The role of pathetic fallacy in shaping narrative empathy

Fransina Stradling, Kimberley Pager-Mcclymont

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1 Citation (Scopus)


One way in which character emotion is communicated in texts is through pathetic fallacy (PF), a figure of speech that projects emotions onto surroundings, which can be conceptualised in terms of variations on the conceptual metaphor EMOTION IS SURROUNDINGS. This article explores the empathetic affordances of this emotion metaphor, presenting evidence for the ways readers exploit the linguistic forms of PF in Alice Walker’s short story The Flowers to empathise with its protagonist. We draw on think-aloud data and post-reading reflections to analyse evidence of PF perception and empathy, using Pager-McClymont’s protocol for analysing PF perception and Fernandez-Quintanilla’s framework for analysing self-report of empathy. Findings show that 1) PF’s implicit communication of emotions affords empathy even when readers do not recognise the narrative technique; and that 2) specific PF instantiations afford empathy depending on underlying conceptual metaphor, textual context and correspondence with readers’ experiential background.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-143
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Literary Semantics
Issue number2
Early online date6 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2023

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