Structure: Often equated with form, the arrangement of material in a work, that is, the ordering of its component parts or the design devised by the author to convey content and meaning. In a poem, for instance, structure encompasses the division of the material into stanzas. Some critics extend the use of the term to include the arrangement of ideas or images. In a play, structure refers to the division of the material into acts and scenes as well as to the logical progression of the action. (Freytag’s Pyramid provides one model for analyzing the sequence of events in a tragedy: introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, catastrophe.) In discussing novels, critics typically use the term to refer to plot, the ordering of the events that make up the story.
Some critics, such as those associated with the Chicago school, have distinguished between structure and form, arguing that form is the emotional force or shaping principle that gives rise to the mechanics of structure. For instance, in The Idea of the Humanities and Other Essays (1967), Chicago school theorist R. S. Crane described form as the “principle of construction, from which [the artist] infers, however instantaneously, what he must do in constituting and ordering the parts.”
Other critics, particularly the New Critics, have distinguished between structure and texture. In The New Criticism (1941), for instance, John Crowe Ransom used structure to refer to the general intellectual content of a poem, that is, whatever can be paraphrased, and texture to refer to the surface details of a work, such as imagery, meter, and rhyme. He also argued that structure and texture together yield the poem’s ontology, its utterly unique quality of being.