Distinguishing Structuralism from Formalism

Key Difference – Structuralism vs Formalism

Structuralism and formalism are two literary theories or literary criticisms that focus on the structure of a particular text. Structuralism is based on the assumption that every text has a universal, underlying structure. Formalism analyses the structure of a text without focusing on the external factors such as authorship, social and cultural influence. However, structuralism connects the work of a particular author with works of similar structures whereas formalism only analyses one particular work at a time. This is the key difference between structuralism and formalism.

What is Structuralism?

Structuralism is an approach or methodology that analyses elements of human culture in terms of their relation to a larger, overreaching structure or system.  The literary theory of structuralism is based on the assumption that all literary works have underlying universal structures and that general conclusions about the relevant work and the systems from which it emerges can be formed by connecting these underlying patterns. It is this universal structure in every text that enables the experienced reader to interpret a text easier, than a non-experienced reader. Therefore, structuralism analyses the linguistic units in a text, universal underlying structures of text, and examines how the writer conveys meaning through a structure.

Structuralists relate literary texts to a larger structure. This larger structure can refer to a

– A series of intertextual connections
– A particular genre
– Recurrent patterns or motifs
– A model of universal narrative structure

There are many similarities between structuralism and similarity to archetypal criticism, which analyses a text by focusing on the recurrent archetypes in the plot, characterization, and other elements.

What is Formalism?

Formalism is a form of literary theory and literary criticism that mainly deals with the structure of a particular text. This theory analyses and interprets a text by focusing on its inherent features. It rejects the external influence such as authorship, culture, and social influence, and focuses on the mode, form, genre, and discourse of the work. Therefore, it can be argued that this criticism method reduces a literary work’s historical, cultural and biographical context. Formalists pay more attention to features like grammar, syntax, structure and literary devices.

Formalism is the origin of many other literary criticism theories such as structuralism, post-structuralism, and deconstruction.

What is the difference between Structuralism and Formalism?

– Structuralism analyses universal, underlying structures in a text.
– Formalism analyses the genre, mode, form and discourse while rejecting bibliographical, cultural, historical and social contexts.

Other Literary Works:
– Structuralism analyses a text’s connection to other literary works since it examines common underlying structures.
– Formalism only analyses one particular literary work at a time; it is not compared or contrasted with another work.

Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard is an accomplished writer with expertise in creating engaging articles and content across various platforms. His dedication to research and crafting high-quality content has led to over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience. In his personal life, Gil enjoys connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. His curiosity and eagerness to learn from others fuel his passion for communication. He believes that engaging with strangers can be both enlightening and enjoyable, making it easier to strike up conversations and expand one's horizons.


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