Propp’s Functions: A Syntagmatic Structural Analysis of the Folktale

An extended summary of the 31 functions included by Vladimir Propp in his Morphology of the Folktale (1928); a structural analysis of Russian (and Ukrainian) folktales. Propp’s approach constitutes a syntagmatic structural analysis.  I.e. the structure of the folktale is described following the linear sequence of elements in the text in chronological order.  Sadly the book itself was first translated in 1958, and as a result is not in public domain.

Initial Situation

Element 0: Initial situation (α / alpha)

α1Introduction of protagonist(s) and setup for story (context)

Preparatory Section (Functions 1 -7)

Function 1: Absentation (β / beta)

A member of the hero’s community or family leaves the security of the home environment. This may be the hero themselves, or some other relation that the hero must later rescue. This division of the cohesive family injects initial tension into the storyline. This may serve as the hero’s introduction, typically portraying them as an ordinary person.

β1Absentation (departure) of elder(s)
β2Death of parent(s)
β3Absentation (departure) of sibling(s)

Function 2: Interdiction (γ / gamma)

A forbidding edict or command is passed upon the hero (‘don’t go there’, ‘don’t do this’). The hero is warned against some action.

γ1Interdiction issued
γ2Inverted form of interdiction issued as order or suggestion

Function 3: Violation (δ / delta)

The prior rule is violated. Therefore the hero did not listen to the command or forbidding edict. Whether committed by the Hero by accident or temper, a third party or a foe, this generally leads to negative consequences. The villain enters the story via this event, although not necessarily confronting the hero. They may be a lurking and manipulative presence, or might act against the hero’s family in his absence.

δ1Interdiction violated
δ2Order or suggestion executed

Function 4: Reconnaissance (ε /epsilon)

The villain makes an effort to attain knowledge needed to fulfill their plot. Disguises are often invoked as the villain actively probes for information, perhaps for a valuable item or to abduct someone. They may speak with a family member who innocently divulges a crucial insight. The villain may also seek out the hero in their reconnaissance, perhaps to gauge their strengths in response to learning of their special nature.

ε1Reconnaissance by antagonist(s)
ε2Reconnaissance by victim(s) / protagonist(s)
ε3Reconnaissance by other person(s)

Function 5: Delivery (ζ / zeta)

The villain succeeds at recon and gains a lead on their intended victim. A map is often involved in some level of the event.

ζ1Antagonist(s) receives information about victim(s) / protagonist(s)
ζ2Victim(s) / protagonist(s) receives information about antagonist(s)
ζ3Information received by other means

Function 6: Trickery (η – eta)

The villain attempts to deceive the victim to acquire something valuable. They press further, aiming to con the protagonists and earn their trust. Sometimes the villain make little or no deception and instead ransoms one valuable thing for another.

η1Deceitful persuasions by antagonist(s)
η2Direct application of magical agents by antagonist(s)
η3Use of other forms of deception or coercion

Function 7: Complicity (θ / theta)

The victim/protagonist is fooled or forced to concede and unwittingly or unwillingly helps the villain, who is now free to access somewhere previously off-limits, like the privacy of the hero’s home or a treasure vault, acting without restraint in their ploy.

θ1Protagonist(s) reacts to persuasions of antagonist(s)
θ2Protagonist(s) falls victim to influence of magical agent
θ3Protagonist(s) gives in or reacts mechanically to deceit of antagonist(s) — preliminary misfortune caused by deceitful agreement.

Complications (Functions 8 -11)

function 8 (and/or 8a) is always present in tale

Function 8: Villainy (A)

The villain harms a family member, including but not limited to abduction, theft, spoiling crops, plundering, banishment or expulsion of one or more protagonists, murder, threatening a forced marriage, inflicting nightly torments and so on. Simultaneously or alternatively, a protagonist finds they desire or require something lacking from the home environment (potion, artifact, etc.). The villain may still be indirectly involved, perhaps fooling the family member into believing they need such an item.

A1Kidnapping of person
A2Seizure of magical agent or helper
AIIForcible seizure of magical helper
A3Pillaging or ruining of crops
A4Theft of daylight
A5Plundering in other forms
A6Bodily injury, maiming, mutilation
A7Causes sudden disappearance
AVIIBride is forgotten
A8Demand for delivery or enticement, abduction
A10Casting into body of water
A11Casting of a spell, transformation
A12False substitution
A13Issues order to kill [requires proof]
A14Commits murder
A15Imprisonment, detention
A16Threat of forced matrimony
AXVIThreat of forced matrimony between relatives
A17Threat of cannibalism
AXVIIThreat of cannibalism among relatives
A18Tormenting at night (visitation, vampirism)
A19Declaration of war

Function 8a: Lack (a)

a1Lack of bride, friend, or an individual
a2Lack of helper or magical agent
a3Lack of wondrous object(s)
a4Lack of egg of death or love
a5Lack of money or means of existence
a6Lacks in other forms

Function 9: Mediation, the connective incident (B)

One or more of the negative factors covered above comes to the attention of the Hero, who uncovers the deceit/perceives the lacking/learns of the villainous acts that have transpired.

B1Call for help received, protagonist(s) as seeker(s) dispatched
B2Protagonist(s) as seeker(s) dispatched directly
B3Protagonist(s) as seeker(s) released, allowed to depart
B4Annoucement of misfortune in other forms, protagonist(s) as seeker(s) departs
B5Transportation of banished protagonist(s) as victim(s)
B6Condemned protagonist(s) as victim(s) released, spared
B7Lamment or plaintive song by/about victim(s), heard/sung by protagonist(s)

Function 10: Beginning counteraction (C)

The hero considers ways to resolve the issues, by seeking a needed magical item, rescuing those who are captured or otherwise thwarting the villain. This is a defining moment for the hero, one that shapes their further actions and marks the point when they begin to fit their noble mantle.

C1Protagonist(s) as seeker consents to counteraction

Function 11: Departure, dispatch of protagonist(s) from home. The hero leaves the home environment, this time with a sense of purpose. Here begins their adventure.

Donors (Functions 12 -14)

Function 12: First function of donor (D)

The hero encounters a magical agent or helper (donor) on their path, and is tested in some manner through interrogation, combat, puzzles or more.

D1Donor tests protagonist(s)
D2Donor greets and interrogates protagonist(s)
D3Request of favor after death
D4Entreaty of prisoner for freedom
*D4Entreaty of prisoner for freedom, with preliminary imprisonment
D5Request for mercy
D6Request for division
d6Argument without express request for division
D7Other requests
*D7Other requests, with preliminary helpless situation of person making request
d7Helpless situation of donor without stated request, possibility of rendering service
D8Attempt to destroy
D9Combat with hostile donor
D10Offer of magical agent as an exchange

Function 13: Protagonist’s reaction (E)

The hero responds to the actions of their future donor; perhaps withstanding the rigours of a test and/or failing in some manner, freeing a captive, reconciles disputing parties or otherwise performing good services. This may also be the first time the hero comes to understand the villain’s skills and powers, and uses them for good.

E1Protagonist(s) withstands ordeal (or not)
E2Protagonist(s) answers greeting (or not)
E3Protagonist(s) renders service to dead person (or not)
E4Protagonist(s) frees of captive
E5Mercy to suppliant
E6Protagonist completes apportinment and reconciles disputants
EVIProtagonist(s) deceives disputants
E7Performance of some other service, fulfillment of request, pious deeds
E8Attempt at destruction averted by turnabout
E9Protagonist(s) vanquishes hostile donor (or not)
E10Deception in an exchange, protagonist(s) employs magical agent on donor

Function 14: Acquisition of magical agent (F)

The hero acquires use of a magical agent as a consequence of their good actions. This may be a directly acquired item, something located after navigating a tough environment, a good purchased or bartered with a hard-earned resource or fashioned from parts and ingredients prepared by the hero, spontaneously summoned from another world, a magical food that is consumed, or even the earned loyalty and aid of another.

F1Agent is directly transferred
f1Gift is of a material nature
F-Agent is not transferred
F=Protagonist’s negative reaction provokes cruel retribution
F2Agent is pointed out
F3Agent is prepared
F4Agent is sold and purchased
F43Agent is made on order
F5Agent is found by chance
F6Agent suddenly appears of its own accord
FVIAgent appears from out of earth
F7Agent is drunk or eaten
F8Agent is seized
F9Agent offers its services, places itself at someone’s disposal
f9Agent indicates it will appear of its own accord in some time of need
F96Meeting with magical helper(s) who offers their services

Entry of helper to end of first move (Functions 15 – 22)

Function 15: Transference, guidance (G)

The hero is transferred, delivered or somehow led to a vital location, perhaps related to one of the above functions such as the home of the donor or the location of the magical agent or its parts, or to the villain.

G1Protagonist(s) flies thru air
G2Protagonist(s) travels on ground or water
G3Protagonist(s) is led
G4Route is shown to protagonist(s)
G5Protagonist(s) makes use of stationary means (stairs, bridge etc.)
G6Marked trail shows the way (blood, tracks, yarn, etc.)

Function 16: Struggle (H)

The hero and villain meet and engage in conflict directly, either in battle or some nature of contest.

H1Fight in an open field
H2Contest, competition
H3Game of cards
H4Weighing with scales

Function 17: Branding (J)

The hero is marked in some manner, perhaps receiving a distinctive scar or granted a cosmetic item like a ring or scarf.

J1Application of mark to body of protagonist(s)
J2Transference of token (ring, towel, etc.)

Function 18: Victory (I)

The villain is defeated by the hero – killed in combat, outperformed in a contest, struck when vulnerable, banished, and so on.

I1Antagonist(s) defeated in open battle
*I1Antagonist(s) defeated by one protagonist(s) while the other(s) hide
I2Antagonist(s) defeated in contest
I3Antagonist(s) defeated at cards
I4Antagonist(s) defeated in weighing with scales
I5Protagonist(s) kills antagonist(s) without preliminary fight
I6Expulsion of antagonist(s)

Function 19: Liquidation (K)

The earlier misfortunes or issues of the story are resolved; object of search are distributed, spells broken, captives freed.

K1Direct acquisition thru application of force or cunning
KIDirect acquisition thru application of force or cunning (compelling)
K2Acquisition accomplished by several helpers at once
K3Acquisition achieved with help of an enticement or decoy(s)
K4Liquidation of misfortune as direct result of previous actions
K5Object of search attained instantly thru use of magical agent
K6Poverty done away with thru use of magical agent
K7Object of search captured
K8Breaking of spell on victim
K9Resuscitation of slain
KIXResuscitation, with preliminary obtaining of water of life
K10Release from captivity
KF1Liquidation in form F: object of search is transferred
KF2Liquidation in form F: object of search is pointed out
KF3Liquidation in form F: object of search is prepared
KF4Liquidation in form F: object of search is sold, purchased
KF43Liquidation in form F: object of search is made on order
KF5Liquidation in form F: object of search is found
KF6Liquidation in form F: object of search appears of its own accord
KFVILiquidation in form F: object of search appears from out of earth
KF7Liquidation in form F: object of search is drunk or eaten
KF8Liquidation in form F: object of search is seized
KF9Liquidation in form F: object of search offers its services
KF96Liquidation in form F: object of search are helpers who offers their services

Function 20: Return

Return of protagonist(s). The hero travels back to their home.

Function 21: Pursuit (Pr)

The hero is pursued by some threatening adversary, who seeks to capture or eat them.

Pr1Antagonist(s) flies thru air
Pr2Antagonist(s) demands guilty person
Pr3Antagonist(s) pursues, accompanied by series of transformations into animals
Pr4Antagonist(s) pursues, with tranformations into enticing objects
Pr5Antagonist(s) attempts to devour protagonist(s)
Pr6Antagonist(s) attempts to destroy protagonist(s)
Pr7Antagonist(s) attempts to gnaw thru tree with protagonist(s) up in it

Function 22: Rescue (Rs)

The hero is saved from a chase. Something may act as an obstacle to delay the pursuer, or the hero may find or be shown a way to hide, up to and including transformation unrecognisably. The hero’s life may be saved by another.

Rs1Protagonist(s) carried thru air or runs quickly
Rs2Protagonist(s) places obstacles in path of pursuers [with transformation]
Rs3Fleeing, with transformation to escape recognition
Rs4Fleeing with concealment of escapee
Rs5Concealment of escapee by blacksmiths
Rs6Escapee goes thru series of transformations into animals, plants & stones
Rs7Warding of temptation of enticing object(s)
Rs8Rescue or salvation from being devoured
Rs9Rescue or salvation from being destroyed
Rs10Leap into another tree

Beginning of Second Move

(repeat from new villainy to unrecognized arrival)

Function 23: Unrecognized arrival (o)

The hero arrives, whether in a location along their journey or in their destination, and is unrecognised or unacknowledged.

o1Unrecognized arrival

Function 24: Unfounded claims (L)

A false hero presents unfounded claims or performs some other form of deceit. This may be the villain, one of the villain’s underlings or an unrelated party. It may even be some form of future donor for the hero, once they’ve faced their actions.

L1Claims of false protagonist(s)

Function 25: Difficult task (M)

A trial is proposed to the hero – riddles, test of strength or endurance, acrobatics and other ordeals.

M1Ordeal by food and drink
M2Ordeal by fire
M3Riddle guessing
M4Ordeal of choice
M5Hide and seek
M6Test of strength
M7Test of adroitness
M8Test of fortitude
M9Test of endurance
M10Tasks of supply
MXTasks of manufacture
M11Sorting tasks
M12Other tasks

Function 26: Solution (N)

The hero accomplishes a difficult task.

N1Food and drink consumed
N2Fire survived
N3Riddle guessed
N4Correct choice selected
N5Protagonist(s) not found
N6Test of strength passed
N7Test of adroitness passed
N8Test of fortitude passed
N9Test of endurance passed
N10Object(s) supplied
NXObject(s) manufactured
N11Sorting tasks completed
N12Other tasks completed
*NSolution before deadline

Function 27: Recognition (Q)

The hero is given due recognition.

Q1Recognition of protagonist(s) by mark on body
Q2Recognition of protagonist(s) by token
Q3Recognition of protagonist(s) by accomplishment of difficult task
Q4Recognition of protagonist(s) by family member

Function 28: Exposure (Ex)

The false hero and/or villain is exposed to all and sundry.

Ex1Exposure by lack of mark on body
Ex2Exposure by lack of token
Ex3Exposure by failure to accomplish difficult task
Ex4Exposure thru song / lament

Function 29: Transfiguration (T)

The hero gains a new appearance. This may reflect aging and/or the benefits of labour and health, or it may constitute a magical remembering after a limb or digit was lost (as a part of the branding or from failing a trial). Regardless, it serves to improve their looks.

T1New physical appearance by magical action of helper
T2Protagonist(s) builds palace
T3Protagonist(s) puts on new garments
T4Humorous and rationalized forms, new appearance achieved by deception

Function 30: Punishment (U)

The villain suffers the consequences of their actions, perhaps at the hands of the hero, the avenged victims, or as a direct result of their own ploy.

UPunishment of false protagonist(s) or antagonist(s)
U-False protagonist(s) or antagonist(s) pardoned

Function 31: Wedding (W)

The hero marries and is rewarded or promoted by the family or community, typically ascending to a throne.

W#*Protagonist(s) weds and ascends throne
W#Protagonist(s) weds
W*Protagonist(s) ascends throne
w1Protagonist(s) promised marriage
w2Protagonist(s) resumes marriage
w0Protagonist(s) given monetary reward or other forms of material gain



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