Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts


Comparative Literature


Dr. Marilyn Randall


Portuguese writer José Saramago (1922-2010) is well-known for controversial, challenging, and thought-provoking novels. In this study, I analyze the critical reception of his works in his home country, where The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991) was excluded from participation in the European Literary Prize on ideological grounds, and in the United States and Canada, where Blindness (1995) brought a wave of uniformly positive response until the publication of Cain (2010), perceived negatively as a didactic tool to convince readers of the unviability of Christianity.

This examination is framed by Iser’s theory of aesthetic response. More specifically, I focus on the concepts of virtual dimension of the text, passive synthesis, and negation in order to reflect upon the transmission of ideology through the writing of literature, and the impact of the reader’s personal convictions upon interpretation and reception. From the perspective of the reading process espoused by Iser, I argue that, in the case of Portugal, the religious reception of The Gospel According to Jesus Christ and Cain is negative because the reader’s personal convictions compromise the formation of the textual virtual dimension and the processes of passive synthesis and negation. In the case of English-speaking North America, my argument is that Saramago’s anti-religious ideology, offered through didacticism in Cain, changes a scenario of overwhelmingly positive response to negative opinions on the novel. In this case, it is not the reader’s but Saramago’s personal convictions that interfere with the reading process.