“What Fantastic Creatures Boys Are!”: Ideology, Discourse, and the Construction of Boyhood in Selected Juvenile Fiction

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Drawing upon theory of ideology developed by Louis Althusser, Antonio Gramsci, and Raymond Williams, as well as Michael Foucault's theory on discourse and power, among others, this study aims to examine the function of ideology, the practice of ideological discourse, as well as the effect of such a discursive practice generated and operated in children's literature texts on the construction of boyhood.

Boyhood in the fictional context of the Harry Potter stories is significantly constructed in ways that correspond to the conventional or dominant Western cultural ideas in regarding boys as naturally wayward, unruly, venturesome, self-reliant, self-assertive, aggressive, anti-social, and/or anti-conformist. In other words, the textual discourses in Rowling's Harry Potter stories often function to signify and embody the commonsense notion of “boys will be boys.”

Gary Paulsen's Brian books, on the other hand, represent and constitute another dominant or patriarchal ideology of boyhood operative in the Western culture, or more exactly, in the fictional world produced within the American social and cultural context. The male acts, as illustrated by the protagonist of the Brian books, are largely defined in terms of being tough and rough, unemotional and unrelational. Boyhood thus represented is mostly in valorization of male toughness and unemotionality as the ideal or the index of traditional desirable masculinity.

Textual discourses, however, serve not only as means to signify or specify a norm or the hegemonic idea of ways of being boys, but also function as the mechanism to suggest or construct a counter-hegemonic representation and articulation of alternative boy experiences and behavior. Such an alternative formation of boyhood in portraying a tender boy image is illustrative, for example, in two contemporary young adult novels, namely, The Giver and Wringer.

Boyhood, as this study suggests, is a symbolic construct signified, regulated, contested, or subverted by a system of discursive practices and devices. Boys in the fictional world are often represented with contradictory or multi-faceted identities. Boyhood thus constructed is not static, immobile, unitary, and/or universal, but highly dynamic, divergent, socially and historically contingent, and ideologically contestable.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAnn Arbor: UMI
PublisherUniversity of Idaho Library
Publication statusPublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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