Margaret danced through Neil Armstrong' : readers responding to Susan Power's spiritual fiction

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Paul S. Mills (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
Web Site:
Lee Schweninger

Abstract: In this study I investigate the believability and readability of Susan Power’s novel The Grass Dancer in an effort to better understand what makes the spiritual literature so well accepted and revered, even with the overabundant presence of apparent magic or supernatural phenomena. Power’s book won the Hemingway award for first fiction and it was a bestseller. Spirituality, magic, and supernatural events are often integral parts of the storyline and most of the time the situations are different from what the casual reader is used to; occasionally even trained readers are unaccustomed to some of the conventions of Power’s book. In order to investigate the believability of one particular aspect of Power’s fiction thoroughly, I interviewed five graduate students who had read the novel for a graduate course in American Indian literature. I also chose three undergraduate students to serve as casual readers. I watched each casual reader reading an excerpt from the book, a chapter titled “Moonwalk,” which was Power first wrote as a short story. Readers answered questions and gave their responses to the fiction so that I could record their individual reactions, transcribe them into appendices and investigate them thouroughly to determine what made the supernatural material in the book believable and enjoyable. Reader-response criticism is used as a guideline throughout this investigation, not so much as a rubric to determine if the respondents were right or wrong about their observations. I used critics like Holland, Rosenblatt, Fish and Rabinowitz to give the reader of this thesis a peek into what may be happening for a specific reader during a particular reading event. The graduate students’ responses proved, among other things, that they were interested in the motives of the author and that they were thinking critically and applying criticism while reading. Their reactions seemed genuinely earnest and also crafted from training received in college classrooms. There were also some standard literary responses which would be expected with this type of study, and some that were a mixture of personal material and critical analysis. The responses given by the undergraduate students, or casual readers, for the most part were heartfelt, either reminiscent of something remembered from long ago, or recognized to be a part of the way that they were raised. All of the responses in this investigation seemed to maintain that the readers found Power’s fiction believable and enjoyable; their reasons range in scope and often involve personal beliefs. However, they all lead the specific reader, eventually, in a personal search of his or her own ideas about the supernatural events that occur inside of the text. If there is one concrete finding in this investigation, it is that all readers are different and to understand how a reader will respond, that reader must be questioned.

Additional Information

A Thesis Submitted to the University of North Carolina Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
Language: English
Date: 2009
Power Susan 1961--The grass dancer--Criticism and interpretation, Spiritual life in literature
Spiritual life in literature
Power, Susan, 1961 -- The grass dancer -- Criticism and interpretation

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