Study Guide Six

and Psychoanalysis

Earl Jackson, Jr.


Study Guide Six

Semiosis in Sarah Canary

are given various inroads into the consciousness of the characters in Karen
Joy Fowler’s novel, Sarah Canary. And one of the things we see these
minds is the process of semiosis – the encounter and transformation
of signs
– as conceived of and described by Charles
Sanders Peirce
, whose theory
we have looked at now
for at least two solid weeks. Let’s see how it
might help us read the operations by which the characters make their experience

Click THIS
for Professor Robert Marty’s inventory of Peirce’s definitions of the sign,
which he gleaned from the body of Peirce’s work.

Semiosis begins with a sign transmitted and received.

The sign stands for some object and conveys something
of that object to someone else through the sign. The first sign stimulates
another sign in the addressee, the second sign is the interpretant of the
first one, and also stands in some relation to the object.  For a
simple illustration, please return to our friends Gudrun and Jezebel and
their conversation about pets in the Peirce
Study Guide.

Let’s return yet again to the evening in the woods when
Chin first met the white woman. Since the woman did not communicate anything
intentionally or directly, she herself becomes the sign that Chin must
interpret. Below is a sketch of the encounter in terms of ground, sign,
and interpretant.


Ground Sign Interpretant
Semiosis in Chin’s consciousness Chinese vernacular fiction Mysterious woman appears in woods A Ghost-lover


woman is bizarre-looking 

and needs help.
An immortal

in disguise to

test someone
Experience in the U. S. with lumber camps. Mysterious white woman appears and cannot speak. Opium addict looking for opium

The above example is a little askew since the sign is
also the woman. This makes it difficult to put anything in the slot for
the „object“ and I have left it blank here to point out the difficulty.

Question: Draw up a table like this for each of
the following instances  of semiosis that occurs between

Harold and Sarah Canary and

Adelaide and Sarah Canary

Semiosis in B. J. ’s consciousness.


 The last Chinaman had once
thrown his cleaver at B. J. There was still a slice in the wall over the
water bucket where the blade had lodged., the handle trembling in the wood
like the shaft of an arrow. B. J. sometimes stroked the scar for reassurance
when he set the bucket down. The bucket would soon be empty again. He would
fill it and then it would be empty. The world seemed to conspire to erase
his efforts, to erase him. There were times at night when B. J. tried to
touch himself and could feel nothing but the blankets and the empty bed.
He would reach for himself and miss, clutching air in both fists. There
was no other terror like the one that came over him when he had ceased
to exist. But there on the wall was something permanent. „B.J. was here,“
the gash said to him. November 23, 1872. 

Sarah Canary 14-15.


Ground Sign Object Interpretant
Semiosis in B. J.’s consciousness. Delusional States. The gouge in the kitchen wall. Cleaver at one time struck the wall. That B. J. exists.

Question: [I can’t do all the work,
it’s your turn again.]  Think
about the gouge in the kitchen wall made by the knife. What kind of sign
is that in Peirce’s categories.
Think of the three categories of sign based on the relation of sign to
object. Which one is this? And why?

What happens to the sign in B. J.’s consciousness? What
kind of sign does he transform it into? Explain.

Try putting together the narrative models of
Guide Four,
Five, and Six.
How does the semiosis of the character’s affect the free indirect discourse?
Where do the semiotic processes of the characters fit in the narrative
schema of Barthes‘ structuralism? Nuclei? Indices? Catalysers? 



Guide One-A Guide Two Guide Three Guide Four Guide Five Guide Six

Online Resources
for Semiotics
Online Resources
for Writing Systems
The Midquarter The Syllabus Model
Student Work
On Fabula and

Exercise One

and Psychoanalysis

Earl Jackson, Jr.