Christine Hill
Dr. Kathryn Valentine
Eng 568
October 11, 2009
Microtheme #5: Barthes
Works Cited
Story, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader. 4th ed. Essex, England: Pearson
Education Limited, 2009. 261-269.
The excerpt of Roland Barthes’ book Mythologies that Storey includes in his Reader is an
introduction on Barthes’ view of myth and how it is a “system of communication”, a “mode of
signification, a form” (261). While he acknowledges that mythology “can only have an
historical foundation” he studies the manipulative manner in which myth evolves into meaning
with a “natural” foundation. Myth is worthy of this study because Barthes looks at mythology as
living in the scientific realm because of its semiological nature as well as the ideological realm
because it is rooted in history (263).
Barthes builds on Saussure’s study of the “linguistic system” in that he includes the
“myth of signification” (265). He expands Saussure’s idea that semiology is a relation between
the “signifier and a signified” (Intro 111) and how the two come together to represent the “sign”.
Barthes introduces a “second-order semiological system” in which the “sign” becomes the
“signifier” on a different level where the idea of “signification” comes into play. He says that
myth is “defined by its intention” and not by its “literal sense” (265). Myth is motivated
primarily by analogy. It is with this motivation that myth travels from the historic to the natural
realm of understanding (266).
Barthes says that the “naturalization of the concept is the essential function of myth”
My understanding:
I understand Barthes’ take on myth to be very critical in the way in which societal
“norms” are broadcast and promoted by the upper classes to the lower. Myth is semiological
because it is a “type of speech (262). Because semiology is a science that can be studied,
Barthes looked closely at the way myth is distorted from its historical place to a more
“naturalized” position – the way myth crosses the scientific to ideological line. Too often
readers consider the concepts of myth with too much innocence: it is read as a “factual system,
whereas it is but a semiological system” (268). It is important for Barthes to make clear the fact
that the function of myth is to wiggle about and distort reality so that an “innocent reader” will
take it at face value. Its function is to create a simple reality so that a reader doesn’t have to
work too hard to understand its meaning. It is the role of close reading, or almost skeptical
reading, that is essential in uncovering the motivation and meaning of myth.
Reading this essay made me think of fairy tales and their function to dictate “proper”
behavior to children as imposed by the aristocracy. These stories were told and listened to
innocently and taken very literally (as, of course, classical myths were). I think this structuralist
view is important to the study of culture today in that we are bombarded by the media’s modern
version of consumer fairy tales (myths), images and texts that want the public/consumer to take
things literally and for granted without questioning the motives. For example, it is not in the
media’s or advertisers’ best interest for a consumer to be a close “reader” or a “mythologist” of
texts/images they produce as it would shatter the reality of buying=happiness.

Roland Barthes - Christine M. Hill