Roland Barthes

One observes that Saussure’s theoretical treaty may be fundamental for structuralism but it has hardly to do anything with the literary criticism that structuralism is known for.

It was, in fact, Barthes who furthers the discourse of structuralism as one that is applicable to literature for analyses—not only that, Barthes goes on to move his own philosophical manifestations from structuralism to post-structuralism; that is to say: Barthes is a significant theorist for both: structuralism and post-structuralism. 

As far as Barthes’ structuralism is concerned it is his Elements of Semiology that is the seminal text. Barthes begins by claiming that signs exist only in language and not outside it.

It is a complex idea that means there is nothing outside or without language. Though language could itself be argued to having flows and various other problems but its only in language that signs exist; therefore, make the communication possible. 

Semiology, a discipline that Saussure gave birth to, is classified into four elements by Barthes: a) language and speech b) signifier and signified c) syntagm and system and d) denotation and connotation. 

We remember Saussure’s distinction of language into langue (the structure that has social acceptance) and parole (the individuals’ reaction and reception towards it), at this point Barthes argues that language cannot be effected by an individual as it is a social phenomenon. Hence, Barthes disagrees with Saussure saying that language is social even at personal level. 

Saussure, in his theory of language, argues that signifier and signified has an arbitrary connection. This claim is refuted by Barthes for he believes that the connection is a necessity. This connection is a process that reaches the end point, the signification, through contraction and this process further naturalizes the connection between signifier and signified. 

It is easily understood that language, let’s say a sentence, is divided into various elements. Commenting on the elements of a sentence Barthes calls the relation of these elements ‘syntagm’ and the relationship between the elements of two different sentences that are interchangeable is called system.

For instance, ‘They are playing,’ shows a syntagm relationship while the relationship between “They are playing’ and ‘We were watching,’ where ‘we’ and ‘were’ are replaceable with ‘they’ and ‘are’, is, according to Barthes, system. 

Barthes argues that any system of signification has three classifications while commenting on ‘denotation’ and ‘connotation’: the relation between b) signifier and c) signified. He says that this whole system reveals the working of the language at two levels that are ‘denotation’ and ‘connotation’.

According to Barthes, in order to attempt a structuralist analysis of a text, it is necessary to identify the structure of the text through language keeping in mind the above-mentioned classifications.

Here is another important article on Barthes and Structuralism