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From witness to accomplice: the manipulation of readers’ empathy through consciousness representation in Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley

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Abstract

Within the field of narrative empathy studies, the concept of “negative empathy,” meaning a sharing of emotions with morally negative characters, has become increasingly discussed. Through the examination of The Talented Mr Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith, this article contributes new insights into narratological and stylistic devices eliciting readers’ empathy. This study analyses responses from expert and non-expert readers to understand how they conceptualise empathy and qualify their engagement with the novel’s eponymous character. I argue that the novel’s figural narration, which involves extensive displays of the character’s mind and silencing the narrator’s moral guidance, invites empathy. Finally, I suggest that Highsmith manipulates her readers through three related stylistic techniques (free indirect discourse, stylistic contagion and equivocal sentences), which blur the lines between the third-person narration and the character’s inner discourse. By insidiously presenting the hero’s behaviour as sensible and justified, Highsmith persuades readers to become not only witnesses but accomplices to Ripley’s crimes.


Corresponding author: Juliette Bourget, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris, France, E-mail:

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Published Online: 2023-10-06
Published in Print: 2023-10-26

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