Empathy and point of view in literature: a (cognitive) stylistic analysisof ‘clash moments’ in Americanah

PhD Thesis

Zhu, Y. 2018. Empathy and point of view in literature: a (cognitive) stylistic analysisof ‘clash moments’ in Americanah. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University Faculty of Arts and Humanities
AuthorsZhu, Y.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification namePhD

This thesis explores how readers’ empathy is engendered through the representation of characters’ point of view, as well as the activation of socially and culturally shared knowledge-based schemata between the characters and the reader. It considers how textual features are used to construct mental representations of characters, events or situations, allowing readers to potentially empathise with them.

I undertake a stylistic analysis that combines cognitive-based theoretical approaches. I employ five extracts from the novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) to illustrate how empathy is potentially achieved. In this novel, I discovered that the way in which some parts of the text presented are deviant and different to other parts, making them psychologically salient or striking for readers. I call these ‘clash moments’. The concept of ‘clash moment’ is, therefore, taken as a device to select the data, as well as applied to the analysis to help readers to gain a sense of viewpoint differences.

In particular, this thesis considers the relevant and influential stylistic devices within stylistics: point of view, and more importantly how points of view are created by the interplay between indicators of viewpoints and the category of speech and thought presentation. Cognitive-based approaches, the socially and culturally shared knowledge-based schemata are used to make inferences about readers’ potential perspectives.
Therefore, this thesis argues that the linguistic evidence that stylistic features in the text can activate readers’ potential empathy for characters through socially and culturally shared knowledge-based schemata by taking character’s points of view.

I consider this study my contribution to the field of (cognitive) stylistics; specifically, the growing body of work in the emerging field combining of linguistics and cognition. Furthermore, this detailed study of language with regard to readers, focusing in depth on one particular novel with a specific narrative technique, offers a possible explanation on how point of view invites readers’ empathy and/or change their knowledge-based schemata.

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Publication process dates
Deposited04 Jun 2019
AcceptedOct 2018
Output statusUnpublished
Accepted author manuscript
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