Structural Analysis: Six Categories

4: Relationship

Introduction - Dorothy Parker on the sexes - Bhartrhari on attraction - Poetry in prose: The Golden Lotus - Spenser on eternal love


Note that category # 4 is often defined exclusively in terms of conflict. That term, however, only gets at part of the relationship dynamic. For example, the attraction or bond between Romeo and Juliet is perhaps more important than the forces which pull the lovers apart. Texts are often written around the dynamic between betrayal and trust, or between hatred and love. There are basically two types of conflict or bond:

— conflict or bond between two characters: often this takes the form of a friendship, a romance, or a struggle between a protagonist and an antagonist.  

— conflict or bond between an individual and a group or between a group and another group: this can range from family or friend groups to regional or ethnic groups, and often includes the powerful forces of culture, language and religion. One common dynamic is when the bond between two characters is disturbed by a third person, resulting in jealousies, love triangles, etc.

Dorothy Parker on the Sexes

General Review of the Sex Situation (1937)

Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is woman's moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this the gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?

Note that when a conflict of ideas, ideology, emotions, etc. occurs chiefly in an individual, that is, when it is chiefly an internal conflict, it pertains to character or psychology (3); when it is treated in larger, speculative, or philosophical terms, it usually pertains to theme (5). Again, ask yourself what you are trying to focus on — the effect of conflict in and on the individual (3), the conflict as it is seen or dramatized in the interaction between characters (4), or the larger meaning of the conflict (5). Once you have your focus, don’t worry about the overlap in categories.

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Bhartrhari on Attraction

The following two-line poem by the 5th-century poet Bhartrhari celebrates (4) physical attraction by using contrasting metaphors (6) involving light and dark:

The clear light of man's discernment dies

When a woman clouds it with her lamp-black eyes.

The poem might also be seen in light of the three gunas, three qualities or properties. The poet playfully suggests that "discernment" (connected to sattva — light, clarity, purity, intelligence, and non-attachment) is threatened by the passion of rajas and the lust of tamas.

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanshiyin), Shanxi Province, China. 11th-12th century CE. Liao Dynasty (907-1125 CE). Wood with multiple layers of paint, Nelson-Atkins Museum Collection, Kansas City. (Wikimedia Commons)

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanshiyin), Shanxi Province, China. 11th-12th century CE. Liao Dynasty (907-1125 CE). Wood with multiple layers of paint, Nelson-Atkins Museum Collection, Kansas City. (Wikimedia Commons)

Poetry in Prose: The Golden Lotus 

The distinction between prose and poetry is in no way absolute, as can be seen by the erotic interchange in the Chinese classic, The Golden Lotus. This work is sometimes considered the first Chinese novel, and its date of publication (1610) falls exactly between the dates of Europe’s first great novel, Don Quixote (Part One 1605, Part Two 1615). 

Note how the prose leads effortlessly into the poetry, and how the poetry drifts into more abstract dimensions — while at the same time maintaining erotic aspects of the more earthy prose.


He took her by the hand and pulled her into the room where he looked at her closely in the lamplight. She was wearing a scarlet jacket of silk opened down the middle, and a skirt of a soft yellow fabric. On her head was a marten hat over her chignon, and in her hair was a tiara of gold representing the Goddess of Mercy, which set everything off to perfection:

Her face, as if in silver, plaster, or jade;

The clouds over Ch’u peaks, her cicada chignon and raven tresses.

How could He have been anything but captivated?


“Whether you go to your mistress or not is no concern of mine,” she said. “I wouldn’t presume to tell an idiot such as yourself what to do. But if you’re shelling out hard cash to maintain her as your mistress and yet don’t bother to visit her, she’ll just take on someone else. With those kinds of people, “You can tie up their bodies, / But you can’t tie up their hearts.”

He started to undress, sent the maids out of the room, and proposed to go to bed with her.  “If I let you into the kitchen, you’ll only make a pig of yourself,” she said. “It’s more than enough if I let you into my bed tonight. If you’ve got anything else in mind, forget it.” He responded by showing her his penis. “You must be delirious,” she responded. “What makes you think I’ve got even half an eye for the likes of you?” 

At this point he lifted her two fresh white legs onto his shoulders, inserted his penis into her vagina, and gave rein to “The oriole’s abandon and the butterfly’s pursuit. / Entranced by the clouds and intoxicated by the rain, / They are not yet willing to call a halt. / Among the crab apple boughs, / Orioles dart quickly to and fro; / Between the halcyon-hued rafters, / Swallows communicate without stop. / The touch of the magic rhinoceros horn / Produces a pleasure that cannot be exceeded. / Her musky tongue is partially hidden, / The fragrance of her rouge pervades his lips.”

Spenser on Eternal Love

(sonnet LXXV, from the collection Amoretti, 1595, by Edmund Spenser)

One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand      

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washéd it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay,* [try]
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke* my name be wiped out likewise.’ [also]
‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.’


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Structural Analysis: Preface - 1: Space2: Time3: Character4: Relationship5: Theme & Theme Take 2 6: Style & Style Exercises

English 1114: Introduction - Contents - Outline

Schedule: Week 1-7 - Week 8-14