In recent years, critics have theorized ethically unproblematic versions of sympathy or empathy, ones that avoid cultural appropriation or the dismissal of crucial differences between witness and sufferer. Despite the admirable impulse of this project, this article claims that these sanitized versions cannot do justice to the complex ways that sympathy works in narrative communication, especially the varied ethical ends to which readers's sympathetic reactions can be put. This article focuses on a subset of narrative communication: unreliable narratives, which, despite their original conceptualization as building a relationship of distance between narrator and reader, often engage the reader's sympathy. This article uses three cases of unreliable narration, drawing on both fiction and film, to demonstrate both their different ethical effects and how frequently "feeling with" (sympathy) and "feeling for" (empathy) are conflated. This article shows sympathy not only to be ethically complex but powerful because of its ethical complexity.


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pp. 125-145
Launched on MUSE
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