), you will find at least as many texts which do not seem to do so. You might be able to think of examples where the protagonist (hero) or antagonist (villain) cannot be considered as types in this way (especially in indie or alternative films)- or perhaps a film where the ‘princess’ does not conform to the functions of a princess- Alien might be an example here. But just think of all those Hollywood films where the primary function of the heroine is to be the reward for the hero! The important thing is that you can write about how Propp might or might not be a useful way of deconstructing a text which you are studying. It may be that talking about types will give you a lead into writing about the representational issues, for example, or perhaps considering why Propp’s theories are not appropriate when deconstructing a text will lead you to discuss the ideology of the text in some depth or to think in detail about the audience’s relationship with the text.
Levi-Strauss was a structuralist philosopher. What interested him was how much of our world is described in terms of opposites (or binary oppositions)- night/day, good/bad, light/dark. He noticed that these oppositions tended to structure texts such as stories, plays and films as well. This is easy to think about in terms of typical film but you can also analyse other texts in terms of these binary oppositions:
• Washing powder adverts rely on before and after contrasts to convince you to buy the product.
• News reports tend to be structured as binary opposites because they use the good and bad points to present the story in a simple way.
Barthes was interested in concepts such as negotiated meaning between institution and audience. He argued that the audience that the reader produces new meanings when reading a text, making use of their previous experiences as well as the text itself. So, for example, when watching a docusoap about an airline, individuals’ ‘meaning’ depends as much on their own experiences of airlines and docusoaps as on the text itself. The cultural context of consumption becomes as important as the context of the text. He described texts as ‘networks’, which relates to the current multimedia texts such as websites and the different ways in which a ‘surfer’ interacts with these non-linear texts. The most well known of Barthes’ codes is probably the enigma code. In its most basic form, it is the hook or mystery to be resolved for an audience, e.g. in serials which make use of the old ‘come back next week to find out what happens’ technique, or in trailers for new films.
Tzvetan Todorov suggested that there are five stages to a narrative:
• A disruption to this equilibrium by an event
• A realisation that a disruption has happened
• An attempt to repair the damage of the disruption
• A restoration of equilibrium-which may be a new equilibrium.
This structure can be applied to fictional and non-fictional texts and can be a good starting point for identifying the structure of a text-just think how many news stories depend on establishing how equilibrium is disrupted. Adverts often use this structure to establish that the product being advertised is the solution to a problem.