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Structuralism And Post Colonialism Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1460 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Whilst looking at books to focus my essay on, A passage to India was appealing; first published in 1924, E. M. Forster showed attention towards background of life including social class and race issues in the early 20th century. The novel involves various critical theories such as Post structuralism, Feminism however I have chosen to focus closely on Structuralism and Post- colonism. `

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Edward Morgan Forster tends to transform his observations and experiences in life into his fiction. Forster’s novel ‘A passage to India’ was inspired by his visit to India, at a time where British had gained full control over India. In his previous novel ‘Howards end (1910)’, Forster criticized the class divisions and prejudices of Edwardian England. E.M. Forster experienced the divide between British colonist and Indian people as a result of cultural misunderstandings and racial oppression. Forster, a homosexual ‘became a lifelong advocate for tolerance and understanding among people of different social classes, races, and backgrounds’ due to experiencing prejudice first hand as homosexuals were not ‘accepted’ in that time period.

Ferdinand de Saussure is a famous linguistic who had a great impact on the Structuralist theory, coming up with the idea that ‘words are not symbols which correspond to referents, but rather are ‘signs’ which are made up of two parts’ [http://faculty.ksu.edu.sa/Nugali/English%20461/Structuralist%20theories.pdf]the two parts being a) signifier – what is written or spoken and b) signified – the concept. The signifier is the word you write down or the way the word is said and the signified is the image that comes to the head or what you imagine it to look like which is part of Saussure’s theory. Saussure was a Swiss linguist; which is when linguistic scholars took particularly interested in historical characteristics of language, according to Saussure ‘A synchronic description of language is a description of the language as it functions at a particular time.’ He also focuses on the connections between the historical developments of languages by speculating about the origins of languages itself. Saussure emphasised his views as a Structuralist theorist that ‘the meanings we give to words are purely arbitrary and that these meanings are maintained by convention, only words that are unmotivated signs.’ Saussure is implying that there is no inherent connection between a word and what it designates. He uses the example of the word ‘hut’ to explain his theory, signifying that the word itself is not appropriate to its meaning as all the linguistic signs are arbitrary like this.

Ferdinand De Saussure’s work as a linguistic enthused structuralism, and many critics used linguistics to create a clearer understanding of the Structuralist critical theory ‘Structuralism developed as a theoretical framework in linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure in the late 1920s’. ‘The Structuralist methodology uses the analogy of the phoneme as the ‘smallest meaningful unit’. A phoneme cannot be said to have any ‘intrinsic’ meaning: it is only meaningful by virtue of its place in a complex system. It is distinguished precisely because it is not something else.’ Structuralist critics in literature try to identify fundamental structures in order to see the text as a larger structure.

Structuralism is a critical theory that was founded in France in the 1950s, which was then imported into Britain mainly in the 1970s but then attained widespread influence throughout the 1980s.Structuralism can be interpreted in many ways ‘Structuralism is often said to be hard to define because it has taken too many different forms for a common denominator to be in evidence: the structures invoked by the several “Structuralists” have acquired increasingly diverse significations’ Structuralism was first recognised in the work of the literary critic Roland Barthes who felt that the structure is overlooked by old criticism rather than focusing on revealing the importance of language. Structuralist critics focus that there must be a larger structure to every text which can connect to the ways in which we live and understand the world. Structuralist critics are entirely interested in the words on the page but place them in a larger context ‘Structuralism is characterised by two perspectives: the belief that the social universe is, in its nature, both arbitrary, and conventional like language itself; and the reversal of the traditional view of the relationship between humans and their social environment.’

Throughout the novel, E.M focuses on the possibility of a relationship between British and Indian people, whereas using Saussure theory of the sign and the signifier a man is a man because they are not say a monkey or a building. Yet as they are from two different origins and very different cultures they are symbolized as complete opposites ‘They were discussing as to whether or not it is possible to be friends with an Englishman. Mahmoud argued that it was not.’ Evident that with Saussure’s theory that they are both ‘man’, however Saussure’s outlook could be changed in the way for example A Indian man is an Indian because he is not American or Egyptian; similar to an Englishman is English because he is from England and not Poland. The theory of the sign and the signifier is that an image is only what we make of it ‘An image is what we make of it, and what we make of an acoustic image is determined by the concept for which it stands for.’ Implying that joining the acoustic image and the content together is important to allow analysis to be made, however it is just a theoretical division only.

Claude Levi Strauss was an Anthropologist, and an important figure in bringing Structuralism into France. Levi – Strauss brand of structuralism was not referred to as a method but “a way of looking at things”. Levis Strauss was required to relate the structural linguistics from Ferdinand De Saussure to Anthropology. He proposed the idea of ‘binary oppositions’, which is opposite objects such as ‘dark – light’ and adapts them through literature. A passage to India contains several binary oppositions. Structuralist critical theorists identify binary oppositions as structuralism as noticeable worldwide human structures. The most obvious binary oppositions are the ‘Indian verses Englishman’ or ‘Colonizer verses Colonized’; E.M Forster uses these binary oppositions to emphasize the differing cultures which gives some explanation why they are not likely to get along. Levi – Strauss follows the work of Roman Jakobson, a linguistic ‘the leading idea is that the human mind operates in terms of binary oppositions and that such oppositions structure all the phenomena of human culture’ Levi – Strauss uses binary oppositions as he believes that is how the human mind works.

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Structure has an unchanging connection that links different contents rather than being seen as uninterested to contents ‘Structure had no distinct content; it is content itself, apprehended in a logical organization conceived as a property of the real’. Anthropological structuralism is perceived as synchronic, synchronic meaning it is concerned with phenomena at a particular period without considering historical antecedents. ‘Structuralism teaches us to conceptualize socio-cultural phenomena in terms of metalinguistic levels of analysis’

A Passage to India is about the British in India, about relationships between the British and the Indians in the early twentieth century, about prejudice and justice and friendship and how myths are made. Or it’s about “an unimaginable space which cannot be inhabited by the present tense, resisting even the European attempt to coax it into metaphoricity” (Suleri 250).

Forster brought to India an understanding of the paradoxes in man’situation matured through contemplating other societies; from India he learned of aspects to the existential condition atrophied or stultified by modern civilization, and in Indian thought and the symbolism of her myths, art and architecture, he discovered other dimensions; to man’s perpetual search for self-understanding.


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