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Barthes' Five Codes

 

Disciplines > Storytelling > Storytelling articles > Barthes' Five Codes

Hermeneutic | Proairetic | Semantic | Symbolic | Cultural | See also

 

Linguist Roland Barthes described Five Codes which are woven into any narrative.

The Hermeneutic Code (HER)

The Hermeneutic Code refers to any element of the story that is not fully explained and hence becomes a mystery to the reader.

The full truth is often avoided, for example in:

  • Snares: deliberately avoiding the truth.
  • Equivocations: partial or incomplete answers.
  • Jammings: openly acknowledge that there is no answer to a problem.

The purpose of the author in this is typically to keep the audience guessing, arresting the enigma, until the final scenes when all is revealed and all loose ends are tied off and closure is achieved.

The Proairetic Code (ACT)

The Proairetic Code also builds tension, referring to any other action or event that indicates something else is going to happen, and which hence gets the reader guessing as to what will happen next.

The Hermeneutic and Proairetic Codes work as a pair to develop the story's tensions and keep the reader interested. Barthes described them as:

"...dependent on ... two sequential codes: the revelation of truth and the coordination of the actions represented: there is the same constraint in the gradual order of melody and in the equally gradual order of the narrative sequence."

The Semantic Code (SEM)

This code refers to connotation within the story that gives additional meaning over the basic denotative meaning of the word.

It is by the use of extended meaning that can be applied to words that authors can paint rich pictures with relatively limited text and the way they do this is a common indication of their writing skills.

The Symbolic Code (SYM)

This is very similar to the Semantic Code, but acts at a wider level, organizing semantic meanings into broader and deeper sets of meaning.

This is typically done in the use of antithesis, where new meaning arises out of opposing and conflict ideas.

The Cultural Code (REF)

This code refers to anything that is founded on some kind of canonical works that cannot be challenged and is assumed to be a foundation for truth.

Typically this involves either science or religion, although other canons such as magical truths may be used in fantasy stories. The Gnomic Code is a cultural code that particularly refers to sayings, proverbs, clichés and other common meaning-giving word sets.

See also

Critical Theory, Linguistics, Death of the author

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