Stories and their unique elements: An approach to story structure by Vladimir Propp

In this article we look at Morphology of the Folktale, by outlining the thirty-one functions that were  proposed by Vladimir Propp for the structural analysis of folktales.

Vladimir Propp (1895-1970) analysed many of Russian fairy tales in order to identify common themes within them. He broke down the fairy tales into thirty-one “functions” that comprised the structure of many of the fairy tales. His study was published as Morphology of the Folktale in 1928

After the publication of Morphology, folklorists around the world realised that there is a unique element to all stories in the sense that they can be replicated. Same or similar stories, with identifiable plots, characters and situation can be found in many parts of the world. Propp’s assertion that hundreds of fairy tales can be reduced to a single structure has made many theorists to accept his hypothesis.

The thirty one-function of V. Propp discussed with an example, story in consideration is ‘RUMPELSTILTSKIN’, storya fairytale popularly associated with Germany (Where he is known as Rumpelstilzchen). The tale was collected by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 edition of ‘Children’s and Household Tales’.


Number Designation Definition Example
1 Β Absentation One of the members of a family absents himself
      from home.
2 Γ Interdiction


An interdiction is addressed to the hero.
      king orderKing orders the Miller’s daughter to spun gold from the hay else she will die.
3 Δ Violation The interdiction is violated.

She has no idea how to spun gold from hay(Leading to the entry of Villain)

4 Ε Reconnaissance The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance.
      cryingRumpelstiltskin asks why you cry fair maiden.
5 Ζ Delivery The villain receives information about his

The Miller daughter said “I will die unless I find a way to spin all the straw into gold”

6 Η Trickery The villain attempts to deceive his victim in
      order to take possession of him or of is

hay to goldRumpelstiltskin “May be I can help you” what will you give me if I spin gold for you?

7 Θ Complicity Victim submits to deception and thereby
       unwittingly helps his enemy.

Millers daughter: I have nothing left to give you.

Rumpelstiltskin: Promise me that you will give me your first born child and I will spin all this straw into the gold.

Millers daughter: Relunctly agreed to give the tiny man what he wanted she had no choice.

8 A Villainy The villain causes harm or injury to a member of a family
      give me your sonRumpelstiltskin reappears “ I have come for your first born, your son”, he said with a wicked grin.
8A A Lack A member of a family lacks something or
      desires to have something.
9 B Meditation Misfortune or lack is made known; the hero is
      approached with a request or command; he is
      allowed to go or he is dispatched.

“If you can guess my name in 03 days you can keep your child”

10 C Beginning The hero agrees to or decides upon
    counteraction counteraction.

Queen (Millers Daughter) sends out messengers to find all the possible names they can gather from every corner of the country

11 Departure The hero leaves home.
12 D First function The hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc.,
    of the Donor which prepares the way for his receiving either a
      magical agent or a helper.




13 E The hero’s The hero reacts to the actions of the future
    reaction Donor.
14 F Provision of a The hero acquires the use of a magical agent.
    magical agent  
15 G Guidance Hero is led to the whereabouts of an object of
      Late Last night I saw something strange. A tiny man was dancing and chantingdance fire

“ The child is mine. I’ve won the game. Since Rumpelstiltskin is my name”

16 H Struggle The hero and the villain join in direct combat
      “Is your name sheepshanks, spindleshanks….

Wrong! Cried the little man gleefully

17 I Branding The hero is branded
18 J Victory The villain is defeated

Could your name be Rumpelstiltskin. The little man turn purple with rage

19 K Liquidation of The initial misfortune or lack is liquidated
20 Return The hero returns.
21 Pr Pursuit The hero is pursued
22 Rs Rescue Rescue of the hero from pursuit
23 O Unrecognized Unrecognized, he arrives home or in another
    arrival country
24 L Unfounded A false hero presents unfounded claims
25 M Difficult task A difficult task is proposed to the hero
26 N Solution The task is resolved
27 Q Recognised The hero is recognised.
28 Ex Exposure The false hero or villain is exposed
29 T Transfiguration The hero is given a new appearance
30 U Punishment The villain is punished

Rumpelstiltskin remained in that same place frozen forever in rage.

31 W Wedding The hero is married and ascends the throne


According to Propp (1968): In order to create a tale artificially, one may take any A, then one of the possible B’s then a C↑, followed by absolutely any D, then an E, the one of the possible F’s, then any G, and so on. In doing this, any elements may be dropped, or repeated three times, or repeated in various forms. If one, then distributes functions according to the dramatis personae of the tale’s supply of by following one’s own taste, these schemes come alive and become tales. Of course, one must also keep motivations, connections, and other auxiliary elements in mind”


References: Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities (ISSN 0975-2935), Vol. IX, No. 2, 2017

                    Excerpts from: Vladimir Propp: Morphology of the folk tale 1928 Translation 1968, The American Folklore Society and Indiana University  



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