Ideology and the Reader

This is a post of contention. The idea of ideology and meaning in fiction has long been argued about. I think the problem stems back to English classes where we are taught about authors intentions, deliberate meaning and relationship between the author’s feelings and own lives to their fiction. Now, this is ONE type of way to analyse fiction, but personally not one I go for.

This post is about exploring another way to analyse fiction. Nothing is right or wrong in academia (unless it’s written by a dead French guy, then it’s always right  /snark), so everything (that can be backed up with scholarly, peer-reviewed works) is legit.

** With thanks to Tim Coronel and Jodi McAlister for their input ❤ **

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Ideology in the Story

All text is considered ideological.

A narrative without an ideology is unthinkable: ideology is formulated in and by language, meanings within language are socially determined, and narratives are constructed out of language (Stephens 8).

By how you write characters, story and events, you create particular attributes, values, morals, ethics etc. which are inscribed as good or bad. Where this gets messy is the concept of the author’s intention. Some believe that authors do this all deliberately, to imprint upon her/his audience certain messages. I’m of the belief that the author’s intention cannot be read within a text (check out Death of the Author) – the text speaks for itself.

All statements are mediated (at first created by the author, but then by the narrator – for more on narration, check here). The creation of any text does carry particular meanings within it regardless of intent. Ideology is not merely carried through deliberate action but by subconscious assumptions too. What is communicated is the story and it is communicated by discourse (the discourse states the story) (Chatman 31).

Story and Discourse Pg 26

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The Communication of the Ideology

The type of study I am doing looks at how the narrative structure and techniques can influence or lead a reader to a particular message or ideology. This is not to say all readers are blank slates and blindly accept whatever they are given (resistance is entirely possible – see Althusser or Gramsci). The story creates an implied reader position or audience. The audience for young adult fiction is, generally, young adults. But we know not everyone who actually reads YA is a young adult. With what the text assumes about what its reader knows, and how it presents information (particularly through narration), it positions the implied reader regardless of the real reader.

A narrative texts’ construction of communication is read thusly:

Real Author -> [Implied Author -> (Narrator) -> (Narratee) -> Implied Reader] -> Real Reader

The implied author is the reconstruction of the author by the reader from the narrative. The implied author has no direction in the work, it is how a reader might imagine an author to be based on the narrative. Perhaps this is where all those “the room was blue, this shows the author was sad” sort of statements come from?

Outside the brackets are the real world, you can take, give, resist or write as you, the individual. Inside the square brackets are what is drawn from or created by the narrative, which is established within the round brackets.

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Hollindale’s Three Levels of Ideology

  1. Explicit social, political or moral beliefs of the individual writer and his/her wish to recommend them to readers through the story. Intended surface ideology. Usually more radical/non-conservative.
  2. The individual writer’s unexamined assumptions. Even passive beliefs can be revealed through story. These are generally widely shared values.
  3. A large part of any book is written not by its author, but by the world the author lives in. This transcends the idea of individual authorship.

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Examples:

Applebaum’s research into YA science fiction is based on the proposal that as adults are the writers of children’s books, they influence the novel (whether deliberately or not) with their own fears and anxieties.

…the function of SF as a vehicle for exploring contemporary dilemmas within the context of scientific and technological discovers, a perception which is central to this book (Applebaum 3)

James’ study looks at representations of death in children’s fiction, as well as gender and sexuality.

…a culture’s representations of death may be read collectively as a text to give insights into its social systems, death ethos, conceptions of selfhood, temporal orientation, and religious and secular values (James 2)

Trites’ research is into power relations that are represented within adolescent literature. Teenagers must learn the negotiation of social institutions (power) to be able to grow successfully, according to societal rules and expectations.

Adolescent novels…invariably reflect some cultural biases, most of which are likely to be veiled in ideological discourses that affirm widely held societal views (Trites 27)

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Recommended Reading

  • Chatman, Seymore. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film.
  • Barthes, Roland. Death of the Author. 1967 essay.
  • Applebaum, Noga Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People
  • James, Kathryn Death, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Adolescent Literature
  • Trites, Roberta Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature
  • McCallum, Robyn Ideologies of Identity in Adolescent Fiction: The Dialogic Construction of Subjectivity
  • Stephens, John Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction
  • Genette, Gerard Narrative Discourse
  • Hollindale, Peter, Ideology and the Children’s Book (This article is especially useful!)
  • Gramsci, Antonio Selections of Prison Notebooks
  • Davis, Helen, Understanding Stuart Hall
  • Althusser, Louis Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses
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