The way a text creates and shapes its reader’s interpretation to develop both meaning and feeling can be fruitfully and subtly analysed by means of binary opposition. Despite its apparent complexity, this method can easily be understood by students of varying levels and ability from GCSE upwards. It can allow them to create subtle analyses of texts of the kind that can fulfil the requirements of the highest grade bands.
The theory works from the premise that many words and phrases have, as Steve Campsall terms it, their ‘cultural opposites’: words acquire meanings and, especially, connotations through the societies and cultures that create and use them and the full effect of each word relies, to a large extent, on connotations created by its ‘binary opposite’.
Binary opposition – to use Steve’s example, ‘hero’ and ‘coward’ – results in one half of the binary being judged in a negative way, giving rise, at words, to culturally dominant stereotypes and attitudes. The ‘signifier’ (the form of the word itself as an image or sound) creates ‘an idea in the mind’, called the ‘signified’. Therefore, binary oppositions
…can exist only as cultural ideas, i.e. as ideologies. They can certainly be said to represent reality but such labels can never be more than a version of reality. This is...