It was an intellectual movement which was started in France in 1950’s. Claude Levi Strauss and Roland Barthes are closely associated with this movement. One of the most striking features of this movement is the concept that-
“Things cannot be understood in isolation”.
Everything is a part of larger structure and to understand a particular thing the larger structure must not be over looked. If we want to know about a brick then we should understand that the brick can be a part of larger structure which can be a building or a boundary. In Britain this concept was imported in 1970’s. if we apply this concept in the field of Literature we will have to understand its broader meaning. The roots of this movement lie in the ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure who was a Swiss linguist. There are three ideas related to his philosophy which govern the concept of Structuralism. The first idea is that meaning of a word is arbitrary. It means that we human beings have categorized this world according to our own needs and requirements. A cow or a cat is unaware that people know them through the word ‘cow’ or a ‘cat’. Thus, it must be understood that linguistic signs are not real but arbitrary. It also means that the world is totally different from our linguistic considerations. The second idea is that we cannot understand the meaning of a word in isolation but it can be understood in relation to other words of the same category. Thus, it can be said that the meaning of a word is relational in nature. As for example if we want to understand the meaning of a word ‘palace’ then we will have to co relate the image of a palace to other relational words like ‘Mansion’, ‘house’, ’hut’ and many others. It happens because our mind acts like an album where the image of a meaning is created first and then comes the word. It becomes more apparent if we find paired opposites of a particular word. It will become more clear with the example of a word’ day’, paired opposite of the word ‘day’ is ‘night’ and thus ,’day’ can be understood in relation to ‘night’. These paired opposites provide perfect image of words. Thus, ‘heaven’ can be understood in relation to ’hell’. ‘Male’ can be understood in relation to ‘female’. Saussure has remarked that-
“In a language there are only differences, without fixed terms.”
This fixed terms is actually situation or time. It means that the meaning of language or a word is not fixed and it can be changed according to the situation. To understand it Saussure has given an example of a train. Train is known by the word ‘Train’ but it is also known by its timing. Some body may ask that ‘8.15’ is late or has arrived? Once I visited a bus stand and I saw a bus going to Ranchi. I was surprised to know that the bus was famous as ‘Ranchi Mail’. Thus, Saussure is right while saying that the meaning of a word is not fixed. It is because it is not natural but arbitrary. The third idea of Saussure is that the meaning of a word is constitutive in nature. It means that the role of a language is to constitute. It means we constitute the world according to our own needs. It affirms that we cannot understand the world because we do not know the way to understand the world. Everybody perceives the world differently. We know that there are foue seasons in an year but it is also correct that we cannot find any break in seasons. It runs continuously without any break. We have labeled the seasons with a particular name only for our understanding. In reality there is no existence of four seasons. There might be five, six or more than those seasons in nature. Thus, it is proved that we have interpreted the world according to our own understanding and requirement. The fact is that the meaning of a thing or word lies outside the thing not inside the thing. These are the ideas of Saussure. This way of his thinking influenced the structuralists because it gave them an approach to understand the larger structure. For better understanding we will have to understand the terms like ‘langue’ and ‘parole’ given by Saussure. ‘Langue’ is like a law book of a language. A person who is willing to learn a particular language will have to learn the law book or the grammar book. ’Parole’ can be understood as an individual who practices the language. Thus, the novel Pride and Prejudice is like a parole and its langue is the genre which is ‘novel’. Thus, if parole is a thing then langue is its larger structure. There are two other words ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ which is very interesting to understand. ‘Signifier’ means a word whereas ‘signified’ is its meaning. Claude Levi Strauss who was an anthropologist have tried to apply the theory of Structuralism to the interpretation of myth. The individual tale taken from the myth can be seen as ‘parole’ the whole cycle is its ‘langue’. Strauss has tried to show us that the individual tale has a meaning only in context to the whole cycle. This is an easy understanding of the movement ‘Structuralism’ where “things cannot be understood in isolation”. Thus, it becomes clear that structuralism is a journey from particular to general or from smaller structure to larger structure. Individual works are placed in context to a wider structure.