V. Ya. Propp's Structuralism

V. Ya. Propp’s Structuralism

Another work that did influence the development of semiotics was the book by Volodymyr Yakovych Propp, – a famous Russian folk-lore investigator – “Morphology of a Fairy Tale” (1928). Originally, the book was entitled “Morphology of a Magic Fairy Tale” the editor had extracted the word “magic” to delude the readers: they were supposed to believe a fairy tale was considered in this book as a genre in general.

In his book V. Propp analyzed numerous fairy tales (from the collection by A.N. Afanasiev) on the basis of observation that in fairy tales different people perform the same actions/deeds or the same actions may be performed in a different way. Magic fairy tales are alike similarly to the actions of their main characters. These actions of the characters V. Propp called functions. He revealed that many plots are based on the of repetition of functions and, consequently, all plots of a magic fairy tale are based on the same functions; all magic fairy tales are of the same compositional type.

The scheme of a magic fairy tale in the most general form looks as follows:

A disaster happens. The hero is appealed for help. He sets off searching. On his way he meets someone who tests him and awards him with a magic device. With the help of the latter, the hero finds the object of his search. The hero returns and is rewarded.

This scheme presents the compositional “basis” of any magic fairy tale on which plot variations are situated. Thus, composition, according to V. Propp, is a stable factor, while a plot is a variable one.

The above-described method of narrative genres study according to the characters’ functions is used not only for the investigation of magic fairy tales, but for the investigations of world literature works as well.