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 are:

Number Designation Definition Explanation
1 β Absentation One of the members of a family absents himself
from home.
2 γ Interdiction An interdiction is addressed to the hero.
3 δ Violation The interdiction is violated.
4 ε Reconnaissance The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance.
5 ζ Delivery The villain receives information about his
6 η Trickery The villain attempts to deceive his victim in
order to take possession of him or of is
7 θ Complicity Victim submits to deception and thereby
unwittingly helps his enemy.
8 A villainy The villain causes harm or injury to a member
of a family
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.
10 C Beginning The hero agrees to or decides upon
counteraction counteraction.
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
16 H Struggle The hero and the villain join in direct combat
17 I Branding The hero is branded
18 J Victory The villain is defeated
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
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”

storyUnderstanding  Propp 31 function with a fairy tale, the tale in consideration is ‘RUMPELSTILTSKIN’, a 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’.

king orderInterdiction: King orders the Miller’s daughter to spun gold from the hay else she will die

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

Reconnaissance: Rumpelstiltskin asks why you cry fair maiden.

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

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

Complicity: 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.

give me your sonVillainy: Rumpelstiltskin reappears “I have come for your first born, your son”, he said with a wicked grin

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

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

Guidance: 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”

Struggle: “Is your name sheepshanks, spindleshanks….

Wrong! Cried the little man gleefully

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

Punishment: Rumpelstiltskin remained in that same place frozen forever in rage.

 *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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