Structuralism is an intellectual movement which began in France in the 1950s and is first seen in the work of the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss and later on in the literary critics by Roland Barthes. Structuralism then imported to England in the 1970s and attained spread influenced in the 1980s. According to Peter Barry, structuralism essence is the belief that things cannot be understood in isolation—they have to be seen in the context of larger structure that they are part of. Although structuralism gained its popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, its roots has been seen from Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure in the late 19th century, as Saussure was the key figure in the development of modern approaches to language study. As in the nineteenth century linguistic scholars mainly interested in historical aspect of language only, Saussure concentrated on the pattern and functions of language in use today on the emphasis of how meaning are maintained and established and on the function of grammatical structure.
One distinction made by Saussure gave structuralist a way of thinking about the larger structure which relevant to literature, that is the terms of langue and parole which means as a system or structure on the one hand, and given utterance on the other. What structuralist critics do using structuralism approach is; they analyze the prose narrative, relating the text to some larger containing structure. They also interpret literature in terms of range of underlying parallels with the structures of language, as described by modern linguist. Then, they also apply the concept of systematic patterning and structuring to the whole field of cultures, and treating them as ‘system of signs’. According to Roland Barthes’s book S/Z, Barthes method of analysis is to divide the story into ‘lexies’, or unit of meaning, and then classifies them using five ‘codes’, seeing these are the basic underlying structures of all narratives.
Those five codes according to Barthes are the proairetic code which provides the indications of an action, the hermeneutic code which poses questions that provide narrative suspense, the cultural code that contains references out beyond the text to what is regarding to common knowledge, the semic code which also called connotative code that is linked to theme and when organized around a particular proper name will constitutes a ‘character’, and the symbolic code which also linked to the theme but in larger scale, and consist of contrasts and pairings related to the most basic polarities.
Basic difference between liberal humanist and structuralist reading is that structuralist critics’ main focus of the commentary is in the comments on structure symbol and design, so instead of going straight in to the content, like liberal humanist manners, structuralist are looking for five factors in the intrinsic elements of literary works, such as a parallel factor in the plot, echoes factor in the structure, reflection/repetition factor in the character/motive, contrast factor in the situation/circumstance, and the patterns factor in the language/imagery from the literary works.