The Reader and the Book: Ideology and the Construction of Identity in Narrative Fiction

McCarthy, Nora (2004). The Reader and the Book: Ideology and the Construction of Identity in Narrative Fiction. EdD thesis The Open University.



The focus of my research is on the complex interaction between reader, ideology and text, in the context of response to narrative fiction by girls aged eleven to fourteen, in relation to both voluntary and curriculum based reading. I have explored response to narrative in three interwoven contexts: an individual case study based on response to a range of fictional texts; group response to voluntary reading and response in the context of the development of a critical literacy project, based on the class novel, against the background of culture and ideology in Northern Ireland.

The questions which I address in my research relate to the nature of the process which creates literary meaning, the relationship between narrative, representation and subjectivity, the ways in which the reader's repertoire influences response and the complex interplay between the values of the reader and the ideology of the text. Central to my thesis is the dynamic role of the reader in realizing the potential of the text and, drawing on the insights of Harding (1967, 1977), I have conceptualized that role as encompassing both spectator and participant modes. All readers, I argue, bring to the text their own repertoires of personal experience, cultural knowledge, values and beliefs and these will have a considerable influence on the reader's response to the text. I examine the relationship between narrative, ideology and subjectivity arguing that narrative, because of its multi-vocal nature, opens up opportunities for resistant as well as consensual readings. I consider how the transaction between reader and text fits into the wider context of the relationship between literary and extra-literary discourse, drawing on a confluence of reader response, cultural theory and narratology. I explore the relationship between the construction of childhood and its representation in narrative fiction written for children, arguing that understandings of childhood are ideological, that changing ideas about childhood are reflected in children's literature and that there is a dialogical relationship between actual childhood and its imaginary construction in narrative fiction. The relationship between reader and text is, I argue, dialogical and ideological.

I suggest that narrative is an evaluative context for subjectivity, presenting us with a repertoire of possible selves, which, in the process of negotiating our identities, we match to our own construction of selfhood.

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