The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

English: English Studies: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Judith Dorn

Second Advisor

Sharon Cogdill

Third Advisor

David Sebberson

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

Aesthetics, Ideology, Interpretation, Zizek, Eagelton, Eco


Recent literary theory has assumed that literary works are reflections of the dominant ideological thought present within culture. This thesis addresses the question of what role the aesthetic nature of a literary work plays in determining its own ideological meaning. Terry Eagleton claims that literature and literary theory have reinforced the dominant political modes of thought, as the aesthetic properties have merely masked this ideological function, and must be disregarded in order to reveal the true ideological nature contained within a work. Deriving his framework from Jaques Lacan, Slavoj Zizek argues that ideology is pervasive through all levels of culture, inseparable from fundamental understanding. He further reveals a divide between the Symbolic order which contains conceptualized understanding in language, and the Real which escapes such definition. Umberto Eco argues that interpretation must remain coherent with the totality of the work in order to avoid overinterpretation, which uses the work as an example of something external to itself. Alan Sinfield argues that literature reveals “faultlines” within a culture, and allows dissident views to engage with dominant ideologies. Mikhail Bakhtin’s view of dialogism suggests that any literary expression will contain multiple views or ideologies, including internally persuasive ones which can be contained within aesthetic expression, and external authoritative ones which remain detached from artistic nature.

This thesis argues that defining a work of literature as a particular example of an ideological position disregards the aesthetic qualities it possesses and reduces it to an indistinguishable cultural artifact which is used as an example of culture without recognizing the unique experience that it provides as a narrative. Such attempts diminish the continuing possibilities of meaning that a work can generate through its ambiguous nature. Rather, the aesthetic qualities of literature allow it to provide multiple meanings which surpass reduction to a specific ideological position, even as it necessarily possesses ideological content. Final ideological conclusions are deferred, and interpretative freedom is provided for the reader to reach individual conclusions in the aesthetic space beyond Symbolic conceptualized thought which allows a remainder of meaning to escape ideology as a hint of the Real.