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Consider the Invitation: Empathy in David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men


  • Aili Pettersson Peeker

Summary, in English

This thesis explores the notion of empathy in David Foster Wallace’s short story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999). Following a discussion of narrative empathy and theory of mind, an analysis of how empathy is portrayed on the diegetic level, i.e. between characters, is performed. Throughout this analysis, it is demonstrated that Wallace’s collection presents a nuanced picture of different kinds of empathy as well as the less admirable consequences that a capability to empathize can have. Because of this nuanced picture, the collection can be read as an argument for the insufficiency of an approach to empathy as inherently good.
Furthermore, it is investigated how the use of the second-person pronoun affects the actual reader’s possibility to experience narrative empathy. By comparing how the second-person pronoun is used both in the collection’s second-person narratives and in a selection of the stories directing imperatives to an intradiegetic narratee, it is investigated how the use of the second-person pronoun can invite the actual reader to empathize with highly unsympathetic characters. Such narrative empathy, it is argued, can underscore an idea of human commonality.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • David Foster Wallace
  • Second-Person Narration
  • Narrative Theory
  • Narrative Empathy
  • Empathy


  • Alexander Bareis